An address for the Civic Service at St Mary’s Church Marlborough
‘Schools & Education in Marlborough’
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25–37)
The theme of today’s Civic Service is ‘Schools and Education’. A quick inventory amongst the congregation present this morning shows that most of us are or have been in some way educated in Marlborough. Looking at the Mayors present from other Wiltshire towns, I am sure that if we would have done the same in your Town or Parish, the result would have been the same: certainly here in Wiltshire, education is at the heart of the community.
When we think about education, probably most of us rightly think of schools, children and young people first. And that is one of the reasons why it is so encouraging that a large part of the Mayor’s charities this year benefit the young people in our Town. But, education doesn’t end when you leave school: we continue to learn, and for that matter to teach, all our lives.
The English word ‘education’ finds its root in the Latin word that means ‘to mould’ or ‘to train’ (educare). It is also related to the word that means ‘to lead out’ or ‘to bring forth’ (educere). So, when we think about education, we have two famous images: that of a potter moulding clay into a certain form, and of a midwife bringing forth a new-born child.
Imagine for a moment a potter, a sculptor, working on a piece of art. It starts with a raw block of clay or other material, and slowly it is shaped, it is formed into something beautiful; something precious. Over days, weeks and months, the artist invests a lot of him or herself into the material, and I suggest that this is what it gives the final piece of art its beauty: the love and the care that go into it.
Love and care are words that apply to the image of a midwife as well. There is something incredibly precious about each new child being born. So I suspect that although midwives may deliver over hundreds of babies in the course of their lives, each time there is a sense of wonder that inspires in us a desire to love and care.
Inspired by these two images, this is what I would like to suggest this morning education is about. It is not just about imparting knowledge from teacher to pupils, but it is the process in which through love and care, both teacher and pupil are formed. It is not a one-way process, but a forming of a relationship, in which people learn from each other. So no wonder that education is at the heart of community life.
This thought brings us then to this morning’s reading: the parable of the Good Samaritan. First of all, because it shows us what kind of a teacher Jesus is like. ‘An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus himself was by many regarded as a teacher. People would come to teachers like him to find answers, to find advice.
However, Jesus normally answers, not giving a straightforward and simple answer, but replying with a question or telling a story, a parable, as he does here as well. He tries to make people see that they have the answer themselves already: a good example of education as ‘bringing forth’.
Then Jesus tells then the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. A man is lying in a ditch. Beaten up and stripped of his clothes. Half dead. The first two people who walk past are a priest and a Levite. People of high standing within society, dignitaries. Leaders, teachers themselves.
Instead of helping the man, however, they leave him. We don’t hear why. They may have felt too busy. They may have been scared. Or they may have felt he wasn’t worth being helped, probably looking not looking very appealing in that state.
The third person who walks past is a Samaritan. A traveller himself, like the man who was robbed. When he sees him lying in the ditch, he takes pity on him, and takes care of him. He looks after the man’s wounds, and then takes him to an inn to rest and to get better. This is, Jesus says, what it means to be a neighbour. And then Jesus says to the person who asked the question: ‘Go and do likewise’. This is what God wants us to do, to be good neighbours. To look out for each other, not matter who it is, and to care for one another.
That collective responsibility, I think brings us back to the theme of this service ‘Schools and Education’. As members of this community here in Marlborough, we need to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter whether we are the Mayor, a Town Councillor, a teacher, a parent or a pupil: whoever we are, we have to do what the Samaritan did: notice the person who needs us and help them.
Because before we can help, we need to notice. We need to keep our eyes open to those who may need our help. And that is not just the homeless people, or those who are sick: everyone needs someone at some point, whether you’re young or old, rich or poor.
So, we come back to where we started: that education, that community life is about love and care, and hence about relationships. It is by no means a one-way process, but it is reciprocal: together we learn and grow. You cannot do this on your own.
Jesus said to the person who asked the question ‘Go and do likewise’. And that is what we may be able to take away from today ‘Go and do likewise’. Go and be good neighbours to each other. Learn, live and love together. That is how we continue to grow as individuals, and as a community.
The more we do this, in the image of the sculptor, the more we will be able to see the beauty in each other and the beauty of our community life. It is then that we realise that in loving each other, we ourselves are loved to. In caring for one another, we are cared for too. That, to me, is the essence of human life, and the essence of the Christian faith.
‘Go and do likewise’.