Where do we meet the world? That would seem to be an easy question to answer. We are meeting the world in the supermarkets while we are stocking up. We are meeting the world in our workplaces. We are acutely aware of meeting the world if we are taking public transportation.
In this time of national emergency and pandemic, we are hyper-aware of the world and the kind of contagion it may bring. We are wondering what is the Christian’s response during a time of virus and crisis?
Last week, Jesus told Nicodemus, the leader of the synagogue, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .” Then here we are in the next chapter, and Jesus is in Samaria, talking to the woman at the well. Where is this world that Jesus speaks of? It’s here. Jesus has left what is familiar territory, and gone off track to meet up with the world where he has a surprising encounter. The world is here in enemy territory, in Samaria. The world is here in this woman.
Today’s gospel shows Jesus and the woman engage in a real dialogue. Jesus is testing the limits with whatever the woman has – her scandalous past. Can Jesus get the “cooties” from this woman? Not germs, but a social contagion because of the five husbands? Will he be ‘soiled’ by being around her? They were strict about purity in those days. The Judeans had to keep their distance from the other tribes. Who you could associate with and who you could not was important. She’s not just a Samaritan – but she has a less than pure past, or so people would like to believe. Certainly, she has had to practice social-distancing.
And so should Jesus!
Jesus reveals that the world is here in this FOREIGN WOMAN, who has a questionable past. Samaritans and Judeans are enemies. Why? Because Samaritans don’t worship right! They do things differently! They don’t worship at the temple in Jerusalem; they worship on the mountain. What’s even worse, they still keep pagan gods around (very bad!). There was real hatred between the two tribes. Yet, none of that stops Jesus from revealing himself to her.
When we think of this scene, we mentally give the woman a water dipper so she can use it to dip into the water jar and give Jesus a drink. What if there is NO dipper? She doesn’t anticipate sharing water with anyone . . .What if you drink from the jar by putting your lips where the Samaritan woman has put hers? That would be astonishing. Maybe we can get a sense of how scandalous Jesus is here, putting his lips on this water jar, when we remember the Jim Crow laws down South, and how there were separate water fountains. Those laws were there to prevent peoples’ lips from using the same water fountains.
We are presently in a time of the coronavirus, so we are acutely aware of the spread of contagion. Jesus puts himself at risk in more ways than one.
So, Jesus scandalizes this scandalous Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink from her water jar. He out scandalizes a woman who is already the town scandal with her five husbands. He meets scandal with scandal in a very simple way, by asking for a drink of water, putting his mouth where hers has been. Jesus meets her where she is. And he really gets her attention! For Jesus to share the same water jar with her sounds pretty alarming, intimate, and radical.
To Judeans – Samaritans are filthy dogs – why would he ask for water from her? His apostles wonder the same thing! Why is he talking to her?, they wonder. Why would he put his LIPS to her water jug? Would he really do that? Yes! He does! He’s thirsty. His LIPS go where SAMARITAN lips had been. It’s not a joke. No wonder she looks at him so strange – he’s knocked her sideways! She asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” He’s gotten her attention! That’s a question that also asks – who ARE you? Who are you that you are willing to RISK your reputation with the likes of me?
Although Jesus tells the woman she’s had five husbands, it’s not to shame her. It’s not a sneaky
way to call her a prostitute. He says it to move the conversation into deeper ground. He says it to show her he’s a prophet, and indeed she calls him that. Over the centuries, the woman has been cast with a sordid past, the five husbands, but there could be an answer to why she had so many. She may have been given in marriage while still a young teenager to a very old man, and then become a young widow. Disease and accidents might have carried off her other husbands. We don’t know. But we do know how rumors can stick to people despite their best efforts. People prefer to believe the stories they make up in their heads, rather than give a vulnerable woman the benefit of the doubt.
We notice she goes to get water in the middle of the day, when everyone else gets their water in the morning when it’s cool. This is so she can avoid the other women. It’s just easier and safer, to just avoid these other self-righteous women.
Here she is, on a scorching noonday sun to get water, and last week, we had Nicodemus come in the night. Nicodemus has too much to lose if people see him consult with Jesus. This woman, on the other hand, has NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING to lose by being associated with Jesus. She has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
When she runs off to tell her village about Jesus, her acclamation, “Could this be the Messiah?” is far more decisive and public than Nicodemus who slinks home in the dark, undecided, too much to lose.
