Do Likewise

Sunday 14th July 2013
Year C, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Luke 10:25-37

I much prefer those quiz programmes where contestants are allowed to press the buzzer before the end of the question to take advantage of opponents than those time wasting programmes where the contestants have to wait to answer until the quiz moderator is finished. It's part of my impatience; and as I grow old I become even more impatient as there is less time left to do the things I want to do. There's an old saying that as we grow older we become more cautious and conservative but I'm going the other way. I am a man in a hurry.

And so, with today's Gospel of the Good Samaritan, I become a little impatient because I already know the answer. We all know the answer. As with so many of Luke's great parables the answer, even though it is counter intuitive to those listening to Jesus, leaps out at us: we know that the Prodigal Son should be forgiven; that Lazarus will be in heaven while Dives is burning in hell; and we know that the Samaritan does the right thing while the supposedly pious Priest and Levite do the wrong thing.

But it isn't enough to know. The sting of this parable is definitely in the tail. The last words are "Go and do likewise".

So what is "likewise". Well, for a start, it certainly isn't driving past or walking away from injured people for fear of being involved, even if all we can do is to dial the emergency services and try to give comfort; and in our world of professional medicine it isn't hauling somebody off to a hotel and paying their bill until they get better. We have a national health service and, within that context, our task  is to ensure that those who need it benefit from it, with each of us doing our part to make sure that people get the help they need as effectively as possible.

Now here's the crunch: The Samaritan in Luke's parable was an outcast, not just in the ordinary way of being of a different race or class; the Samaritans, according to orthodox Jews, had betrayed the Covenant and desecrated the Faith, far more serious charges than simply being Gentiles, or outsiders. But in this parable the outcast did the right thing. For us the situation is reversed: we, as the occupiers or the orthodox, are cast in the position of being a Priest or a Levite, and what we are being  told to do is to behave like the outcast, to ensure that the injured person gets the medical care they need regardless of where they have come from, what they have done, or what we think about them. And doing likewise also means that we perform the modern equivalent of the Samaritan by paying for their care. Put simply, being a follower of Jesus means being compassionate and generous regardless of our own privileges and our own feelings; it means, in other words, showing love through action and sacrifice.

This, I hope, puts the recent scandalous, so-called "medical tourism" debate about access by immigrants, including those from EU Member States, to our National Health Service, into some sort of perspective.  What we are being told is that we, as a nation, can't afford to spend a fraction of one per cent of our NHS budget on those who do not have the means, either through our tax and benefits system, or from their own resources, to pay for it. Apart from the crass short sightedness of risking people with infectious diseases not going to the doctor because they can't pay, and apart from the massive denial of the reality that the NHS could not run without hundreds of thousands of immigrants, this is simply brutally selfish. It's part of an orchestrated campaign to vilify the stranger and the outcast in a political charge to the right: UKIP have defined the objective; the Government is in hot pursuit; and the Labour Party is paralysed, caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

And if anybody here thinks that this is an undue injection of politics into a sermon, just look at the figures for UKIP in the last local elections in Sussex. This is not simply a distant threat to the Christian principles which we claim we want to uphold in public life, it is a present danger, a catastrophe which is already engulfing us, turning the vice of selfishness into a public virtue. And it won't be enough simply to shrug our shoulders in public and cosy down to our Bibles in private. The essence of much of how we fail to follow Jesus in love as Christians lies in what we fail to do.

We may feel that our immigration policies are wrong, or confused, and we might be correct in asserting (although there are no reliable figures) that people come to this country for the primary purpose of receiving free medical treatment. But let us be clear on four points: