Third Sunday in Lent: Busy Woman Called By God, Again.

 “How is it that you ask….?” John 4:9

Life is hectic. Life can be down right hard. Life is also full of the holy. Life is full of the unexpected. And occasionally the ordinary tasks of life are holy and unexpected, for it is the midst of daily life that God finds us.

In the narrative that we hear from the Gospel of John this week we hear the Samaritan woman asking Jesus “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me to get you a drink” (John 4:9). Yes we know the next line of the gospel almost by heart it is an explanation that Jews and Samaritans don’t speak to one another. This is confirmed later in the text when the disciples return and are flabbergasted to find Jesus not only speaking to a woman but a Samaritan woman!

I am sure that most of this has been pointed out from countless pulpits today. I, myself, however, I want to just slow the whole reading at John 4:9. I want to simply turn over and over the words “How is it that you ask me?”.

Many people, but particularly women, know what it is like to have a person come up and ask you for something. It sometimes seems that we do so much to care for so many persons. Life can lead us to think that we simply don’t have time for one more thought or one more task…and always someone will appear to ask. And then we have to reply.

As I read this text I wonder at the tone of voice the Samaritan woman used. The tone of voice of voice she used would have contributed much to the meaning of the conversation. Was she snappy? Was she annoyed? Was she exasperated? Was she using a question to tell him to buzz off? We don’t know her tone, we can only guess. It does seem she is a little amused–this man wants water from a deep well but brings no bucket.  I almost cannot help but hear her insinuating that  Jesus is simply being silly, at the very least she seems to indicates she believes he is ridiculous.

Jesus responds to the Samaritan woman “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is who saying to you…” (John 4:10). “If you knew…” ok, let’s stop the text right there. Jesus knows all the worries and pressures on this woman, as is confirmed later in the text. She is a busy woman, with many people in her life, she comes to draw water from the well which can not be simple because it is a deep well. Her life is about existing in both practical and social terms. She is a woman of ethnic identity who is looked down upon by others. She knows oppression. She knows manual labor. She has not sent a servant to fetch the water so she may very likely be poor as well. And here is Jesus interrupting her busy life, getting her attention, to tell her about the One who can provide living water.

Yes, the text is about living water and racial strife and getting to the Truth of the matter…we hear that each time it appears in the lectionary and all of that is important. But in the quiet of this text, if we stop to hear Jesus say, “if you knew….” Then we may also find God, and the Son of Man, coming to find us where we toil. Coming to interrupt our work…interrupting our gathering of basic needs to say there is more to living than toil, I, God can provide what you more deeply need. This is not to say that basic needs such as food and water and shelter are not important they are and God is concerned about these. But God is concerned with the spiritual aspects of our lives that are much deeper than our physical needs ever can be. And Jesus finds this woman at her toil to teach her this.

We know how the narrative ends. The woman is converted by her encounter with Jesus and goes out to proclaim his holiness to her village. She proclaims Jesus as a prophet, That is the ending of this narrative. We all have encounters where we feel God is with us, teaching us. When God comes to us to offer depth and meaning and we find ourselves busy with the daily tasks of life how do we respond?

Oh God who inspires all things. Grant me discernment so I may head your call and your meaning no matter what task I may be involved in, when you arrive. Grant that in my busy-ness I may hear you and seek what you have to offer in that moment. Grant me your peace and courage to respond to you, even if social taboos would have me shy away from doing so. Refresh me and send me out to my community anew.  Amen.

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Others: Lent 3

The Lectionary reading for the third week of Lent is John 4:4-42. It is the text about the Samaritan Woman at the well and her conversation with Jesus.

I want to start by thanking my former seminary classmate, the Rev. Alison Rainey English, for posting this video on Facebook. I thought this was a breathtaking retelling of the text, so take a minute and watch it:

This video reminds me that the art of biblical story telling is one that I have much respect for. It is an art that seeks to tell a story in a new way, to reach out and shake the audience into new awareness of what is being said, much like poetry does. Perhaps this is why this particular video strikes me. (There are other similar portrayals of this text.) It makes me take notice of the woman at the well and her story that became so much of the encounter with Jesus.

I have been pondering this text in part becuase it may be used in a worship service that I am helping to plan for a conference this summer. It is indeed a rich text, perhaps one that begs for the liturgical arts be present as witnesses to it. But this text is also one that comes up time and again when we talk about crossing social boundaries to invite others to our faith and to include them in worship. Here is a woman possibly outcast in her own society, certainly a woman who has seen her share of trouble, who is also a member of outcast group talking with Jesus. Jesus who does not shy away from her but engages in dialogue with her. Gail R. O’Day makes an interesting point by naming that while this woman is often seen in some immoral light because she has had five husbands Jesus does not condemn her for this but rather allows her to become an apostle by telling her people about him (Gail R O’Day, “John” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, Westminster: Louisville, 1992, 296). The truth is we don’t know much about the history of this woman before she meets Jesus. She may have been repeatedly widowed or part of a non-Jewish marriage that was based simply on a contract that could be exited at will–but we know what she does when she meets Jesus, that she unlike many in the gospels recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and we know she acts as an apostle after meeting Jesus.

It is precisely the actions of this woman in contrast to those of the disciples that strike me as a Lenten nugget in this text. This woman is outcast as a woman, outcast as a Samaritan, outcast by having a personal history; this woman is not only welcomed by Jesus but takes it upon herself to become an apostle. This Lenten season we have thought about fault and sin, about leaving and change, and now we are faced with a text that appears to lift up a person who would not be lifted up as a religious example as one who sees and seeks the truth. The woman at the well is the other who only seeks truth and love while being denied both by society. But all that changes when she meets Jesus. For Jesus reveals the truth to her, a truth that sends her back into her community, where she might to be listened to.

Could it be that the Lenten journey is one that not only calls us to examine our own actions but to also examine our social expectations to consider who we may be missing, and the truth they have to share, when we decide who is in and who is out according to our traditions? Jesus did not exclude persons; he always found a way to bring the other in. Perhaps this third week of Lent we are called to meditate on that part of the journey. The stories we could tell, and we still have so far to go!