The Establishment used to get laughed at by comedians. Pompous and self- satisfied members of the ruling classes – especially politicians and judges -were mocked by the Monty Python Team. Lower level elites, like Captain Mainwaring, a mere bank manager in Dad’s Army, were more lovingly laughed at.
Now the Establishment is a term of abuse, hurled around by left and right, against any articulate voice which disagrees with them. Close cousin to the Metropolitan Elite.
But this is really nothing new. Labelling another group in a sneering manner has a long tradition. It was the Ancient Greeks who labelled the Persians Barbarians, because of their beards- in the light of current debates about gender identity it is interesting that they also mocked them because of their ‘ unmanly’ attire- Persian men wore trousers, unlike the heroic Greeks who preferred skirts.
All that mockery was born out of fear and weakness, of an enemy far more powerful, and for decades a constant danger.
Remembering this might help us to get our heads around the story we just heard.
A parable often proclaimed as the most famous of all of Jesus’ sayings. For some it is regarded as the essence of Christianity, and has been hailed in this country as the teaching that created the Welfare State.
But what should we call it?
The parable of the slippery lawyer, or the cowardly Levite, or the timid Priest- perhaps?
The lawyer is the one who asks Jesus the initial question- it is interesting to note that Jesus was not in the habit of standing on street corners and haranguing the crowds with generalised truths; like all wise teachers he answered the questions lobbed at him, and frequently responded to the particular slant of the questioner.
The lawyer here seems to be trying to make the concept of neighbour more difficult to pin down than it actually is.
Having agreed that the central tenets of religion are to love God with all your heart and all your soul and to love your neighbour as yourself, he seems nervous about extending the concept of neighbour too far- we all do this, trying to limit it to those around us, those like us ,and wanting to shut the mental door on those we don’t understand, or we think might be a threat.
So Jesus, responds.
But we do need to pause to remember who Jesus’ first followers seem to have been. They were Galilean fishermen and the agrarian poor- hence all the references in Jesus’ teaching to wheat and weeds.
They were not the sort of people who would necessarily look warmly on the Establishment of their day. The priest who comes by, and seeing the man beaten up by robbers, slinks by, and the Levite, were both part of the Metropolitan Elite of their day. Important people associated with the Temple in the wondrous and to them powerful city of Jerusalem.
Also because of the politics of the time, with the Romans occupying the country, the priest and the Levite would have represented the sort of people who had made an accommodation with the invaders.
So, they wouldn’t have been viewed by the crowd listening as exemplary characters.
But certainly, they would not be expected to simply ignore the victim by the side of the road.
The Levite and the priest are establishment figures about whom the crowd are already suspicious, but who act even more badly, less charitably, than expected.
And then comes the real jolt- along comes a Samaritan.
The quintessential alien, and other.
A person totally out of place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Levite and the Priest had responsibilities at the Temple- the focus of Jewish faith- so they would be respectable travellers.
But a Samaritan? The Samaritans were a group who had their own territories and indeed their own rival Temple.
So not an expected role model.
But the Samaritan immediately does everything right.
And it begins with his heart.
He does not see a member of another nation, group, or faith in trouble. He sees a person, and he is moved to pity- just as the Gospels tell us over and over again, Jesus was when he came across human suffering.
He didn’t scuttle away like the other travellers. He went to him, and bandaged his injuries. He used oil for healing and applied the one easily available disinfectant, strong red wine.
It is a very tactile and hands on story.
The Samaritan lifting the victim and putting him on his own donkey, taking him to an inn, and staying with him for the whole of the day. And next day paying the inn keeper and promising to pay all future costs required to get him well.
Then Jesus asks.
‘ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
The lawyer replies ‘ The one who showed him mercy.’
Jesus said go and do likewise.
The lawyer was no longer comfortable in the world of ethical theory.
The crowd who might have thought they were going to be entertained by a tale of flawed establishment figures, found themselves challenged too.
What is the essence of faith or life is a safe philosophical question.
Love God passionately and be like that Samaritan is a challenged and inspiring answer.