I spent yesterday evening at one of the Croydon Floating Shelters for homeless people, being run in Purley. One of the guests told me a story about an experience he had had recently which gave me a new insight into Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.
This man is not from the UK and has had some trouble with the police, and he is homeless. So he is probably on the receving end of many people's prejudices about 'people like him'. He told me that recently he was in Purley when he saw an old lady trip on the pavement and fall into the gutter. He was at a distance, and was surprised at the number of people nearby who did nothing to help, so he and a black gentleman ran over to help this lady up in the middle of the crowded area outside Tesco. He made sure the lady was OK, but didn't stay because of his earlier run-ins with 'The Bill'. The people of Purley passed by and the lady who fell had to receive help from a homeless immigrant. Now he, in turn, has been receiving help from the church in Purley (along with helpers from churches in Coulsdon).
When Jesus told the parable, he wasn't just saying "Help people in need," but "Be prepared to consider your neighbour those you might despise and have nothing to do with." In Jesus' days on earth the Samaritans were despised and looked down on by the Jews because hundreds of years earlier the Assyrians conquered the northern part of Israel and had intermarried with the northern Israelites based round Samaria. So 'Samaritan' to a Jew meant unclean and mixed race. For a Jew to receive help from an unclean mixed race man was almost unthinkable. But, in the words of the song that we sang in school assembly thins morning; 'That's what's turning the world upside-down.'
I might have had some prejudices against homeless people, but when I heard this man's story and connected it with Jesus' parable those prejudices were dealt a severe blow.
Here in Coulsdon we are planning to run our own floating shelter next winter as part of the Croydon scheme. We are really excited about this as it gives the churches a practical way of demonstrating the love of God, and doing mission together.