Sermon for Sunday 10 July 2022
Trinity 4 Year C
In 2018 a new SIAMS framework came out governing the religious life of Church of England Schools. SIAMS stands for the Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools. They are basically the people who inspect the quality of religious education, worship and Christian ethos at Church schools.
In my view, the new framework was really very good. It laid out much more stringent and demanding requirements for how a church school showed it has a distinct Christian ethos.
One of the things it required was that the life of a church school should be undergirded by a knowledge of the Christian scriptures. To show this, you had to pick a story or a quotation that would become the school’s motto, or its guiding point of principle.
At the time I was Chair of Governors of Kentish Town Church of England Primary School, and we realised that although our Christian ethos was very strong indeed, and the children and staff knew the Bible well, we didn’t have a scriptural motto. So we set about finding a passage from the bible that just about everyone involved in the life of the school could feel summed up our corporate life together. No easy thing.
We hunted through pithy bits of Paul, through portions of John’s gospel, worthy sections of the Psalms. Nothing seemed quite to work until I suggested we looked at today’s gospel – the story Good Samaritan.
Suddenly everything slotted into place. Rather than finding a motto, a story was much better. We had finally found a narrative from the scriptures that expressed the kind of inclusive, caring spirit the school sought to create that just about everyone felt they could buy into, and which would satisfy the SIAMS inspectors.
For on one level the story we have just heard in our gospel has an immediate and universal appeal. It reveals clearly and unequivocally how we are all neighbours to each other no matter what our background or culture. We all have an obligation to reach out to those in need so all are included and welcomed and helped.
It was a story our muslim parents were very interested in and keen to explore more as it chimed with the teachings of their own faith. At the same time, it seemed to satisfy the more secular middle classes who also made up a large part of the school who were often more hesitant about explicit religiosity.
Somehow, the simple power of this story had grasped the imagination of just about everyone.
And yet I had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind. Were we overlooking something in this teaching of Jesus? Had we turned one of his most profound parables into not much more than a feel good fable – an uncomplicated universal moral tale that, like motherhood and apple pie, everyone could agree with, but which had lost its sense of being connected to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was at this point that we reached for a different way of reading this story. For up to this point, we had been discussing it simply as a moral parable – a story designed to make us think about our own actions.
But what if this narrative was also an allegory? An allegory in which different figures in the story represent something other than themselves.
For dating right back to the earliest centuries of the Church, beginning with Origen and continued by Ambrose and Augustine, the story of the Good Samaritan has also been read as an allegory of our own salvation.
Who is the man who falls into the hands of robbers but us, humankind wounded by the Fall and in need of rescue? And who is the Good Samaritan, who picks us up, heals our wounds and leaves us looked after until his return but Christ himself? What are the wine and oil he pours on our wounds but the sacraments? What is the inn we’re left in other than the church?
By teaching the children and staff these two readings of the same story, we realised it was both an inclusive story with universal meaning as a moral tale, and a narrative with deeply Christian roots that explained how we understand our salvation in Christ.
The most important thing to remember it strikes me is this: those two readings are not opposite interpretations of the same story. They complement and strengthen each other. It is precisely because we know we are saved by Christ the Good Samaritan figure that we seek to show God’s love in practical ways to others. We reach out to our neighbour because God has reached out to us, we bind up other’s wounds because God has poured wine and oil into ours. And we notice the distress of those in danger and need, because we know God noticed us and saw our need of him first.
Fr Peter Anthony