Monday, March 14, 2005

Year A, Lent 3

In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.

The Gospel today is rather lengthy. But it takes time to tell a good story and the story of the woman at the well is a great one. Scandal, sex, shady characters, loose morals, and religious disagreements make up a
veritable cornocopia of things to talk about. This should be enough to get the attention of any good Christian!

Jesus must have known something was up from the moment he laid eyes on her. Something was very, very out of place from the moment the story began. It is noontime and here is this woman drawing water. No one else is around the well. No one else is anywhere near. Why? Because anyone with half a brain in their heads knows that you get your water in the morning before the heat of the day. No one wants to be carrying around water when the sun is up at its highest. So why was this woman there? She was the center of a town scandal. She was a shady character. She had loose morals. She was shunned and treated poorly by her neighbors. They whispered about her. They tried to avoid eye contact with her. They gossiped about her. They avoided here as much as possible. And to avoid the hurt these actions caused her, she returns the favor and tries to avoid them as well. To avoid all that she must face in a public outing, she comes to the well at the worst possible time, but at what is for her the best, the time when no one is around.

And after she goes to all the trouble, she meets someone anyway. She was probably nervous approaching the well when she saw someone there. Wondering who it is from town that must be behind schedule. Who is it she must now see and be reminded of what they all think of her. But instead she finds a stranger. She finds a stranger who acts pretty scandalously himself. He a Jew and she a Samaritan. Now to say that Jews and Samaritans didn't have much good to say about each other would be an understatement. They were involved in that most important of battles: a good religious disagreement. Each thought poorly of the other. Each was sure that God was on their side. And so as a result they didn't associate with each other. So it was very strange that Jesus would talk to this Samaritan. Stranger still, she was an unknown woman to him. Another reason why they should not be talking at all. And yet Jesus, scandalously, starts talking to her. You have only to see the disciples unspoken reactions when they returned to know that Jesus was behaving in an unseeming manner. They were shocked.

Like all good books, movies and TV shows our story eventually gets to sex. Jesus asks her about her husband. When she reports she doesn't have one, Jesus confronts her with the truth of her situation. Surprisingly he does
not dwell on it like most readers would probably prefer. After all, what good is a sex angle in a story if it only takes 6 lines out of 84? That is only about 7 percent of the entire story line. This would never make a movie! But not only does Jesus deny satisfaction to those who prefer a
story with some good titillation, he denies satisfaction to those who might enjoy a little fire and brimstone as well. There is no condemnation of this horrible woman. No listing of her faults. I think this is for two reasons.

First, is because as John tells us, God sent his son not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17). But second, because I think Jesus knew that her situation was not all of her own doing. Her place and time is so removed from us that it may be hard to imagine. But remember, back then women were basically property. They didn't divorce their husbands, their husbands divorced them. For a women to survive in this harsh world, she needed a man. And so she kept looking for one. Her society forced her to do what she ended up doing. No wonder Jesus chose not to condemn her!

But the most amazing thing in the story is how this encounter changed the woman's life. Look at what she does when she leaves Jesus. She runs back to the villages to share her encounter with Jesus. Gone now is her fear to speak to her neighbors. Gone is her shame. Gone is her embarrassment. Her encounter with the living God changed her. Jesus treated her like a real person. He spoke to her. He took time for her. He respected her. He changed her.

Jesus does the same for each and everyone of us. You see in the end Jesus didn’t care if the sin was hers or the men’s involved. Jesus wanted to talk about living water. Jesus wanted to offer her hope and help. Too often in society today people are afraid that all they will get from the Church is a long litany of their sins and unworthiness. We all know we are unworthy of the love of God. But that was never the point in God sending his son. The point was sharing the living water. The point was offering the gift of life. The point was offer hope not despair. Offering a hand up, not a put down.

God in Jesus is always acting contrary to what we would expect. There is something totally different about Jesus. He rejects the worldly way of looking at people and at their sin. Rather than focusing on sin as is so popular in our day and age, Jesus was focusing on the Living Water. This message transforms lives!

The truth of the matter is that Jesus and God tend to deal with people in very a different manner from the ways we seem to treat each other both in the Church and out.

Max Lucado is a wonderful Christian writer and great story teller. In his book “God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ” he wrote:

“Jesus may have had pimples. He may have been tone-deaf. Perhaps a girl down the street had a crush on him or vice-versa. It could be that his knees were bony. One thing’s for sure: He was, while completely divine, completely human. For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He was afraid of failure. He was susceptible to wooing women. He got colds, burped, and had body odor. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. And his head ached. To think of Jesus in such a light is – well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It’s not something we like to do; it’s uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer. He’s easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable. But don’t do it. For heaven’s sake, don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out. Listen to him. ‘Love your neighbor’ was spoken by a man whose neighbors tried to kill him. The challenge to leave family for the gospel was issued by one who kissed his mother good-bye in the doorway. ‘Pray for those who persecute you’ came from the lips that would soon be begging God to forgive his murders.”

Lets strive to work against our natural inclination when dealing with others. It is what Jesus did. It is what Jesus expects of those who follow him.


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