And that, my brothers and sisters, is the way that we get to heaven. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we bring people with us into heaven. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we lift each other up when times are dark. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we demonstrate the perfect love that Jesus has for us
In the name the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think we all learned this gospel in Sunday school, didn’t we? The good samaritan is held out of the model of a good Christian life. You never walk by on the other side of the road. If somebody is in need, you help. But it’s remarkable how strange that teaching was in the time of Jesus, and how strange that teaching would have been to the Jewish people of the time.
And increasingly, I feel like it’s a strange teaching in society around us today. The lawyer, this would be a man who interpreted the law. So how do we interpret God’s law given to us? He would have codified, would have tried to codify everything.
They tried to understand exactly what you had to do to enter heaven in order to be a good person. And in order to go to heaven, then you must do A,B,C,D and E. And if you don’t do these things, then you won’t get into heaven. And that is why we have so much teaching from Jesus about the hypocrites of Jesus time. And by hypocrites, of course, Jesus is talking about doing A,B,C,D and E, but not really believing in your heart.
It is, in effect, the separation of your mind from your faith. And as I have stood here and preached many times, to be a Christian, to believe in God and to follow Jesus means understanding it with your mind and with your heart and with your tummy. All of those things work together to help us understand our faith. And in essence, that is the summary of the law that the lawyer pulls out at the very beginning, Jesus says to him, what does scripture say you must do to enter heaven? And the man replies, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.
Now, when we are given this law by God, we have two options off the back of it. We can either try and interpret it, be legalistic about it, try and go, well, who is my neighbour? As the lawyer does, or we can say, okay, I’m going to take this exactly as God has given it to me, love my neighbour as myself. But let’s go down that particular rabbit hole that the lawyer went down, who is my neighbour?
So Jesus gives us this parable, this very, very famous parable. And for me, I think it’s the opposite side of the coin to what St Teresa of Lisieux taught, which was, do the small things.
And I’ve preached on this a lot, haven’t I? Do the small good that is in front of you. It’s quite easy to recognise the heroic good in front of you and to do the heroic good, it’s harder to do the small good all the time.
That is what requires that depth of faith, that depth of love. Because you can gird yourself to do the big good things. But when you’ve got the small good things in front of you, it’s much harder. Now, I’ve preached time and time again how doing those small good things crumbles the armour around your heart and opens it up to God to allow God to work through you in the world, to bring good into bad places, to bring light into darkness. Those small acts of good change the world.
What Jesus is showing us here in this parable is there is another side to that point. And that is that when you do the small bad things in front of you, which are remarkably easy to do, then you build up a defence against doing the good. It’s easy to do the big good things. It’s hard to do the small good things. It’s easy to do the small bad things, but hard to do the big bad things.
The devil doesn’t come for us in the big evil things, he comes for us in the small things. Let’s look at the priest. The priest, the man of God. He understood this scripture. He sat and prayed in the temple.
He saw himself as a child of God. But when he saw the man who had been set upon on the side of the road, he walked on by. Now he thought he was doing the right thing. The reason he walked on by was because if he had gone to help this man, he would have been made unclean in the eyes of the temple and wouldn’t have been able to go and say the services of the day. So he justified that bad thing in his own heart.
And it’s ever so easy to justify bad things by thinking or suggesting or working out that there’s a good reason to do this. The Levite, for the same reason, walks on the other side of the road. He justifies doing the bad thing in order to do a greater thing. But what Jesus is saying is that these greater things that you talk about are human. They’re not of God.
God calls us always to act in compassion, to act in love. And so if you find yourself in a situation where there is a compassionate act before you, there is a way to show God’s love in the world before you and you come up with a justification that is human made to avoid doing it, then you are on the wrong path. And the more you justify not doing the right thing, the easier it becomes. The more you justify not doing the right thing, the more other people will follow you, the more you justify not doing the right things, the more people who are not Christians will look at you and go, well, look at the way that these Christians behave.
And so I come back to my theme of every sunday, which is we need to bring people to Jesus Christ. It is by acting in love and compassion, by loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul, all of our body, by treating our neighbours as ourselves, by never justifying doing the wrong thing, that we will bring people into the light, out of darkness.
Yesterday I preached at Our Lady of Willesden at their annual pilgrimage. It’s 50 years since they dedicated the image of Our Lady of Willesden in that church. And I talked about how on pilgrimage and in places like Our Lady of Willesden, in places like Walsingham, the barrier, the wall between heaven and earth has been worn thin through generations of prayer. We have worn the space between earth and heaven thin so that good may enter the world, that light may enter the world. We have assaulted the walls of heaven and asked God’s lights to shine in the world.
In those places, I think we all know places where the opposite has happened, where through constant bad things the wall between earth and hell has been worn thin, and so it is our duty as Christians to rebuild those walls and to attack the walls of heaven. And we do that by refusing to do the bad thing in front of us. And to do the good thing. And not to just do it grudgingly, not to just do it a little bit, but to do it with the overflowing generosity that Jesus shows time and time and time and time again.
The Good Samaritan didn’t just pick the man up off the side of the road and make sure he was safe, dust him down and send him on his way. He took him to an inn. He didn’t just pay for his immediate needs, but said to the innkeeper, whatever else this man needs, I will come back and pay.
He refused to do the bad thing before him, although he might have been justified in doing so. He did the good thing and he did it with overwhelming generosity.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is the way that we get to heaven. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we bring people with us into heaven. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we lift each other up when times are dark. That, my brothers and sisters, is how we demonstrate the perfect love that Jesus has for us. Amen.