Last night we studied one of the most famous stories in all of history, and were challenged by a haunting question. As part of our series on homelessness we discussed together Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan.
The story is well known; you can read Luke 10:25-37 for the text. But as a refresher, a man going about his business gets beaten up, robbed and left for dead. Two people who you might expect to help him, a priest and a Levite, ignore the man’s plight, choosing to pass by on the other side. But a Samaritan who is walking past chooses to help the man; he gives him immediate medical attention, gets him to a place where he can receive care, and promises to pay for all costs that will be incurred.
The story has obvious links to homelessness, and those we find so easy to cross the street so we can get away from and pass by on the other side. But we started off by thinking about prejudice.
Much of the story is actually about prejudice. Samaritans were despised by the Jews in Jesus’ time for being idolaters and heretics. They were considered people who had false notions about who God really was, and therefore assumed to be enemies of the Jews. Jesus’ telling of this story is partly to expose our own prejudices.
So we talked through those groups in society that we sadly often find it easy to become prejudiced against; the poor, the disabled, foreigners, immigrants, those with destructive addictions, sex workers… basically we realised that the people we feel furthest away from culturally, those whose life situations we couldn’t ever imagine ourselves in, they were the ones we found most easy to be prejudiced against. And then we realised that many of the groups listed above find themselves living on the streets; and that our inability to ever imagine ourselves as ending up living on the streets contributed to our prejudice against the homeless.
Next we talked through the cost to the Samaritan for getting involved. There were plenty of reasons for him to have also chosen to pass by on the other side.
All of those considerations could have stopped him getting involved, but they didn’t. He still crossed the street to help out someone in need. How often do these same considerations become the excuses we use for not helping out?
Going the Extra Mile
Finally we talked about how the Samaritan didn’t just do the bare minimum to help. He actually went the extra mile (to use another of Jesus’ phrases) and did all he could to help someone.
So what would it look like if we went the extra mile and did all we could to help those we see in need on the streets of central London? Some of the ideas we came up with:
- Buy the Big Issue
- Know where help can be found, to signpost people, e.g. to hostels, day centres, etc
- Know the criteria for local foodbanks, e.g. which need referrals, which can people simply turn up for food
- Ask if there is anything we can buy for them, e.g. a meal, toiletries
- Have ‘care packages’ ready that we can give out to people
- Raise awareness – tell others what they can do
- Challenge our workplaces to get involved and create ‘care packages’ that can be distributed by homeless charities
- Talk with people rather than passing them by
- Pray for them
- Invite them to church
- Remember their name
Interestingly, none of us said to simply give cash. Does this mean giving money directly is not the best way to help in most situations? But rather, should we take the time to get to know people and really find out the best way to help each individual?
Who Is My Neighbour?
This is the central question of the story. And the answer is surely that whoever we are in close proximity with is our neighbour – even if they are very different from us, but especially if they are in great need. Jesus ends the story by asking who acted like a neighbour to the person in need, and then challenges us to go and do likewise…
We’ll continue to discuss homelessness in central London over the next two weeks. Come and join us on 15 and 22 November, 6.30pm – 8.30pm at Central Hall Westminster, so we can chat and pray together on how as a community we can really do something to make a difference, and truly help our neighbours instead of crossing the road and passing by on the other side.