Who is my neighbour

Luke 10:25-37 New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Romans 13:8-10 New International Version (NIV)

Love Fulfils the Law

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law.

I was due to preach four weeks ago, 18th March. At a special choral pre-Easter afternoon service. My sermon was ready. No doubt the choir was well rehearsed. We were all looking forward to it. Then at 8 o’clock on that freezing cold morning I had a call from Liz Cooke, our churchwarden, to say that the services that day had been cancelled. The sermon was put on ice, almost literally! The reason the service was cancelled is directly relevant to what we are looking at this morning. When it says love your neighbour, who is my neighbour.

 

You may have thought the cancellation was because of the snow. The beast from the East or was it the blast from the West? Oh no. The reason was a snail. A Scottish snail, more precisely a snail from Paisley. This snail, coupled with this Bible passage, has changed the lives and rights of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Let me explain

 

On the evening of Sunday, 26 August 1928, May Donoghue, a shop assistant, had been out for the day with a girlfriend. It was the end of the Glasgow Works holiday week when all factories closed down together and Glasgow went on holiday. In Paisley the two friends went to the Wellmeadow railway Cafe; think the tearooms in Brief Encounters. Her friend went up to order; a pear juice and an ice cream float for herself and a mixture of ice cream and a ginger beer for her friend, May. The owner of the cafe brought it across to them. He poured some of the ginger beer over the tumbler of ice cream, yes it must be a bizarre Scottish habit, leaving the rest in the bottle for her to drink. Having enjoyed the ice cream, she poured the remaining ginger beer into a tumbler. Lo and behold, a decomposed snail floated out of the bottle. She immediately felt ill, claiming abdominal pain and indigestion and was admitted to Glasgow Royal infirmary for emergency treatment, being diagnosed with gastroenteritis and shock.

 

The ginger beer had been manufactured by David Stevenson, who ran a leading Scottish company a mile away producing ginger beer and lemonade. She brought court proceedings seeking £500, the equivalent now of £40,000. Only she had a major problem. It was her friend who bought the ginger beer. There was no contract between May and the manufacturer. There was no basis on which she could bring a claim in law. Even if the manufacturers were negligent in allowing a snail to get in the ginger beer bottle, they had no liability to her as there was no contract. She lost at first instance. Although she was poor, her lawyers ran the case for free; what is now known as pro bono. They went up to the Court of session, Scotland’s most senior court. Eventually it went to the House of Lords, the U.K.’s most senior court and now known as the Supreme Court.

 

The lead judgement was given by Lord Aitken, often regarded as one of the leading judicial thinkers of the 20th century. The judgement, specifically one paragraph, is taught in the first few weeks of every law course throughout the English-speaking world.

 

Lord Aitken directly took from the passage we have read today in Luke chapter 10. He said and I directly quote, and for any law students present, the citation is 1932 UKHL page 100

 

The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law that you must not injure your neighbour. And the lawyer’s question, who is my neighbour, receives a restrictive reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid actions or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who then in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be: persons who are so closely and directly affected by my actions that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I’m directing my mind to my actions or omissions

 

Yes I know the last sentence gets rather legal. But this decision, this paragraph, one of the most important in legal history in any country in the world, based specifically on Jesus teaching, created a duty of care by one person to another whom they might reasonably foresee could be affected by their actions or inactions. He swept away any notion that liability only arose through some contractual relationship. It created liability in negligence. Technically known as tort.

 

From this has come almost all of the rights and entitlements we have when suffering injury or loss. A road traffic accident caused by somebody’s fault. An unsafe place of work. A tripping hazard on the pavement. Words published which damage somebody’s reputation. A tumble dryer which suddenly catches fire. A chemical factory which causes pollution. Perhaps even a road down a steep hill in the snow for which somebody might crash their car and sue the PCC!

 

Whatever we may think about the excesses of some claims for damages, the ludicrous health and safety regulations and the very high cost of insurance, the decision, specifically the reasoning for the decision, by this judge directly quoting from Jesus in Luke chapter 10 has given redress and fair treatment to so many people around the world as this law has been adopted in legal systems and then made into statute law duties.

 

For Jesus in the story he gave, the neighbour was the Samaritan. A group of people hated, despised and downtrodden by the Jews. Yet it was the Samaritan who showed the love to a Jew when his own people passed him by. Jesus says that we must love all, not just those who love us, are part of us and with whom we feel comfortable.

 

So in the passage in Romans we read: Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. This is not a weak and wobbly, emotional, group hug type of love. It is a love outside our comfort zone. It is a love of our enemies. It’s a love of those who distrust us and distrust our motives. It is a love to turn the other cheek. It is a love in sacrificially caring for the interests of others and working for reconciliation where there is dispute and hostility.