Jesus reveals himself to THIS foreign woman who has a questionable past and comes from a tribe that does everything wrong.
He says, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Jesus doesn’t just reveal himself to this woman, he tells her something that she needs to know.
Can we find this living water?
Where IS this living water that Jesus promises? Too often we channel poisonous waters within our spiritual veins with our grudges, defensiveness, and lack of forgiveness. Too often, we have the UNliving waters flowing through our veins. Words that kill, attitudes that stifle, put downs, negativity that poison others AND ourselves. We are not at peace, and we pass along this lack of peace, unthinkingly.
I’m sure the Samaritan woman’s neighbors thought nothing of cutting her dead everyday at the well. For her it is, ‘You – go fill you water jar when we’re not around.’
Where do we met the world? Where is the world for us? For sure, it’s outside of our comfort zones.
Church is comfortable, safe, tame, easy, domesticated. Jesus is directing us to look outside these four walls, go find the world, and make common cause with it. Be ready to have surprising conversations and have unexpected encounters, like he does here, all for the sake of sharing the good news.
Be ready! Last year, I was walking down W. 89th Street in Manhattan, wearing a provocative T-shirt. It was the green T-shirt the ELCA had given out in 2014 for the Climate March. I walked by a man who was standing on the stoop of his magnificent brownstone; this is the upper Westside and it’s full of brown-stones. The man made some comment I didn’t hear, so I walked back to ask him what did he say. Our conversation was a surprise.
I expect the man was Jewish, yet he knew about the ELCA, had formed an opinion about it – he had been to Minnesota and thought that if they were evangelicals, they were very quiet ones. He probed me if I was a Christian for the promise of heaven, and I told him eternal life begins NOW. That as a young adult, promises of eternal life were of no help, I needed to know how to live NOW, and Christ directed and taught me with his WORD. His Word gave me LIFE NOW. Immediately when I needed it. I also said that I may be in a mainline denomination, but Christ saved me with a capital S, and I carved an S-shape in the air.
That is MY good news that I shared. I left when his friends drove up.
A surprising encounter. Not a Samaritan in Samaria, but a Jewish man of the upper Westside of Manhattan. You would expect to find a Samaritan if you cut through Samaria as Jesus did, and you would expect to meet a Jewish person on the upper Westside of Manhattan. You meet the world in unexpected places.
We are lights, we are signs of Christ in our neighborhoods. People NEED what we have. They need to know the GOOD NEWS of Christ, our LIVING WATER, and THEIR living water. The Samaritan woman ran and left her water jar when she ran to tell the village that had ostracized her, had sucked their teeth at her, had gossiped behind her back, had told lies about her. Her good news is SO GOOD, that the unpleasant-ness is forgotten and forgiven. Her good news is SO GOOD, that SHE is the first evangelizer, not Nicodemus. The Samaritan woman says to her village “Come and see!” the same words Jesus used to call his first apostles. “Come and see.” What privilege he has given her. She had nothing to lose and has gained – eternal life to live her precious life NOW.
During this time of coronavirus, things have been turned upside down. We are instructed that the best thing we can do for our neighbor is to stay away from them. The best thing we can do for our neighbor is to only go out when necessary, while our country’s health care systems work to provide enough test kits, wear the increasingly scarce protective clothing, while taking care of the ill. Keep our health care workers in your prayers, with special attentive prayer for our member, Michael Giordano, who is an ER nurse, who reports shortages of protective clothing while taking care of more and more people with the virus.
During this time of coronavirus we are not to scapegoat any ethnicity as special bearers of the virus. We are to take special regard to the elderly and those with underlying health concerns, who are most vulnerable.
During this time of Lent, we are already primed to do without – to experience a lack, so that Christ can fill us. We can continue in that vein, allowing Christ to shelter and guide us in news ways during this Lenten season.
I thank you Lord for opportunities to share your good news to the world, NOW when we are in the midst of a crisis. God is still GOD in our crisis. God is still sovereign. Give us the courage and faith of this woman. Give us new hearts to remind us that the ill remain our neighbors. We will be mindful to take proper precautions on behalf of our brothers and sisters.
In Jesus name we pray.