The Civic and Parish Church of Bournemouth

15th July 2019 – Sermon – On the Road to Jericho…

On the Road to Jericho  (Carol Penner)

We invested in goods to sell in the trade city of Jericho

and I walked the long journey with my loaded donkey.

I stopped that last night at an inn,

poised on the edge of Jericho’s wilderness valley.

The neighbours at my table did not look promising;

holy men who carried scrolls not knives,

shabby companions on this last stretch

where you need someone who will stand firm beside you,

someone good for a fight.

That next morning I left the inn alone,

the dawn just crowning;

leaving the door open in my haste,

the innkeeper slammed it as she hissed after me,

“Born in a barn, were you?”

In half-darkness I led my donkey down the steep road.

It was mid-morning when it happened.

I heard them before I saw them,

the six bandits clattering down the rocks.

Enough time for me to assess the situation, “grim”,

to muster my courage and grab my knife.

“Give us what you have,” they yelled,

which only made me smile,

picturing my sons, and me telling them,

“They asked for your inheritance, so I gave it to them.”

And so I fought, but the odds were against me.

They broke my arms, and beat me

and took everything, even my clothes,

and left me on the side of the road,

listening to the sound of our savings being led away.

I drifted in and out as the pain overpowered me,

but I knew that help was on its way. 

Those holy men were on the road behind me,

an hour or two at most and I would be saved.

I woke to see that priest’s heels walking away.

My voice also deserted me, too dry to call for help.

The vultures arrived at the same time as the Levite,

I was watching them trace lazy circles in the cloudless blue

as he circled wide around me,

the blood and flies too unclean for his hands, no doubt.

I lay baking in the hot son, waiting for death. 

A man on a donkey appeared on the road from Jericho.

A foreigner, he greeted me with the words, “Friend, I`ll help you.” 

He put me on his donkey, no mean feat with my broken arms,

and took me to the inn I’d left that morning.

The innkeeper shook her head as she looked from my wounds to my face,  

“Ah, the man born in a barn.”

They tended to me day and night,

and now weeks later I still sit here mending, on the Samaritan’s tab.

Last night the holy men, the priest and Levite,

were neighbours at my table as they took their homeward journey.

They would not meet my eye, which is not surprising.

I do not know if they noticed that I could not meet theirs.

I have no bitterness at what they did not do,

instead my mind is haunted by what might have been.

Had they set out first, and I came upon one of them, broken and bleeding,

would I have unloaded my donkey, left my fortune by the road and carried them to safety?

Or would I have minded my own business?

I received mercy, but would I have given it?

Each day, I am forever on that wilderness road.

Love does not allow limits on the definition of neighbour; one can only be a neighbour – Jew or Palestinian, black or white, across racial, social and ideological boundaries…

In the 2016 Triathlon, celebrated British champion, Jonny Brownlee was within sight of the finishing line when he faltered and fell, exhausted, to the ground.  Behind him, his brother, Alistair, known to be a tough competitor, who typically would yield to no one, had the chance to run on and steal the prize.  However, seeing his brother’s struggle, he didn’t pass on by.  As other competitors ran past, he stopped. Reached out his hand. And gently carried him home.

There in that moment, one who watched saw revealed an essential human truth. That we succeed or fail together. We achieve together or fall short together.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is reported as saying, “Blessed are the meek” (5:3).  This has been unhelpfully translated as ‘the poor in spirit’.  Was the Samaritan ‘poor in spirit’?  Was Alistair Brownlee ‘poor in spirit’?  No.  Was their response meek?

Who The Meek Are Not        –   (Mary Karr)

Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent

under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep

in the rice-paddy muck,

nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles

make the wheat fall in waves

they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan

nun says we misread

that word ‘meek’ in the Bible verse that blesses them.

To understand the meek

(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop

in a meadow, who—

at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned

but instant halt.

So with the strain of holding that great power

in check, the muscles

along the arched neck keep eddying,

and only the velvet ears

prick forward, awaiting the next order.

And Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise”.