As I type a team of volunteers and I are working to try and create a Messy Church online. Messy Church, for those who have not heard of it, is a place where people of all ages gather to explore and learn through interaction, storytelling and various activities about the Christian faith. It is family friendly and centres around the idea that Church is fun and is for everyone! I have been part of helping to shape Messy Church in Kirkby Lonsdale since December 2019. It is still a new venture but the people who have attended seemed to have enjoyed themselves and the wonderful food. It felt important, during this time of unrest, to try and create Messy Church online, albeit without the yummy food.
Online we are exploring the story of the Good Samaritan. A story that will be familiar to many, but I think is very relevant for today. It always struck me with horror as a child, that someone could walk past someone injured and not think to help. In fact, not one but two people did, one of whom was a Priest. As an adult I have begun to understand that fear plays a part for some who passed by. That fear may well have been one of losing their reputation or they may have worried that in some way touching the Samaritan may have made them unclean. The latter concept may seem odd at first, but I wonder if it is something we understand more in this time of lockdown. A time where the thought of accidentally brushing against someone not in our household may cause tension or anxiety to increase. It may well cause fear.
I have come to see this story as one that shows a message of what the extremes of fear can do to us. It can bring out parts of ourselves we would rather ignore or forget. The Samaritan who does stop to help the injured man looked beyond cultural differences and fears of being contaminated in any way. Instead he focused on the innate human and God led reaction to see another being in pain and want to help.
In the book of Romans in the Bible, Paul talks of the idea that everyone has an innate sense of right from wrong, something that he describes as God’s written law in your heart. This informs our own consciences with thoughts that tell us deep down right from wrong. I love this idea and I think it links to the idiom of a ‘prick of conscience’ where one feels guilty or perhaps shame for something they have thought, said, done or not done. All of us have experienced this prick of conscience, this feeling of knowing there is or was a better way. I wonder how the Priest and the other traveller felt in the days after their journey. Did they think of what they did or did not do? Did they wonder about the man they left lying hurt in the road? Did they feel that prick of conscience?
Often, we focus on the Samaritan in the story whom we can see did the right thing. He helped someone else without thinking of himself. I hope in this time of Covid-19 we can all learn to do this no matter how strong our fear is. It is tricky and tough, and I for one have fallen into the place of fear at times; I have been the other less helpful travellers on that road. Yet, as I think about those that passed by in this story I wonder if the weight of not stopping and not listening to an inner sense of right and wrong, written in their hearts, was greater still than conquering their fear and stopping to help. The traveller who stopped became the loving presence of God in that moment; caring, welcoming and supportive of the other, the broken, the ignored, the different traveller. It is something I know I will continue to strive to be in this topsy turvy world.