The good Samaritan physically saw the Jew lying by the side of the road having been beaten up. The good neighbour. But so many of our neighbours are not direct face-to-face people. In our present world where we have so many contacts through social media and various forms, we all have neighbours whom we have barely met or certainly know very little. I have about 1200 people who follow me on Twitter of which I have no idea who most are. They seem to think I’ve got something worth saying, or at least retweeting, so they follow me. And therefore there is a responsibility on what I do tweet, because I have so many neighbours who are following me. Who is my neighbour may only be a neighbour through electronic media. Just as in actual life, in our digital lives we must be a good neighbour, full of positivity, constructiveness and hope. Not a bad neighbour, full of rage, anger, trolling and negativity. As many of us now live some of our lives in a digital environment, our neighbours inhabit the same space. Who is my neighbour now becomes with whom I am in contact in the digital, social media environment.

 

But may I suggest that we have two separate groupings in our country at the moment for whom the call of good neighbourliness has particular demands on us individually and on the church. Differences because of the EU and differences because of the generations.

 

The EU referendum has created intense divisions in our country. Divisions between rural and urban, sometimes between poor and wealthy, certainly between young and old, in some respects between intelligentsia and metropolitan elite on one side and, they would say, the less sophisticated on the other side. It has caused rifts in families, in political parties, in places of work and commerce. Moreover this has not been a respectful disagreement. The abuse, insults, vitriol and condemnation from one group against the other has been incredibly strong. Most obviously found in social media but also elsewhere.

 

I and many others worry greatly about the future for our country over the coming years. Unless some get their way, and they are highly influential in politics and the media, we will leave the European Union and almost 2 years later, or perhaps many years later, we will end the transition period. A time will come when we are out of the EU and as a country we have to get on and make the best of our situation. But how will we be, having been so divided? The divisions will run for years, decades. Is the divide repairable and if so how? Specifically for us this morning, who is my neighbour? I suggest it is the person who voted the other way to you in the EU referendum.

 

Surely the Christian church has much to say here. My neighbour may have voted a different way to me. Indeed my neighbour may be using every trick and device, democratically or otherwise, to keep us in the EU alternatively desperately pressing for us to leave completely on no terms at all. Whatever our differences, we are to love our neighbour in this country as we leave the EU. How can we? How should we? I believe the church has an active role of healing, reconciliation and building bridges

 

But we also have neighbours across the English Channel. We may soon no longer be part of the EU but we will remain part of Europe. We have so many shared traditions, cultures and values. Loving our neighbour means continuing to have close relations, to love, share, support and work with citizens of other EU member states.

 

The church has a distinctive role because it combines both sides and doesn’t expect to take either side. Within the church we respect how others took a decision to vote. Not just the vote but how they came to that decision; equally important. We respect that they applied Christian principles in the decision-making on how to vote. That respect goes a long way in tolerance and understanding. There are few other organisations across the breadth of our society which can embrace the differences on this issue.

 

So how do we be good neighbours in this EU divisiveness? Seven personal thoughts but could be many others

 

1          Integrity. Even if we voted to remain, there is an integrity in a democracy in the respect for the majority. A majority it should be said with an incredibly high turnout. Integrity is at the heart of being a good witness and good neighbour. This does not mean we should not work for a particular form of future relationship with the EU and we can agree to disagree. But integrity seems to me to be respect for the referendum outcome.

 

2          Forgiveness. We may feel really angry at either the decision to leave or at those who are doing their very best to frustrate the decision or create a situation as if we had never left. It’s not easy to forgive. This is especially if it affects our hopes and expectations of future jobs abroad or of our identity as first and foremost a European. But we must forgive. This is the heart of the Christian message, of being Christ-like. And to forgive in the intensity of the present disagreement is hard and we need Christ’s help in doing so

 

3          Charity. I think there’s little doubt that there will be some economic hardship and disadvantage to our country in leaving the EU, if only in the short term. Some will suffer financially. Perversely it would seem there will be many who voted to leave who will be most at risk financially. Yet there are some on social media who are already rejoicing at their misfortune and future financial hardship. It serves them right. Of their own making. Just abandon them. And worse. This is shameful. Within the church we should be exercising charity and finding ways even now to help those who are likely to be in financial difficulties

 

4          Care and hospitality. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum there was much anxiety and fearfulness of those here from the EU, some of whom had been here for a long time with real roots including marriage. We are an open, welcoming and friendly country and it was painful to see the real unsettledness of so many EU people living in this country about their future. Many of us, probably the Prime Minister included, hoped that within a couple of months of giving notice under Article 50 the rights of those from the EU living in this country would be confirmed. It was delayed. Appallingly, it was used as a political football. The reason was discovered when the EU required in negotiations that rights should remain until the end of the transition period, not just March 2019. Whatever we may think of that demand, we must be caring, hospitable and continue to be welcoming neighbours to those from the EU who have made their long-term home here in this country and remain anxious for their futures

