In the famous story that we have just heard the priest and the Levite walk on the other side, turning their gaze away from the one lying in the ditch. They’ve got a bad press down through the ages but I can tell you this morning that they were not bad men. They were simply the products of a bad system. You see the priest and the Levite were temple professionals. In order to feed their family down there in Jericho they had to perform their service in the temple. Yet if they touched a dead body, and even more if they touched a dead non-Jewish body, they were rendered ritually impure and therefore disqualified from their temple service and they couldn’t feed their family. Not bad men but simply the products of a bad system. You see the problem with the man in the ditch is that first of all they didn’t know whether he was dead or not. In fact we’re told he was only half-dead, but they didn’t know that and they couldn’t take the risk of touching a dead body. Then we are told that the man was robbed of everything, which would most certainly have included his clothing. He was therefore naked and they didn’t know whether he was Jewish or Gentile because one’s ethnic and religious identity in that world at that time was marked by the clothing that you wore. So they simply couldn’t afford to take the risk.
Then comes the outsider, the Samaritan, and casts all the bad system aside. He goes over and picks up the man in the ditch, bruised and battered, bloodied and broken. He puts him on his donkey, takes him to the inn and pays the innkeeper. In all of this we see the truth of God, the God who bursts free of all the bad systems that we concoct. The astonishing fact we celebrate here this morning is the fact of a God who is our neighbour, who takes pity on us and who sees in us alone what he wants to see in us, the truth of our humanity. That’s the only thing God is interested in. That we are a human being and it doesn’t matter dead or alive. It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear or which ethnic group you belong to, or which religious community you come from. The truth of our humanity is what matters to God and that’s what the God who is neighbour sees and loves in us. The truth of the human being, and that includes me and you, is the truth of the one lying in the ditch. This is your life. And the truth of God is the God who doesn’t stay up in some heaven. We heard it from Deuteronomy. You don’t have to say when will God come down? He’s not beyond the seas. God’s word is very near to you. This is the God who comes to us, in bursting free of all the bad systems that would lead God in heaven and us abandoned here on this planet earth. The God who comes to us. Not a God who is shrouded in false mystique and mystery. Not a God who is somehow hallucinogenic or who you will find in a new age shop. This is a God who is incredibly near to you. In your mouth and in your heart. Picking us up from the ditches of the world and putting us on his own donkey. This is a God with mud on his boots and a heart which understands what it is to be human. He needs the innkeeper if the story is to be trusted. The Samaritan doesn’t do it all on his own. He entrusts the broken one, the one who has been stripped, to the care of the innkeeper. So here today we celebrate the truth of a church which is simply the innkeeper. “Look after him”, the Samaritan says, “and I will make good any extra expense you have.” So we are called as the church to be the innkeeper, working with God to bring healing to the world and to break down all the walls. To put a bomb under all the bad systems so that those who are lying in the ditches of the world may find the healing which is in God. The healing which comes to us ultimately and in all its magnificent fullness in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. The one who seemed an outsider but is in fact the supreme insider. The one who gets inside the human heart and brings healing.
Today is the 14th of July. Bastille Day. The 224th anniversary of the fall of the political prison which was called the Bastille. The fall of the Bastille marked the beginning of the French Revolution, the great cry of which was ‘liberty, equality, fraternity.’ What the revolution unleashed in France and beyond was simply a new tide of blood. On this Bastille Day, and in the wake of the revolution which touched us all in some ways, we celebrate true liberty, true equality and true fraternity, which are not found in the power of human revolution and bloodshed but are found in the God who is neighbour and who comes to us in Jesus Christ, who we are told in the words of the Letter to the Colossians is the image of the unseen God. He is the true God. So in him we see God who takes flesh, God who has mud on his boots and the God who is our neighbour. In him and in him alone do we find, and will the world find, liberty, equality and fraternity. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
July 14, 2013