- So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph (Jn 4:5).
Historical landmarks fascinate me. Why people came to a place and what they did there helps us to remember that we are not alone and that we are later chapters of a story that began long ago. I used to beg my dad to stop whenever I spotted a California State Historic Landmark along the road during family trips.
There is a tremendous power for good in memory. Remembering where one has come from and what was encountered on the way is a key element in mental health. Without a connection to our past we have no sense of growth, no reason to hope for the future. Grace and mercy bless in what they help us to overcome.
Memory is the key to gratitude. “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Ps 40:4-5).
The walk into Sychar would bring bittersweet memories to Jesus’ mind. The ancient name of this place was Shechem, which means “shoulder” referring to the rounded hills leading up to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Here, under the great and sacred oak Moreh, the Lord appeared to Abraham and told him, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Abraham built an altar to the Lord there in reverence of this encounter (Gen 12:6-7).
Jacob bought a field there and erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel, “the God of Israel” (Gen 33:18-20). After the shameful massacre of the Amorites by his sons, Jacob apparently took more land when he came under attack by the local inhabitants.
After Jacob had blessed Joseph’s sons, he told Joseph. “I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your ancestors. I now give you one portion more than to your brothers, the portion that I took from the Amorites with my sword and with my bow” (Gen 48:21-22).
The bones of Joseph had been carried out of Egypt in the Exodus and were buried here (Josh 24:32). Schechem was the place where Solomon’s son Rehoboam was to be invested as king, but the coronation instead ended with the secession of the 10 northern tribes under Jeroboam. That wound to the nation continued to deepen and inflame during the ravages of a series of conquerors of both Judah and Israel. Marriage outside of the Hebrew race and faith by the Samaritans had hardened the conflict with the Jews to mutual loathing.
As important as memory is for connection and direction, there are always traps hidden in it. There is the trap of pride: “My heritage makes me superior.”
There is the trap of fear: “The hand that slapped me when it should have caressed, may slap me again.”
There is the trap of unforgiveness: “I can never forget and let go of what was done to me.”
There is the trap of self-righteousness: “If you only knew what I’d been through, you would do the same thing.”
There is the trap of regret: “I should have. . . would have. . . could have . . . .”
There is the trap of shame: “If you only knew who I really am and what I’ve done.”
There is the trap of guilt: “God could never love me. I don’t deserve it.”
So you dig your trenches and harden your bunkers in the fields of memory and peer across the “no-man’s land” of your human condition seething with desire and loathing for what’s on the other side.
In the midst of all of this, Jesus comes. Heartbreaks, failures and malice are no deterrent to him. Conflict and doubt do not faze him. Things have gone awry, terribly awry, but where sin increases, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20).
Do not despair that he may only be found in worship at Jerusalem or in the beauty of Galilee, and you are far from there. Take great courage that he is with you right where you are in the Samaria of your disappointments and tensions. He does not despise those ordinary days when you are working through the gritty routines of survival. He knows that you ache with emptiness and long for more. He hears the inward groans of your distress and silent sighs of your “If only . . . .” (Rom 8:18-27).
Jesus is the “Yes” that you’ve been wanting after hearing and saying “No” for so long (2 Cor 1:19-20). You don’t have to settle for just getting by with your “white-knuckled” grip on mere survival.
He knows that you’re burdened and tired and he says, “Come to me and rest” Mt 11:28). He recognizes your shame and offers you a fresh start with a future and a hope (Jer 29:11). He reaches out to your brokenness and declares with fierce tenderness, “I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal. . .because they have called you an outcast; ‘It is Zion; no one cares for her!'”(Jer 30:17).
“See, I am making all things new,” is his announcement (Rev 21:5). One of those things can be your life.Can you yield the treasures of your memories to him? Will you let him clear out the archives of the history that haunts you?
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,