 

5          Witness and mission. In the past couple of decades we have become perhaps the most international country in the world, concentrated here in London and the south-east. Many of us hope this will not change when we leave the EU. We used to send missionaries abroad. The mission field has come to us. May we continue in mission to those from around the world, the EU and beyond who are living here. It’s a most wonderful opportunity

 

6          Love in action. Just because we leave the EU does not mean the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean will end. Indeed the present crisis in Syria is likely to increase the problem. As a country we must still open our arms to the refugees coming into Europe from very difficult situations around Africa and Asia. It is to be hoped that if we are not so anxious about open borders, we can find a way to help those impoverished countries such as Greece and Italy which cannot cope with the huge numbers of incoming refugees and help those countries in Africa and Asia from which the refugees are coming. This is being a good neighbour

 

7          Worldwide vision. Britain has been a member of the EU but arguably has always had broader horizons. We have looked across the world rather than just bordering countries in Europe. As a country we have a leading reputation in aid given across the world. Some would want us to be less giving. I myself am proud of the amount our country gives in Third World aid. Significantly more than other countries of our size. I would want both our church and our country to continue to look around the world and be a country which helps the so-called Third World. We must increase our world aid and not decrease it as we leave the EU. Yes and some of that aid may go to the poorer EU countries. That will be our choice

 

So who is my neighbour in this issue? Definitely the person who voted the other way. How do I show love to this neighbour? These are just a few ways in which we can show love, concern, care and sympathy, support and understanding. We should actively and urgently pray for reconciliation and healing in our country. Why? Because our country needs us to do so. Because Christ calls us to love our neighbour

 

But I suggest we have an even bigger rift between neighbours. That between the generations. You will immediately say in response that there has always been an intergenerational difference. We all remember it when we were younger. We may be conscious of it with children and grandchildren. Teenagers and those in their 20s are not doing their job properly unless they are revolting and protesting at life’s iniquities. John Osborne’s angry young man is still young and still angry at life.

 

But I wonder if it is now much more pronounced. I wonder if feelings are much stronger from one direction against the other. Specifically millennials, 18-35, against the baby boomers, 60 upwards. Is it getting to the level of Jew and Samaritan?

 

I could quote examples from polling. In the June 2017 election, those under 35 voted by a steep majority for the Labour Party and those over 65 voted by the same steep majority for the Conservatives. Very similar occurred in the US election with Clinton and Trump. Ignore the political parties: it’s the differential that matters. In the EU referendum it was even more pronounced. About 70% of those under 25 voted to remain; 64% of those over 65 voted to leave.

 

But if the polling is indicative, the economics are the evidence. The baby boomers are some of the wealthiest and most economically privileged groups in history. They have good pensions, protected final salary schemes, which they are enjoy with retirement before 65 whereas those in their 20s are expecting to work well into their 70s. They have had relatively good, secure, stable and long-term jobs whereas many in their 20s won’t expect a career path but instead a number of jobs which won’t necessarily lead to longer term employment or career progression. They have their own homes, which have increased hugely in value with the property market inflation, whereas many in their 20s in the south-east of England can no longer contemplate owning their home. It was their debts and materialism which were the foundations for the crash in 2008 which led to vast unemployment and even greater financial poverty of those then aged 18 to 25. There has been little restraint on their consumer consumption. And then in 2016 they significantly voted for a future for our country outside the EU for which the majority of younger voters voted against.

 

The baby boomers have well and truly enjoyed a good life through raiding the family silver. And when the last one pops its clogs, like the note left by the chief secretary to the Treasury at the end of the Blair government to the incoming Chancellor, the message will be: sorry, there’s no money left in the kitty.

 

Perhaps from the demographics of Hambledon we are not aware of the major sense of frustration, anger and downright jealousy of the different situation of the millennials. Even more so than the EU difference although it is linked, this will affect our country for decades to come. Yet for baby boomers and millennial’s, we are neighbours. We may even be in families together. We are called to love each other despite these differences. We are called to make it easier to help the other love us. So again a few thoughts on how the church can respond. From the demographics, I pitch myself explicitly within the baby boomer generation

 

1          I can work but should I? With such a shortage of jobs, is it right and fair that my generation is continuing to work? I’m 65 in October and at the moment have every intention of continuing for another five years. I don’t think I’m in a job which prevents younger lawyers doing the same work. But some over 60 are. If we are at or near the end of a conventional working life but could continue working, should we if this prevents available work going to the younger generation, helping them start on the working ladder and support a family? Where is our social responsibility in this?

