Will You Cross The Road?

I gave a speech last night (12th September 2013) at the Hackney Citizens meeting at the Alevi Cultural Centre. The text of my speech is as follows:

Jesus told a story: a man was going along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves and robbers…

Perhaps you know the story? It’s the story of the good Samaritan, and it was told to challenge us to become better neighbours to one another.

The man is left for dead on the side of the road. A priest walks by. A Levite walks by. Neither of them stop – they avert their eyes, pretend they haven’t seen, tell themselves they’re too busy, perhaps assume that someone else will help.

In other words, the very people who should have known better – who should’ve known that acts of mercy and compassion are required of those who serve God – these people rushed on. They passed by on the other side of the road.

Finally, a Samaritan appears. Now let’s be clear, this story is known as the Good Samaritan – but that was a contradiction in terms in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans were the foreigners, the apostate, the outsiders, scum of the earth. (Which makes the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well even more remarkable.)

A Good Samaritan? You might as well say a good asylum seeker, a good benefit scrounger, a good chav or even a good banker or politician – you choose according to which newspaper you read. Whoever the hate figure is for you and your type, add ‘good’ to their name. It’s shocking, surprising, confusing. That’s the point Jesus was making.

The Samaritan crossed the road and helped the man. He tended his wounds, put him on his donkey, and took him to an inn and paid for his care.

The Samaritan thought not about what might happen to him if he lingered on this dangerous road. He could have been concerned that he too would be mugged. But no. The Samaritan was more concerned about what would happen to the man if he were left alone.

This is beginning of mercy and compassion – that we have concern not for what may happen to ourselves if we act, but rather concern for what may happen to others if we don’t act.

The Good Samaritan crossed the road. Would you? Will we?

Now, if we saw someone mugged and left for dead in the road today, we’d call an ambulance, we’d call the police. We’d probably help, but we’d also look to the intervention of the professionals.

But what if the victim of the mugging wasn’t visible? What if we didn’t see them in the road? What if the victim of the mugging was hidden from view? Behind closed doors? Suffering in silence?

Imagine the parable of the Good Samaritan were being retold for our time: the mugging on the road is an economic one: the victim is one of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society; the thieves and robbers are the government: Osborne, Cameron and tax-evading multinational corporations sucking the monetary blood out of our nations;

The priest is the self-insulated middle-class pre-occupied with self-preservation and its own advancement. The Levite is the self-annihilating Labour party too terrified to speak against injustice lest is be perceived to be remotely left-wing.

The real question is this: will someone else step up and be the Good (and Political) Samaritan?? Will anyone cross the road?

Perhaps you heard about Michael Gove’s comments earlier this week, saying the poor and vulnerable who relied on foodbanks had no-one to blame but themselves?

Even today, it’s finally confirmed that the Government plans to sell off Royal Mail to private interests. Another chance for the rich to get richer on the backs of low wages and pitiful pensions; redundancies, reduced services and increased insecurity for employees. And all in the name of free-market so-called efficiencies.

Who will really pay the price of privatisation? The workers; the small businesses facing escalating delivery costs; you and me as the price of postage increases; all of us a we receive reduced service – for example, the elderly who depend on snail-mail rather than email for contact with friends and families.

Perhaps you know the truth – that the poor, the elderly, the young, the vulnerable are suffering at the hands of this government; told they must work, regardless of their health, regardless of there being a jobs shortage. Left to fend for themselves, regardless of spiraling housing and food prices.

Perhaps you know that there’s an injustice being perpetrated by the rich and powerful in our society against the poor and vulnerable. Perhaps it makes you angry. Perhaps you might be willing to cross the road – irrespective of what it costs you.

I’m a Christian. I follow a God who did not leave me lying in the gutter, wounds festering, destined for only despair and death. I follow a God who crossed the road in Jesus his Son. A God who picked me up, bandaged my wounds, and has undertaken to care for me – despite the cost to himself.

I’m going to strive to do the same. Will you join me? Will you step up, speak up and stand up for the victims of this brutal economic mugging?

Let’s not just rescue the wounded. Let’s take our stand against the thieves and the robbers. Let’s make the road to Jericho a safer place to travel. Let’s make Hackney a safer, fairer, more prosperous and more hopeful place for all our communities.

Will we cross the road to create CitySafe Havens across Hackney?

Will we cross the road to urge the council to take action on payday lenders?

Will we cross the road to make opportunities for our young people?

Will we cross the road to make our councilors and MPs take their constituents needs seriously?

Let’s take our stand together. Let’s cross the road.

And so I ask each one of us here today: will you cross the road?

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