The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
Can you really not teach old dogs new tricks, or can we continue to learn - or are we too sure of our superiority to improve. Over the last decade or so there has been a realisation that the method of Air Accident investigations could offer something for other fields where people’s lives are at risk, such as the health service. In particular by investigating incidents thoroughly, not rushing to place blame but making sensible improvements to the processes to reduce the likelihood of the incident repeating. That is why air safety is always improving and why if you took a flight every day of your life, you would only have one major accident every 19,000 years.
Accountability is obviously important, but while that is an aspect of the investigation of air accidents, But a culture of finger pointing and blame, even of scapegoats, could jeopardise the investigations ability to collect facts. We need to remember how easy it is to point fingers when we reflect on incidents like the shooting of police officers at the rally in Dallas, a rally protesting against the police killing of two african-americans in Minnesota and Louisiana last week. As President Obama has already said, the shooter’s actions are no more represent the average african-american, than the shooter a year ago in Charleston was representative of white-americans or the shooter in orlando three weeks ago was representative of muslim-americans.
In today’s Gospel we have that familiar story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story full of opportunities for easy to judgements. You can Judge the Priest who crosses the road to pass by on the other side. You can Judge the Levite for the same reason. You could Judge the man who was robbed - perhaps he was being irresponsible - he should have had security. Perhaps passers by were judging him as a dangerous drunkard or a thief lying in wait. You could Judge the Samaritan for being a Samaritan - So used to hearing him be named ‘good’ we can forget that for the Jewish listeners of Jesus day he would have immediately been judged as an enemy.
‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is clear in the Old Testament and is in a context of loving all peoples, in practice it would only be applied within the individual Jewish communities. The Levite and Priest, who we condemn so easily, were exercising the law as they understood it.
They were failing to consider the law in the breadth of the Jewish concept of Hesed. Hesed is literally translated as Loving-Kindness and is the foundation of Jewish understanding of Scripture. To read the Old Testament without seeking to see the steadfast loving kindness of God is to miss the real purpose of the passage. It is a way of interpreting the scripture which seeks to see how they represent the steadfast Loving Kindness - the mercy of God.
The lawyer who asks ‘who is my neighbour’ sees in the parable that even his enemy, the Samaritan, could exercise Loving Kindness towards an enemy, as if they were the neighbour. It isn’t about blaming the Priest or the Levite, it’s about the lawyer learning from the story that his enemies are also his neighbours. But this method of interpretation of the scripture also demands we seek to engage with the news of the world around us with loving-kindness and mercy. How can we love and be merciful to those in the pages of our newspaper. How do we think of the individual people with mercy? Can we contain our urge to make judgements or scape-goat? Can we bear in mind the humanity of the people? Much like Air accident investigations, the Chilcot report is… long - OK, I haven’t read it - but from what I’ve heard, it has also tried to learn real lessons about the way government, military and civil service work.
Perhaps the EU referendum would have been a very different exercise if there hadn’t been a failure to listen in a way that did more than point fingers, a way to listen lovingly and mercifully about the issues some people were facing. The Black Lives Matter campaign which has ended up at the centre of the police deaths in Dallas expresses a point of focus, that even in the midst of evidence to the contrary, in the preceding week, but also over centuries, the lives of African-Americans matter as much as anybody else’s.
But it would be too easy to point fingers and say the US has a problem with racism or with gun law without considering our own position. Reading the news with an hermeneutic of love and mercy we are forced to learn about and challenge ourselves. We need to learn lessons of our own.
Jesus ends the parable with one of my favourite lines in scripture, because of it’s simplicity, but also it’s enormous implications. He simply says ‘Go and do likewise.’ Not go and find Samaritans on the street who’ve been robbed and help sort them out in this way. Not go and tell other people this story, though I don’t think that’s a bad thing to do, but Go and Do Likewise. It demands we apply that Love and Mercy to what we do for others. It doesn’t give us room to stand by and it doesn’t let us off the hook of thinking deeply about what we are going to do. But it is a rallying call to go and practically love your neighbour as yourself - as your equal. That doesn’t mean, in response to increased race hate incidents in this country that we should ignore them, or that we should simply sit in a corner with a safety pin. It means we should challenge racism and homophobia, we should reflect deeply on failures in the way opportunities are created in society, and find ways to improve how we relate to one another with loving kindness and with mercy.