with you

by Karen Turner.

You may have seen in the news last week the sobering results of a study showing that almost a quarter of University students feel lonely most or all of the time.    Of course, isolation can affect all age groups and demographics but it seems particularly acute among young adults at the moment, and this is despite there being hundreds of shared-interest groups and societies on most campuses, as well as countless on-line opportunities to connect.  What are people looking for?

Today, out of the blue, a student asked me what it felt like to be part of a Christian community.  She said, ‘I assume that you all feel an individual connection to God and that you all have that in common with one another and that must be quite nice.’ 

I replied that it was, but that it wasn’t the whole of the experience.  What I tried to explain was that when when church is at its best there is a sense of being part of a ‘found family’ more than a group of people with something in common.  In that context of difference there is a sense of something more bubbling up amongst us that is hard to explain:  creativity, deeper understanding, profound love, prayer.  A sense of God with us.

In A Nazareth Manifesto[i], Sam Wells explores in depth the idea of God with us, and how we are called to be ‘with’ one another.  We can so easily get caught in a pattern of doing things for other people that we forget that being with them is really what love is about, as the ministry of Jesus shows us in encounter after encounter.  

As part of his exploration, Sam Wells puts forward a minority reading of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  One way of understanding Jesus’ story is to see it directed at Israel.   It is Israel who has been robbed, beaten and is lying in a desperate state in the gutter.  Who will help it?  Will the priests and the teachers of the law?  It is Jesus, as the despised Samaritan in the story, who offers practical assistance, healing and hope and takes Israel into the city, at considerable risk to himself, promising to return at a later time.

The way that we normally read this story and teach it to our children is about being a good neighbour and being kind to strangers, putting our faith into action, unlike the priest and the Levite. It is this reading that gives me a nudge every time I walk past someone begging, and plagues me the times I see myself ‘just walking by’.

Before coming across this reading, I don’t think I’d ever considered putting myself in the story as the person desperate and vulnerable, lying on the side of the road.  That changes things  considerably.  Although in global terms, we may be rich, we are also needy; longing for relationship, forgiveness, reconciliation, life.

“…we would be happy to accept these things from the priest or the Levite…  They have security.  They have social esteem.  They have resources.  But the story is telling us those people cannot help us. They cannot give us what we so desperately need.” [ii]

The person walking down the road to help us is the last person we would expect; and not someone we would ever have anything to do with.  The answer to the  question of ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ is not a moralistic story about avoiding hypocrisy, but instead a recognition that we are desperate.

“Open your eyes to the form Jesus takes in coming to save you. Swallow your pride and accept that your salvation comes from the ones you have despised.  And let your heart be converted and your life be newly shaped to receiving the grace that can only come from them.” [iii]

If what people are most looking for is the knowledge that they are not alone, it is in God’s ‘found family’ of real relationships, shared meals and honest conversation that they might have the courage to reach out and  take Jesus’ hand.  This isn’t a community that has chosen one another.  It isn’t a a shared-interest society (or assumed-ideology) group. It’s just people who know they’re desperate enough to be ‘with’ one another, believing that God is with them too.


[i] Samuel Wells  A Nazareth Manifesto (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2015). See a previous Theology Everywhere article also including comment on Wells’ interpretaion of the parable – Who is the Good Samritan?

[ii] p. 93

[iii] p.97

4 thoughts on “with you”

  1. Isn’t this best illustrated by the hymn “Brother sister let me serve, let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too”. We come both to give and to receive. The same thought is in “make me a channel of your peace”. It is in giviving that wee receive”.

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  2. Thank you – this chimed with me because a few days ago I had an email from an old friend (‘old’ in both senses – we we at school together) in which she said ‘ Like everybody of our age, I have few friends left.’

    She doesn’t ‘do’religion (we used to argue for hours at school because I DID) but I was surprised that she felt the need to say this. And I felt so sad for her. I don’t think it’s a simple matter of lack of faith = lack of friends, but I shall be interested to read everyone’s comments following Karen’s piece.

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  3. I found the new way of looking at the Good Samaritan story very helpful and enlightening. Thank you.
    If I put myself as the one left broken and dying at the roadside, and Jesus as the one who saves my life and takes me to a place where I can rest and be healed, then the obvious question is in whose care have I been placed? Who is tending my wounds? Who is caring for me spiritually? Who has Jesus entrusted with my soul until he returns or calls me to him?

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  4. I was very interested in Karen’s article in that in made me think what sort of “salvation” do I need. For me it has to do with lived experience rather than acceptance of a belief. I often need a means to move on from evil; which I take to mean being released from the evil that I do, for which I need forgiveness, and the evil that happens to me, which I call salvation. In both cases I am dealing with what I call ruined time. I find that there is a spirit of rebirth, reconciliation and the offer of a new start that is freely available to all, irrespective of belief or Faith. We find it through engagement with others and caring for all we meet. The new start is in the wonderful love that brings us unconditional forgiveness for what we have done, and unconditional salvation, in that we are no longer stuck in ruined time, but able to move on. For me salvation is not something we earn or achieve by piety or acceptance of Christian doctrine, but through recognition of the wonderful love of God in which we (all human beings), live, move and have our being.

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