‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
You’ve probably heard this story before, it usually goes by the name of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Rather a surprising choice for a seminar on climate change and the church. But Bishop Stephen is in good company. Apparently this story is one of two key passages for Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical about climate change. The other passage is the creation story in Genesis. If the Genesis story shows us our responsibility to the earth, then the Good Samaritan story shows us why we find tackling climate change so difficult. After all, in the story, 66% of travellers saw the problem but failed to take action.
We must no longer pass by on the other side. Climate change is real, it is happening now, with a human cause, and real consequences for people now. And yet it is not a political priority or even a priority for most people. How can we motivate people to action? The Good Samaritan acted because he saw the need and was moved by the robbed man’s plight.
Climate change is not a vague or distant prospect for the poor but a present reality. People are suffering because of rising sea leaves in Bangladesh and islands in the Pacific, crops are failing for farmers in Malawi and Ethiopia, glacial retreat in Bolivia is causing water shortages, and increases in extreme weather conditions lead to the kind of devastating destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The message is not getting through. We need to tell these stories, so that people can see their plight and be moved to action.
The Parable of Good Samaritan is not the obvious choice for a theological reflection on climate change. It does show that people find it hard to respond, but if people can be moved to have compassion then they can be moved to act. But this could be true for any issue. The parable is Jesus’s response to question “who is my neighbour?” It is when we recognise that our neighbour lives in Bangladesh and Malawi and Bolivia and the Philippines that we recognise that by doing nothing about climate change we are walking by on the other side.