3/19/2017 Third Sunday in Lent The text is John 4:5-42.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Water is the source of all life. It sustains and nourishes us and all living things. It courses through our bodies. Without it, life on earth as we know it could not exist. And yet, there is another source of life, the living water which flows from God through Jesus Christ. This water grants eternal life….and it is the water offered to all through the living Lord, even to those whom we could judge as unworthy to receive it.
The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel is one who could easily be cast aside and declared unworthy. She is into loose living, bouncing around casually from one partner to another. And when she encounters Jesus at the well, she is now living with some other man who is not her husband. Jesus mentions to her that he knows who she is…that she has had five husbands and is now living with a man without marriage. In this day and age, this lifestyle would not shock us. It might not even cause us to raise an eyebrow, but not so in Jesus’ time. This woman is so ostracized by the community in which she lives that she has to go and draw water from the well in the heat of the day instead of joining the other woman who drew water in the coolness of the morning. By her lifestyle, the woman is rejected. She is labeled a sinner, with all caps. And Jesus’ words expose her as such.
What is unexpected is the woman’s reaction to what Jesus has said. For, while she is surprised that Jesus knows this about her, she doesn’t run away in horror. She doesn’t bow her head in shame. In fact, she acknowledges her history and doesn’t seem to feel any guilt about it. She is who she is.
No repentance, no grace…that’s the way we assume God acts. We confess, then God forgives…that’s the way we assume God acts. We have to do something first, as if we are in the driver’s seat when it comes to God. We assume that we have some control over our destiny, even though it is God who acts first. So, contrary to what we might assume, Jesus does not reject this woman whose lifestyle has brought her disgrace among her people. Jesus does not ignore her. Instead, he engages her in a conversation and offers her the living water of eternal life.
What Jesus does by the well flies in the face of the assumptions we make about God and how God acts, and people and how we judge them. But, then, the assumptions we make are rooted in our own minds and in that of the popular culture. So sadly, many of the assumptions become facts that lead to false judgments and rejection. Like rejecting the art work of Van Gogh as useless led to him sell only one painting in his whole life (and that was sold to his brother). The world’s most famous board game, Monopoly, was rejected by the leading game company because it contained dozens of serious faults that would prevent it from becoming a success. When the infant Bell Telephone Co. was struggling to get started, its owners offered all of their rights to the established Western Union Co. for $100,000. Western Union rejected Bell because “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” Thomas Edison rejected talking pictures because they were impractical and would destroy film’s illusion (This was in 1926, only a few years before talkies became a reality). Decca Recording Co. turned down the Beatles in 1962 because “we don’t like their sound. Groups of guitarists are on the way out.” Madame Butterfly and Rite of Spring both flopped on opening night. Chester Carlson peddled his idea for photocopying to seven corporations before he found one willing to invest in Xerox.
What is the common denominator in all of this rejection? Assumptions that miss the mark.
The woman at the well knows rejection all too well. She is, after all, a woman (reason enough to be rejected in the society of that time). She is a Samaritan (a good Jew would not let the shadow of a Samaritan cross his or her path). She is a sinner (living with men outside the bonds of marriage). But, in Jesus she finds something that she cannot find in her world. In him she finds something quite spectacular. She finds that she can do nothing, or say nothing to receive it. In him she finds ACCEPTANCE! And in him, so do we!
We, too, find God’s acceptance through Jesus Christ, sinner though we may be. Although we are no more deserving of it than the woman at the well, God, in Jesus Christ, is there for us before we confess, repent or accept his mercy. We find grace in Jesus Christ as he reaches out to the ungodly with a message of salvation and the gift of living water. Jesus offers it to us as he confronts us with what we have done and asks us to put our faith in him. When we realize our unworthiness to stand before God and each other then we can begin to understand and grab hold of this free gift that Jesus has to offer. And after receiving this gift from God, then we can have a change in heart toward him and toward each other. It begins with God, for our hearts have been weakened by sin. It begins with Jesus reaching out to us, for it only through God’s grace that we can begin to trust in the living water that can make whole and free to live a new life.
Back when Dr. Christian Bernard was making world headlines with his heart transplants he appeared one night on the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson asked him if he had any interesting stories he could tell. He said, “Yes,” and proceeded to tell about one of the times a patient came back for an exam. As Dr. Bernard talked with this man he asked: “Doctor, do you, by any chance, still have my old heart?” “Yes we do. It’s back here in a jar. Do you want to see it?” he asked. When the man said he would, Dr. Bernard went for it, showed it to him and said, “Do you see this valve right here? That was killing you.” The old man looked at it and said, “I’m so glad I don’t have my old heart anymore.”
In baptism, we have been given the gift of a new heart. The old one, worn out and killing us through sin and assumptions, has been replaced with a new heart, beating to the tune of God’s love, a heart pumping the living water of Jesus throughout our bodies. For, it is God’s diagnosis that we are incurable sinners doomed to death, and it is God’s prescription to give us an infusion of his grace in the living waters of his son. Having received such a spectacular gift of acceptance and new life, may we react as the Samaritan woman who went into her community to share the Good News.
May we take the time during this Lenten season to meditate on this gift of grace and the assumptions we make about God and neighbor. May we change as the Samaritan woman by giving praise and thanks to God through our witness to his son. And as you do so, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Ch