“CHOOSING TO REMEMBER”

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  And Jesus said, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."  But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  Jesus replied, "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 traveling came near him; and when the Samaritan 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 the Samaritan 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.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

If you’ll permit me to stretch Jesus’ parable just a bit, I wonder what the one who fell into the hands of robbers chose to remember on the first anniversary of that fateful journey down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  What did he choose to remember?  You know, how we remember is our choice.  Whether we observe an anniversary and how we observe that anniversary are choices we make.  So what choice do you suppose the one who fell into the hands of robbers made? How do you imagine he chose to remember that awful day? 

Do you think the one who fell among robbers dwelled on the attack?  Did he take the day off to sit and watch the images replay again and again in his mind?  Maybe he created a media event, something like Larry King’s Where Were You When? or Jane Pauley’s The Untold Story Behind or Diane Sawyer’s Stories of How Loved Ones Survived the Last Year.  Perhaps this one who fell among robbers returned to the spot and held a ceremony--dignitaries, a wreath, and a prayer.  Maybe he wrote a book about his experience.  Could it be that he simply paused silently as the clock ticked the hour of the terror?

What do you suppose he chose to think about? Was his mind so filled with the robbers, the bandits, the zealots who stripped, beat, and abandoned him, that the one who fell into their hands was consumed with anger, so that the desire for justice bled over into vengeance and the need for security whetted the appetite for war? 

Were his recollections of the priest and the levite?  Passed by twice after laying there so long, did this one see in these policymakers the faults and failings--and worse, the selfishness and indifference--of the system in which he’d placed his hope and his trust? 

Perhaps thoughts were of the road--the seventeen-mile, 3,000 foot, rocky descent from Jerusalem to Jericho.  People fall into the hands of robbers on that road all the time.  And there are roads where people are stripped, beaten and left half dead all over the world.  Why should this attack get an anniversary celebration when so many other attacks go unnoticed? 

Certainly there were remembrances of the Samaritan, whose face was but a blur and whose name remains unknown.  An anonymous volunteer who made all the difference, an ally who acted unexpectedly and saved a life. 

Perhaps the man’s thoughts were only of himself, of how life had changed.  Where once the isolated road from Jerusalem to Jericho didn’t bother him, now travel made him feel uneasy, unsafe, cautious, vulnerable.  Where once what the robbers fought to take from him was so important, now he was concerned with things less tangible but harder to steal.  Or perhaps this one who fell among robbers spent the year developing complex security systems to make himself feel safer.  Has that camel been in your possession the entire time or did someone unknown to you pack it?

Yes, we choose whether and what we remember because we just can’t bear to remember it all. It’s just too overwhelming.  So how did you choose to remember today?  What images replay in your mind--the planes hitting the towers, the firemen carrying the bodies, the 63 babies born in the last year to 9-11 victims?  Do you long to see a flag in our sanctuary and red, white and blue paraments on our altar?  Or is the word from Washington only compounding your fear? Are your thoughts of the world, of all the ways that people are attacked and terrorized--the daily violence in the Middle East, the lack of fresh water in Africa.  The list goes on.  Or maybe you are so keenly aware that the American cocoon has been pierced, that you no longer feel as safe.

I choose to remember how quickly various groups within our country, including assorted expressions of Christianity, how quickly these groups told us what we should remember about September 11 and how we should respond.  While many saw the United States as the victim laying at the side of the road, or even as an ungrateful world’s Good Samaritan, many others saw our country as the lawyer seeking to justify himself, as the priest and levite selfishly and indifferently passing by those stripped, beaten and left half dead, or even as the robbers.  Voices asserted that, although the events of 9-11 were a shock, they should not be a surprise. Other voices countered that nothing the United States may have done makes such violence conceivable, let alone anticipated.  Along with prescriptions for what to remember and how to respond came strong convictions about inappropriate recollections and offensive responses.  I had a few of those convictions my own self.  A year later, we are so bombarded with September 11 recollections that one writer worries that memories have  become so public and so procurable that America is left numb, bereft of anything of 9-11 that is personal or profound.

Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer what to remember or how to respond.  Jesus points to God’s Word and asks, “How do you read?”  How we read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan depends on where we find ourselves in the story.  And whether we find ourselves in the robbers or in their victim, in the priest or in the Samaritan, or even in the innkeeper, God is with us.  God is with us.  Regardless of how we choose to remember, God always responds to us, perhaps with comfort, perhaps with challenge, but always with love and life.   

As we cry with the psalmist, “Deliver me, O GOD from evildoers; protect me from the violent,” God comforts us with recollections of times the Lord God, the strength of our salvation, has covered our head in the day of battle, maintained the cause of the poor, and rendered justice to the needy.

As we taste the death that is the way of this world and are terrorized by the spirit of wrath at work within and around us, we are empowered to resist by Paul’s promise that these forces will not stand.  They will fall not because of military might, increased security, national resolve, or international coalition, but because of God who, rich in mercy and great in love, makes us alive with Christ.  The terror of the cross tells us that nothing, not planes crashing, not buildings crumbling, no attack of any kind can keep us from God’s love.  On the cross Christ does more than remember. Christ bears all our memories in the most personal and profound way, in his own body.  On the cross Christ lives and dies with us, showing us God’s response to terror.  God raises Jesus to new life, and with Christ God raises us up.  In Christ we are saved.  And, more pertinent perhaps, in Christ we are safe.  Not by our own doing, but as the gift of God. 

And God intends this gift for all.  God intends this gift for all.  Even as we draw lines and identify suspects and beat the drums of war, we hear of God’s love for the hundred and twenty thousand people of Nineveh. And we are challenged by God’s love for the people of Bagdad and Alchata. 

With Jonah we find ourselves sitting under our booths, waiting to see what will become of the city. In Christ we know. Regardless of what we choose to remember and how we choose to respond, God remains faithful.  God remembers Jesus and responds with life and love.  God responds with mercy and with grace.  If like the lawyer who asked about neighbors, we want to justify ourselves, we must go and do likewise.  But if we remember that we are justified in Christ, when we respond we won’t have to go and do likewise.  We just will. 

`© 2006 Craig A. Satterlee ● North/West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA ● 2900 N. Waverly Rd. ● Lansing MI 48906 ● 517-321-5066