 

2          I can claim benefits but should I? A number of benefits for those over 65 are non-means tested. It’s a rare in a sermon favourably to quote Peter Stringfellow, the nightclub owner, but he made a point of refusing certain benefits for those over 65. Just because we can claim, should we? Alternatively should we claim and then make a gift to those in need if we don’t need it?

 

3          My lifework balance was, is, completely shot to pieces. We must admit to ourselves and others that as a generation we made a complete hash of the work life balance. The life bit hardly got a look in. We worked incredibly long hours in our 30s, 40s and into our 50s. Sometimes our health and marriages took the toll. The younger generation has looked with utter contempt at that work style and refused to play the same game. And good luck to them. And yet. The expectation of the same level of remuneration, salary, we enjoyed still applies. The expectation of promotion and of pay increases continues even though the working hours are much shorter. Neither generation has got it right. Each needs to share aspirations and expectations openly with each other. This can best be done in the safe environment of the church fellowship. The church needs to talk about lifework balance both generally and in bringing together the separate generations

 

4          We can give more during our lifetimes. Many in their 20s are in a difficult financial situation. The baby boomers are relatively wealthy. The church needs to find ways to help the former. This is not a perpetuation of wealthy parents helping their children on the property ladder. This is the church and others reaching out to those in particular financial difficulties and helping them. Many examples and I give just one. We have a worrying situation that marriage is increasingly becoming a middle-class activity with the poorer, especially the younger poorer, feeling they can’t get married because they don’t have the money for the ceremony and the trimmings. In the USA, the marriage rates between college educated middle classes and the less educated poor is stark. Amongst the latter it is now quite rare. We are going in that direction fast. And the cost of getting married is often a reason. The church has a real role to provide for events like weddings in a wonderful setting but in a very economic fashion.

 

5          Challenging our expectations of life. Many have always presumed life would be the same as for their parents. It is certainly not the case now, except for a privileged few. The church is particularly good at looking at a changing world with changing expectations because our God at the centre doesn’t change. The church should be calling out to challenge the expectations of life for those in their 20s and for the baby boomers. Because neither generation will find that life is as we expected it.

 

6          We learn from each other. Too often we live in cocoons, of our own making and our own comfort zones. This is true of the church as elsewhere. Often we don’t understand because we don’t properly hear and appreciate. Our chances of doing so are often limited. How can we change this? At my church in south-west London we had a link with a church in Battersea, then a poor area on a council estate but a vibrant Christian community. We had joint services and we each learnt hugely from the other. Should we as a church be having any informal partnership arrangement especially with the church with a very different demographic? To listen and to understand, to contribute and to give back, to share and support. I put it forward for consideration

 

7          My eyes are dim, I cannot see. Where is the NHS when I’m in need? We are living longer lives. We are healthier and we have great expectations of our health. Medical science can do so much more for us. The NHS is having to cope in a way which William Beveridge never expected. Yet the working population is getting smaller to support the ageing population. The working population is also getting poorer and less able to pay for the health expectations of the elderly. How do we, perhaps those most using the NHS in the next couple of decades, love our neighbour, the millennial, who is having to pay for it? This raises big issues of encouraging use of private medical insurance, perhaps reduced medical expectations, difficult decisions of priorities of healthcare and much more. The Christian church has a responsibility not to dodge this difficult debate. Jesus told a story. One day a baby boomer who had had a financially successful life found himself on a hospital trolley in a corridor in a hospital, and seeking assistance. His private insurance company wasn’t there to help. His friends had their own medical problems. There was the usual mayhem of a busy A and E. And then along the corridor came a millennial with his wife who had just arrived from Bulgaria. And they saw him wanting assistance and they came to ask how they could help. And Jesus said: who is your neighbour

 

I close by returning to that snail in the bottle, that Supreme Court judgement seeped through with Christian teaching and Christian application. To me it is an incredible example of putting Christian teaching into practice, practical application, to have an influence for good in changing things as Christ would want. We are not Supreme Court judges. But in our own way we have many opportunities to take the teaching of Jesus in the Bible about being a good neighbour and put it into practice in our daily lives with our neighbours all around us, whether in Hambledon, the Surrey Hills, London or throughout the world. Lord Aitken took Jesus words and transformed the entire basis of law claims and gave justice and fairness to so many. We should take Jesus’s words, and speak with our neighbours, love them and transform them.

 

Who is my neighbour? The one to whom I owe a duty of care, to make sure they are not injured or suffer a loss? Yes as far as it goes in the negative sense. Being positive, who is my neighbour? Everyone whom Jesus loves. And if Jesus loves all our neighbours then so should we. As Jesus said in verse 37, go and do likewise

 

Amen

David Hodson

dh@davidhodson.com

07973 890648

April 2018

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