Deuteronomy 30:9-14 Psalm 25:1-9 Colossians 1:1-14 Luke 10:25-37
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of the greatest honours that a Jewish Priest could experience was to serve in the Temple. There was an elaborate system for deciding who would do what and when. A yearly rotation among twenty-four family groups was at the base of the system and when your turn came around the different duties required of them were divided among their cohort of priests by lot. The system of lots was adopted because the first time the Temple duties were divided arbitrarily among the priests a fight broke out and one of them broke his leg. You don’t realise what a tough job it is wearing a collar and fending off the other clergy, in Christian love of course, fighting for the plum jobs like being here with you. So the system they set up was really complex, and being chosen to do a particular job would come down to one of those infinite chances I spoke about last week, except we know that God is directing the action. So casting lots was not a game of chance but a way of helping God’s determined outcome of every event.
Lots were chosen in this way. The president of the cohort would, as the group stood in a circle, select a man at random to be the starting point. The group would decide upon a number 40, 50 100, 1000 whatever, then using a maximum of three fingers each, and going around the circle they would count down to zero. The last one to complete the number would be the one who would do the chosen task. It’s a bit like playing darts counting down from 501 and having to finish with the exact number required, but there were no double-tops only one, two or three. Casting each lot then really became random allowing God to work things out, and it was even more tedious than my explanation of it. And to think they did this four times every morning for all four duties and once in the evening to choose who would light the incense for the evening sacrifice, because no one was allowed to light the incense twice, because it was such a propitious duty.
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was in the cohort of the order of Abijah, there were at least thirteen priests in a cohort but there were only four lots. The first lot was responsible for preparing the altars for the incense and for the sacrifice. The second lot was to choose who would kill the sacrifice. The third lot was to choose who would light the incense. The fourth lot decided who would place the different parts of the sacrifice on the fire. All thirteen though got a job assisting the chosen one doing other subordinate tasks. Being the one chosen to light the incense on the innermost altar was a singoular honour and Zechariah was overcome by it. And at that time he received a vision telling him of the birth of John the Baptist whose birth we recently recognised. He was struck dumb until the baby John was taken to the synagogue to be circumcised.
Back to the Gospel and the story of the Good Samaritan and a man badly injured lying by the side of the road. If we saw a badly injured person today on the 401 or on any other road I hope we would pull over, put our flashers on, call 911 and see how serious his injuries were. We might tie on a tourniquet if he is bleeding badly, cover him up to keep him warm, use CPR if appropriate, now we have been trained. And if he is conscious ask him what happened, where it hurts and talk to him in a comforting/hopeful way, even pray with him or for him (praying is a part of our skill set as Christians, y’know). And of course we would stay with him until EMS arrives, then we would get out of the way to let the professionals take over.
The poor guy on the road to Jericho had none of the modern supports that we enjoy, he had to rely on other ordinary people for help, except at least two of his fellow men walked by before a Samaritan man stopped. Can you believe it ? Yes I can. Yes we can. We are many times a heartless bunch too, too busy with other commitments. That was what was in the minds of the Priest and the Levite. The guy they saw was as good as dead, and touching him, helping him, even getting near him would make them ritually impure, and they had just come from the Temple, having been chosen to do something special there, something done only once in a lifetime perhaps, they were not prepared to compromise their newfound holiness by actually helping someone, no they wanted to bask in the glory they had just experienced. They wanted to hang on to that special feeling. Best to leave the man alone, they only had the one opportunity to feel, to be like this, and they weren’t going to waste it on an hopeless case. Who could blame them ? We can. Their pride in themselves overcame compassion (if they ever had any). They acted as an elite and would not deign to help another, as Church Lady says “Isn’t that special !”
Or ! I remember the night I was ordained to the priesthood. Having gone through a lot of exams, academic and practical, having been grilled at ACPO, which is something like the Inquisition, without the thumbscrews, having been ordained and then chosen to concelebrate the Eucharist with the Fred the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in the company of hundreds of other priests and deacons, and with a congregation of a thousand people at the Cathedral singing at the top of their voices, I was on cloud nine, I can imagine how these two clerics felt. Not five minutes after leaving the Cathedral I drove the wrong way up a one-way street, and wouldn’t you know it the first car I went headlight to headlight with was a police car ! Now the officer was very nice about it, I think he probably saw that I was intoxicated with the Holy Spirit, and he somewhat believed me, I had blamed my GPS for the error. So he told me to get out of town and not come back. I was so grateful that he was so gracious. Perhaps we should be likewise to the Priest and the Levite. I’m sure you remember the proverb about throwing stones in glass houses.
There doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as an hit-and-run or lots of blood to catch our attention though. Think honestly do you have things in your life on which you could use some help ? Maybe that you even feel desperate about ? I know you do, and if you do so does everyone else, you are Everyman and Everywoman, you are no different from anyone else. If everyone is in the same boat, without a Good Samaritan coming along each of us would be in a terrible shape.
Now the Priest and the Levite should have had someone shake them up a bit and help them get their priorities straight, like a pair of headlights coming straight at them. They were rushing home and didn’t want anything to upset their routine. Nor me I should have been more aware. We are not our highest priority, any more than those two Inconsiderates were really theirs, or indeed I mine.
There is a famous story of divinity students at the University of Toronto faced with a pending exam needed to go to a different location to sit the test. On their way an actor was planted to fake a street person in real pain. You guessed it, they all ignored him and failed the exam. Good Samaritans or what ! Trouble is, such a sight is common in Toronto. When do you pay attention ? When do you not ? It’s one of the most difficult things to determine. But you can’t make a determination if you ignore distress. You have to find out and then make a judgement. We can’t assume things are fake or genuine, or not serious or don’t require our attention, by just passing by. We need to stop and see for ourselves.
We can easily assume our neighbours are ok. And then one day we will be in front of a tv camera saying “I don’t understand it, he was such a nice guy” and “This is a quiet neighbourhood, things like that don’t happen here !” Except that they do, they come out of left-field because we don’t know our neighbours or our neighbourhoods. Do we really know each other ? Over the years that may be true, because some of us are related, because we sit down and meet in our groups and after worship; we sit down, break bread together and talk. We don’t do that with most of our neighbours though we just usually exchange pleasantries and get on with our lives.
What about a challenge, now we are in the lazy hazy crazy days of Summer, this week try and get to know at least one other person, without being a pain in the butt, but in an easy friendly way. That obviously means not pouring out the angst that has built up in you for years but just easy talk, to start. The tough stuff for both of you will come later. Invite your neighbour over for tea or something cold, and honestly say you’d like to get to know them better. Or someone you come in contact with occasionally. See how it goes.
In addition to that there are plenty of other people out there needing help or just and ear. Given the decision of General Synod not to extend the blessing of marriage to same-sex couples if you know someone in the LGBTQ2+ community they may need your ear and your voice this week and more to reassure them that they are loved by you, by your Church and by God. We are often told to stop and smell the roses, perhaps we should stop and look and listen too. We heard in the Parable of the Good Samaritan a fine example of helping another, a ‘neighbour’. So I leave you with Jesus’ own words “Go and do likewise”. Amen.