Monday, March 24, 2014

Everything I have ever done. And then some.

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but 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.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’ 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

I walked in to a bakery and was looking at the cookies and the ├ęclairs while the woman behind the counter waited on the person in front of me. The other customer was busy on the phone, talking away, all the while pointing to the pastries that she wanted with her other hand. Occasionally she’d hold up her fingers—three—and then point to what she wanted. She paid and mouthed a thank you before she walked out of the bakery.

I sighed. At least she said thank you.

How often have you been behind someone in line at a coffee shop or fast food place and they just say, “gimme a large coffee,” pay and walk away? How often have you been that person? This is something that we've all done when we have other things on our minds or other people on our phones. But when we do this, we may be missing important connections. 

Technology makes it easier to talk to someone who is three hundred miles away rather than the person in front of us. In a lot of ways that’s a good thing. My mother-in-law in Virginia reads books via Skype to my niece and nephew in Montana while my sister-in-law makes dinner. Through technology they are real participants in each other's lives. 

But when we use our phones and computers to filter out the people around us, that can a problem. It used to be that when we went to the local watering hole, we’d talk to the people who happened to be there. Now, more often than not, we just interact with our phones and the people and programs that are at the other end. I am as guilty as anyone of this.

Imagine if Jesus went to that well in Samaria our day. Would he have talked to the woman there? Or would he have texted his buddies.

Getting thirsty. No bucket. How close r u?

Of course, that wouldn’t happen because the story is not really about Jesus needing a drink, but rather about the encounter that he has with the Samaritan woman. It’s a story about connecting with people and seeing them as important.

Jesus is making his way through Samaria when he comes to the well. There he strikes up a conversation with a woman. This isn’t just small talk, this is theological debate and revelation. This is important stuff that happens right there at the local watering hole. This story is one of many that show us that Jesus sees and values the people that might often be overlooked. People who might even be treated badly by those who think of themselves as more righteous.

After all she had some strikes against her—she was a woman and therefore her job was to serve, not to debate. She was property rather than a person. She was also a Samaritan, a rival of the Jews. 

Breaking custom, Jesus asks her to dip her bucket into the well to get him a drink. Instead of just being obedient and doing it, she questions him.

Are you nuts? She might say today. You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan. We can’t share the same bucket.  

Then, for some reason, the Samarian woman of questionable reputation has a full on encounter with God in Christ. She is amazed and changed by the experience and becomes an apostle—a sent one—as she goes into town and announces Jesus’ presence. It’s the marginalized woman who brings the rest of her community to Jesus.

Jesus saw this woman for what she truly was—a child of God. He wasn’t content to see the way others saw her. He looked deeply into her. He saw the hardship of her past, but he must have seen something else, too.  Maybe it was her brazen honesty or her willingness to be vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus saw some of his own qualities in her.

And so he talks with her. He reveals himself to her. He tells this unnamed, foreign woman that he is the messiah. 

This passage reminds me of the TV show Cheers or Friends or maybe today’s comedy Big Bang Theory.  Those TV shows are popular because they show us visions of something we all need—a place to belong. We all want to belong to a group where we can be our real selves. A place where everybody knows our name, knows a little bit about our history (the good and the bad) and still welcomes us. We all want to feel that we are valued and matter to someone.

Where do I belong? is one of the questions that drives us throughout our lives. At first we belong to our families, then we get to middle school and the question of belonging is the main thing on our mind. Which group would will we belong to? The cheerleaders? The goths? The burnouts? The smart kids? The jocks?

Remember the agony of the middle school cafeteria, standing there with your sweaty hands gripping the plastic tray looking out at a sea of faces? Where would you sit? What would they think of your food choices? Your clothes? Where would you belong? 

We move in and out of belonging throughout our lives. New jobs, marriages, neighborhoods, retirement and old age put us in new places. Places of uncertainty. Will we find those people who really understand us? Will we find people that we can honestly reveal ourselves to? 

The woman at the well may have been wondering where she belonged. She’d had five husbands. The Bible is unclear on how this happened. Did five men die? Was she thrown out five times? However it happened, losing five husbands would have been a hardship in that time and place. People may very well have thought there was something wrong with her. 

So here she is, a woman who is likely struggling financially and is looked upon with suspicion by her people—Don’t marry her, you’ll die! She feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s the middle school kid feeling dread in the pit of her stomach. So she decided to eat lunch alone. Or in this case, go to the well. 

But when she gets to the well Jesus is there. Waiting. In their conversation, she admits to her past. 

I have no husband, she tells Jesus.

But Jesus knew that. He knew that something about those five husbands made her feel disconnected. Maybe he recognized a kindred outcast. Maybe this is why this passage is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Bible.  

Maybe Jesus found a kindred spirit when it came to being misunderstood. 

Some calls to confession remind us to "remember that our Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in our weaknesses." Maybe that was a weakness he knew well. The disciples didn’t really understand him, but something about this woman brought the truth out of him. I am the Messiah. I am he.

The power of this story lies in revelation—in the sharing of the truths of their lives. and finding a sense of understanding in each other.  Scholars who study this text say there is some flirtation or innuendo that our modern ears miss. I’m not enough of a linguist to agree or disagree with that. But when we encounter this story, we feel the power of real connection and honesty. Jesus and the woman see each other for who they really are and somehow find belonging.

Despite their differences they seem to value each other. They reveal their truths and she responds by becoming and evangelist. What is her message? 

This man told me everything I have ever done.

What I see in her testimony is this: This man told me everything I have ever done and he respected me anyway. He accepted me anyway. He trusted me despite my past, despite my mistakes.  To Jesus this woman was not dispensable or a person to just hand over a bucket of water and be dismissed.  She was a child of God. She was a woman to be trusted with important truth. 

 In response, she left behind what she knew to share what he did for her. She didn’t say he was the way the truth and the life. She didn’t speak theology. She spoke her personal truth. I encountered Jesus and he knows me and loves me.

The good news is that Jesus knows you and me in this way too. Despite our past. Despite our mistakes. Jesus comes to us. He sees into our hearts and tells us that, yes, we belong. We have a place at the table with him. We are important. We are loved.

Our response should be like that of the woman at the well. We should share Christ’s love. We should let the news that we are loved and valued and forgiven bring us new confidence when we feel like the outsider or that we don’t belong. Because the truth of the matter is that we do belong. Our group is bigger than a cafeteria table, a family surname or a local bar. We belong to God. The people that we encounter are God’s people. They belong, too. They are important, too.

The mechanic who changes our oil. The woman who hands us pastries at the bakery.  The teenager serving us at the drive through. The person who can’t speak English who sits at our feet for a pedicure.  These are God’s people.  Take a moment to look deeply and connect. Who know what you might discover?

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