Monday, March 20, 2017

Living Water

John 4:5-42
3rd Lent
March 19, 2017

We know from other cultures who still
go to wells to gather water,
that gathering water is something that is usually done
by women and girls, and 2
that getting water was is a communal activity.
Most of the women come to the well at the same time
and they use that time to talk and share
information around the task.

And we also know that most people who do this,
do it in the morning so they wouldn't have
to carry a heavy load in the heat.
And they would want to use the fresh water for the day’s work.

But this woman came out alone to the well,
And she came at noon in the heat of the sun,
when no one else would be there.
All we know is that she is alone at  a time
when most people didn’t spend much time alone.
Maybe she was avoiding the other women.
Maybe they had made it clear that she was not welcome
into their circle of friends.
Woman a the Well
Guarav Suri
Maybe they had made judgments about her life and her situation.

Even today, in our permissive culture,
we still make our own assumptions 
about this woman at the well.
Jesus points out that this woman 
has had five husbands.
He doesn’t tell her to repent 
or to change her ways, 
or that she should be ashamed 
of her situation.
But lots of preachers today feel obligated 
to place their assumptions onto this woman.

Some say she was a hopeless romantic,
maybe she was loose, or a seductress.
Maybe she can’t hold a relationship together long term.
One modern, Christian preacher actually called her a
“a worldly, sensually-minded,
unspiritual harlot from Samaria”
That’s some projecting there.
That probably holds more information about the preacher
than about this woman at the well.

The truth is, there is no evidence for any of those things.
From what she or Jesus says, or what we know about
marriage and women during Jesus time.
Women didn’t have many choices when it came to marriage,
and marriage choices had little 
to do with romance, or sex, or love.
It actually probably wasn’t her choice at all.

The most likely reason might have been that her husbands
had died and she bore no heirs to carry on the man’s lineage.
In that case, she would have been passed on to her
husband’s brother, and another brother,
until she had a child, then it would be called 
the child of the first husband. 
It was called a Levirate Marriage,
it was practiced in many patriarchic societies
and it is outlined for Jews and Samaritans
in the book of Deuteronomy.

This most likely isn’t a story about an impetuous woman
who can’t control herself. It’s more likely a story about a woman
who has been shuffled around by the system,
has been shunned by her community and left alone.
And she’s a woman and she’s a Samaritan
There are many levels of judgment
and prejudice that this woman wears.
But  Jesus still comes to talk to her.
  
Now, Sometimes we find that the gospel of John
seems to comment on things that were said in the other gospels. 
In each of the three gospels, in Matthew, Mark & Luke,
the Saducees ask Jesus a question to trick him.  They say:
"Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies childless, 
his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.'
25  Now there were seven brothers among us; 
the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother.
26  The second did the same, so also the third,
down to the seventh.
27  Last of all, the woman herself died.
28  In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be?
For all of them had married her." 
This is obviously outlining a Levirate marriage

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus tells the Sadducees
basically, that their question is ridiculous
that God is the God of the living, not the dead.

But John’s gospel is not interested in this theological minutia
at all. John’s gospel is interested in the anonymous woman
that the Sadducees are asking about.

When faced with a woman who is married five times,
passed around passed around from man to man,
The Sadducees would have asked
- Who’s possession is she?

But Jesus shows us that the right question is posed to her:
Woman, aren’t you thirsty?
Don’t you want something that lasts forever.
Love that won’t die or leave you alone
or give up on you or go away after a little while?
At this point in your difficult life don’t you need
God’s love, acceptance and grace?
Don’t you want living water?
  
That’s the question that Jesus would ask about a woman
who was shuffled off from husband to husband.
Jesus would find the woman and talk to her,
and engage her in her own theological conversation.

We live in a world that can be cold and unforgiving.
That can be sterile and hurtful we live our lives in systems 
in this world that doesn't care who you are,
where people are a checked box, a string of numbers,
a statistic, a vote, a dollar amount, a credit rating,
And if you don’t fit neatly into one of those categories,
you can be left behind to suffer alone.

And Christians have sometimes been the worst offenders
We have tried to cram people into our cold theological
judgments and rules. 
We’ve done it with gays and lesbians, people of color, 
with women, with divorced people,
unwed mothers, people with mental illness, 
the poor and homeless, 
We find someone we don’t know
anything about and call them
 “a worldly-minded sensual harlot”

But we can’t forget the power that
we claim to witness to: God’s love is stronger than anything.
God’s love has the power to overcome any obstacle that is
put in front of it, even if the church puts it there.
We can’t forget that God’s love
is the spring of water that gushes up to eternal life,
The water that we can drink and never be thirsty again.

Christ is the living water,
and in him we are given the power over and over again,
to die to our old selves and rise again.
To die to our past, whatever was done by us -- or to us,
and rise to a new life a new reality.

But it’s not like those life experiences are just washed away.
They are transformed.
What the world counts as an insurmountable obstacle,
God counts as a benefit, God uses it to reach others.

Jesus offered the Samaritan woman
the living water of God’s love.
And afterwards, this woman leaves her water jug
goes to the center of the village that has brushed her aside
and tells them that she has met the Messiah.
And she is believed.

She dies to her old identity:
the woman with five husbands.
And now she has a new identity:
“The Woman With Five Husbands!”
The woman with a fascinating past and
a first-hand story of God to share.

She goes into the streets and tells everyone,
“Look this is the one. He told me everything about myself!
He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”
She is the first evangelist. The first preacher.

And just as Jesus came into this woman’s life
and transformed her, so it is with us.

The body of Christ -- the love of God incarnate -
comes up to us at our well. Where we stand alone.
Across all of our obstacles and burdens.
Through whatever we’ve done or had done to us
and reminds us, that that is not what defines us.
What defines us is God’s love.

The living water--God’s love—has the power to transform us.
In it, we can take our past and to those things
that once held us back, and use them
as a testament to God’s love and grace.

And now our past is an asset, a strength a witness.
This is how we die to ourselves and rise with Christ.

This is how God gives us new life.

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