Over 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK in 2017 according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) which is calling for ‘the redesign of the social security system to ensure that nobody in the UK is left without the bare essentials that we all need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean’. This Weekly Focus continues from last week when we started to explore what the Bible teaches about poverty, again based around our 2014 Lent course, Parables and possessions.
Churches have a special interest in speaking about poverty. The Biblical warnings of the prophets and the example of Jesus teach us that the voices of the vulnerable and underprivileged must be heard by the rich and powerful. In Britain today there are many widely held myths about poverty and its causes. These myths are
convenient for politicians and the media as they allow those living in poverty to be blamed for their situation and permit the rest of society to take no responsibility for their condition. Myths about the personal failings of a whole section of society create stigma and a culture of blame and criticism: them for being idle, feckless, scroungers, fraudsters, substance abusers and so on. What’s missing is any Biblical principle of caring, learning, serving and loving. These myths, commonly held by the general public and churchgoers alike, ignore the evidence and statistics as well as the wider systemic reasons for social and economic inequality and how they are connected to health, education and employment. Poverty in the UK is not just a reason for charity, but is an injustice crying out for correction. A starting point is for leaders, in politics, society and the Church, to speak out and raise the level of public debate about poverty and injustice. Otherwise the myths and lies about poverty overcome the truth. ‘Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.’ (Isaiah 59:14)
'Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?' Luke 10:36 Click To Tweet
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall 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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)
In the parable the question ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life’ is asked by a lawyer, but he does not get an answer, only another question – what does the law say? Jesus was familiar with showy religion. He caricatured it as people praying on street corners, going around in flowing robes, or asking questions to showcase their own knowledge. In this story, Jesus punctures any sense of inflated self-importance by referring the lawyer to the law.
The lawyer then asks his second question ‘who is my neighbour’ as he ‘wanted to justify himself’ (verse 29). Jesus does not give him a legal answer, but tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
His listeners meet the unfortunate victim of robbery on the dangerous road to Jericho. They meet the priest and the Levite, bound by religious laws not to touch what they suspect may be a dead body. They gasp to hear of the Samaritan who rides onto the scene: a man whom Jesus’ listeners would have reviled. It was the Samaritan who practiced neighbourly love and mercy. He knew he couldn’t do everything, that he didn’t want a lifelong relationship with this man. But his help is not just a short-term commitment either. The Samaritan’s help saved the victim, got him sorted out, back on his own two feet, and put him in touch with the support that he needed. His promise to return to pay any balance to the innkeeper shows that he follows it through, to make sure everything is all right.
Jesus asks the lawyer to identify which character was the neighbour to the victim. In the reply we see a role for the Church. The Church does not need to be an expert, it doesn’t need to be the best service provider, but it can help people to get the support they need.
The story illustrates the transformative power of love and mercy when practiced by ordinary people. Neighbourliness can transform the world. Jesus shows that our neighbours aren’t always the people we find it easy to relate to. They are often the people with whom we find it most difficult to get along. Just as God did not wait until we were good before reaching out to us in love, so we need to show love, compassion and care to those in need, regardless of whether we like them or if they are people like us.
- In the context that you find yourself, how can you be a Good Samaritan?
- Who are the strangers and the marginalised people round about you? Will you reach out to them and form relationships and offer charity and justice?