March 15, 2020 – 3 Lent A
Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking to a woman….”
Our gospel lesson is taken from the 4th chapter of John’s gospel and those early chapters set a definite tone. First there is John’s famous prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Christ always has been and always will be. God is everlasting and ever constant, always new and transforming the creation that God loves.
After his theological overview, the gospel of John gets down to business. John the Baptist is introduced and then the apostles are called. The first big thing Jesus does that people can see is to turn water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. This is not a grim new era being ushered in or the same-old-same-old. This is a celebratory time for God to bring all things together. Jesus is the wonderful new wine being offered for all people.
Right after the wedding miracle, Jesus goes to the Temple in Jerusalem and throws out the moneychangers. Those who are using the institution for their own benefit are called out. God does not require ritual sacrifices; God wants true sacrifices; God wants justice and mercy.
Then John tells us about Nicodemus, the leader of the Jews who comes to Jesus at night, in secret so that his peers won’t see him, and asks what true devotion looks like. Jesus tells him he must be born anew, afresh, from above. Devotion is not just checking off rules we have followed but aligning our hearts with God.
And then, in what we read this morning, John tells us about the meeting with the Samaritan woman. There’s really no way we can understand how dramatic this meeting is in terms of meaning for the world at the time. Jesus meets with a woman which simply was not done. For good measure, the woman is a Samaritan. Not just a foreigner but a traitor. Samaritans are more than rivals. Samaritans have married pagans. Samaritans have watered down the Jewish faith. Samaritans are not doing it right. They are unclean and Jews are not to associate with them in any fashion. Jesus’ actions are doubly astonishing as he converses with this woman of Samaria.
The timing of this reading alongside the events we now face which force us to close our churches and avoid contact with each other is a bit surreal. As we deal with our fears about catching and spreading a life-threatening virus, we get a little deeper understanding of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus having close contact with a woman of Samaria. She was seen as unclean, infected, poisonous. And yet Jesus gets very close to her, even drinks from a common cup with her.
Clearly the gospel of John is making a dramatic point. Jesus is the new wine, the new sacrifice, the new temple. Jesus shows the true character of the very kingdom of God. It’s not just for those born to privilege. The kingdom of God is for all humankind and if we don’t get with the program it is we who will be left out of the kingdom, not the tax collectors and sinners, not the prostitutes and the pagans, not those who we know in our hearts are wrong, wrong, wrong, not the unclean and infected. All are invited to join in the kingdom of God which is based on love for all humankind. That definite theme is established in the first four chapters of John’s gospel and continues on through all 21 chapters.
So I wonder what sort of theme is currently being expressed in your life in terms of lessons that God may want you to learn. Are you too closed off in your views about other human beings? Are you a little too certain that you are right and someone else is wrong? Do you need to open your heart a little? Are you being invited to set healthier boundaries and let go of pleasing everybody you meet? Have you lost who you are in your attempts to uphold some image you have constructed for yourself? Do you need to be more trusting? Or maybe you need to change just who it is you do trust. Maybe you’ve trusted in someone that cannot hold up to your expectations. Are you living in fear? Are you lonely? Do you need to let go of some harmful attitudes or a behavior that is unhealthy?
How would I know if there were a theme that God wants me to consider, you might wonder. Just look at the events going on in your life right now. Go back a few months and list your family situations, your work situations, your physical and mental health issues. Are your friends or colleagues trying to tell you something? Is there a theme in what you are reading or listening to? What are your night-time dreams telling you? Is there some consistent theme you are being invited to consider?
Sometimes we think of life as a puzzle we have to put together in order to find the great secret of fulfillment. We tend to think that God, if he communicates with us at all, will do so in mysterious and complicated ways, ways that will be easy to miss or misunderstand. Today I’d like to suggest that when God has a message for us, a lesson he wants us to learn, he speaks very clearly. God speaks to us in clear themes rather than hints. When life has a lesson for us to learn, it comes to us in many forms. What we hear in scripture, what we pick up on from a friend, something we observe in nature, the various circumstances we are dealing with, the challenges and affirmations we are handed, all blend together to shape us and transform us. We have to listen but God generally makes it impossible not to hear what he needs us to know. God’s way of communicating with us is primarily in silence but there is great constancy and consistency in his presence with us. Rather than looking for some lightning bolt from on high, look at your own world. God comes to us. Our everyday life is a well and God sits beside us each day as we drink it all in.
As new as the message of Jesus seems to the world at the time, that message is utterly consistent with the messages God has been sending since the beginning of creation. That message is that God builds a saving grace into every aspect of our daily living. It is not all up to us. God made us, God sustains us, God redeems our failures. God did not just throw a heap of matter out into space and then retreat into some distant stratosphere. God abides with us.
As you listen today, you may well be shaken and fearful, cut off from the world, and feeling very alone. Our circumstances today might just open our hearts to the message of Christ. As we keep our distance from each other in an attempt to flatten the spread of this virus, Christ shows us that God is always near. Right this moment, we are listening, praying, and worshipping in very separate places. But we are one, one with each other, and one in Christ Jesus.