One image from the riots in London captures the haunting and pathetic nature of the events more than any other.

In the video clip, a dazed young man, profusely bleeding from a facial wound, is helped to his feet by another man while others stand around. As we watch the grainy CCTV imagery we hope the hurt man will get the hospital treatment he needs, we hope those around him will help him, that they are concerned.

They are. They are concerned to gain any valuables that they can from this wounded victim. They don’t want to help him, they want to help themselves to his stuff. As he stands there concussed, a man rips open his backpack and empties it of its contents. An ipad, or palm top, is taken out and the robber swaggers off.

It is the precise reverse of the well known parable of the good Samaritan, in which a wounded man is given aid by a stranger. We can call this incident ‘the parable of the bad Samaritan’, as it illustrates, not neighborly care, but selfishness run riot (no pun intended); selfish greed run riot in the most disgusting and predatory way.

‘Self will run riot’ – that is what the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook describes as the root of the alcoholic condition. It could just as well be used to describe the motivations of the hundreds of young men and women out for violent fun last night.

This is what Christians mean when we try and explain that dusty, old-hat, outmoded idea of ‘sin’. Sin has ‘I’ in the middle. It is self will running amok. It will burn your house, kill that cop; it has no concept of society or care for the vulnerable.

Sin expresses itself  in many forms, not all as in-your-face and newsworthy as the rioting. One thing is a common feature, however, of sin at work: sinners don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners. Why should they? They are the important ones, and to hell with the rest of you; the weak, the innocent, the wounded. Self is all. Self is God. Self must be obeyed, and woe betide anyone who tries to stop me.

That, I submit to you, is the genuine heart of the bad Samaritan.