Good neighbours

You might have heard the interview with Pastor Mimi Asher or read about her efforts to overcome gang culture in her estate in London. If you google “Pastor Mimi Asher” you’ll find some links to sites that have recorded her story. Pastor Mimi discovered that her son, Michael, had become involved in a gang, the O.C. gang, O.C. standing for Organised Crime. Out of concern for her son she got to know the members of the gang, and, over a three year period, developed a relationship with them that was strong enough to convince them to disband their gang. She invited them into her home. Cooked for them. Washed their clothes. Took them to the cinema. She spent time and money on them.

At one point the gang leader even lodged in her house. His story is an equally amazing one. In an interview with the BBC, he referred on a couple of occasions to God’s grace. Whether or not this reveals that he has met Jesus, I don’t know, but I think you would agree if I said that most gang leaders or former gang leaders tend not to have God’s grace as part of their vocabulary!

In Luke 10.25-37, Jesus tells the story that has become popularly known as the good Samaritan. The story was in response to a question: “Who is my neighbour?”

Both the central characters of the story – the injured man and the Samaritan – help us to understand how to define neighbour and what it means to love our neighbour.

The injured man is obviously Jewish. Jews and Samaritans just did not get on, and, if at all possible, stayed well away from each other. Yet in this story the only person who acts like a neighbour to the injured Jewish man, is the Samaritan. Jesus’ point is that, when you are in great need, you define the term “neighbour” as anyone who is prepared to help you. If you are lying, dying at the side of the road, you don’t care what the background is – religious or otherwise – of anyone who tries to help you. It’s just not an issue. Extreme need removes the barriers of social and or religious prejudice.

Effectively, Jesus is telling His listeners that anyone and everyone is our neighbour.

I don’t know how Pastor Mimi felt about the O.C. before her son’s involvement with them, but I can imagine that they weren’t top of her Christmas card list! Yet the extreme concern that she had for her son compelled her to go beyond her fears and her deep and understandable reservations about these gang members, eventually developing a relationship of such close proximity that she was able to influence them for good.

How do we love our neighbour? When Jesus asked the lawyer who had asked the question in the first place, who the man’s neighbour was, his answer is revealing. He couldn’t bring himself to say the Samaritan, so he said the one who showed him mercy (v.37). The lawyer’s embarrassed answer actually gets to the heart of what it means to love our neighbour: showing mercy. What did that look like?

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.‘ (Luke 10.33-35, The Message).

In short the Samaritan spent time and money on the injured man. He allowed his own journey and timetable to be interrupted. He took him to a Jewish city, where he might well have lost his life. And he paid the inn-keeper two silver coins. There is no certainty as to the value of those coins. Some scholars say that they were enough to provide the man with two weeks’ lodging at the inn, others say it’s more like two months. Whatever the case, it represents a signifcant gift on the part of the Samaritan.

Listen to the words of Pastor Mimi: “So it was that drive, that real drive and passion in my heart. I was desperate to save all of them. The little money I had I would share with them.”

We might not all be called to do what the Samaritan did. Or what Pastor Mimi did. However, there are people or there is a person that God has called us to show mercy to. And as God’s church we are called to reach out with His mercy to a society that needs it perhaps as never before, certainly as never before in our life time. May we be inspired by the example of the Samaritan and by people like Pastor Mimi as we seek to obey where we are, God’s command to love your neighbour as yourself.

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