Everyone knew you couldn’t trust a Samaritan. No one needed to ask why. They spoke with funny accents. Those who knew of such things said that they spelled their words with too many letters. Others said that it was with too few letters. The old women down the corner told stories, whenever the topic came up, of the brother she once had who had been swindled out of money in a business deal years ago. With her fingers, she punctuated that it was the last time he ever did business with a Samaritan.
Everyone had heard stories about how the Samaritans worshipped. It was all wrong. They continually stood up and kneeled down, as if even in their worship they were shifty and were afraid to hold still. There were even whispers of stranger things, shocking things, that they did when gathered in their temple. Sure, the stories grew a little stranger with each telling, but they sounded like the sorts of things that a Samaritan would do. Because everyone knew that you couldn’t trust a Samaritan. It had always been that way.
What then was this story? What was this troubling story that a Samaritan had helped an Israelite, robbed, beaten, and left for dead? Everyone knew that their feelings toward Samaritans were reciprocated. Who was this Samaritan that he would show compassion and mercy to this man who was his enemy? What could have changed his heart there on the side of the road? Who could have whispered in his ear a new way of being? Everyone knew of the enmity between their peoples. It had simply always been that way.
The people listened to Jesus’ story with disbelief, for people have long memories; memories of their own and memories handed down to them by others. But only God has always been, and while our memories are long, God has seen everything that ever was and God remembers before there was anything that could be remembered.
While the people were shocked by Jesus’ story, God remembered. God remembered a time before everyone knew that you couldn’t trust a Samaritan, a time before relationships had become strained and broken, a time before histories had been forgotten. God remembered a time when the Samaritans and the Judeans had been one people, the People of God, whom God had called out of the land of Egypt into the Promised Land.
God whispered into the ear of the Samaritan as he beheld the man beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The Samaritan remembered God. And the Samaritan remembered that God had blessed God’s People so that they might be a blessing to the world. And the Samaritan chose mercy.
My friends our world feels overwhelming right now. We are beset by a wars all over the globe, with the war of aggression in the Ukraine at the front of our minds, a war that we feel helpless to stop. Closer to home, we watch with disbelief the growing regressive politics and violent nationalism that we see to our south, and it fills us with dread to see it leaking into our own social and political discourse here in Canada.
At the same time we are struggling through a period of economic uncertainty marked by inflation, yes, but more concerningly by massive income inequalities that place people in radically different socio-economic realities. You see it in the homelessness in our communities and the increasing difficulty average people have affording housing in our city. But it is not just here in the Lower Mainland, it touches communities across our country. After all, in a great and prosperous country like ours, there are still twenty-nine communities suffering under long-term water advisories, for whom the very water itself is dangerous to life and health.
All of that is happening with the backdrop of the growing reality of climate change. It threatens not just our world but our home here in British Columbia, and which was the cause of death of over 600 people in our province last year while also erasing an entire town off the map.
Yes, the world is overwhelming right now. The world is overwhelming right now and everyone knows that there isn’t much that can be done about it. The wisdom of the world tells us that the problems we face are too big for us to tackle ourselves, for us to make a difference ourselves. Everyone knows that you are best off keeping your head down and looking after you and yours. That is just the way it is. As best as anyone can remembers, that is just the way it has always been.
People have long memories. But our memories are limited by the shortness of our lives and the prejudices of our hearts. In the face of immense and intractable problems, in the face of deep traumas and buried pains, in the face hatred and oppression, we begin to believe it is simply the way that it has always been. We begin to believe that the present reality of our world and our lives cannot be fundamentally changed, because it is the only way that it can be. It is the only way it has ever been.
But we are not alone. You are not alone. God is with us. God is with us and God remembers. We have long memories, and God remembers what we cannot. God remembers what we choose not. God remembers what we could never.
In the face of immense and intractable problems, in the face of deep traumas and buried pains, in the face hatred and oppression, God remembers a time before. For everything that has ever happened in the great expanse of creation, God remembers a time before. God remembers a time when it had not yet come to pass, because God alone remembers a time before the words of creation were whispered.
As we stand, beholding the immensity of the pain and brokenness of our world, feeling like we might be lost and swept away as it crashes over us, God remembers. God remembers everything that has ever been, and God leans in towards what might yet be.
God leans in and whispers in our ear. God whispers that we might remember, remember who we are. That we are the People of God, a people who God called across the great wilderness, a people who God restored time and again from war and exile, a people who God carried through drought and famine, a people who God led through the way of the cross itself, a people who God has blessed time and again that we might be a blessing to the whole of creation.
Remember who you are. Never forget. Choose mercy.
Preached by Adam Yates