Sunday, March 16, 2014

LEARNING LENT FROM THE WOMAN AT THE WELL. A Homily for 3.23.14, the Third Sunday of Lent, from John 4:5-42.

Homily for 3.23.14
3rd Sunday of Lent
Year A

The Gospel Lectionary reading for today, this the third Sunday of the Lenten season, brings to us rich and evocative account of Jesus' confrontation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.

You know the story, of course. Jesus, journeying from Judea to Galilee chooses to go through Samaria, not always the safest of sojourns. In the heat of the day he stops at Jacob's well near the village of Sychar, the disciples having left him to find food. A Samaritan woman who was coming to the well for water is asked by Jesus for a cup of water from the well, and the spiritual encounter begins.

For today's homily I want us to think through three ideas that will open to us the meaning of Jesus appointment with the woman, and then at the very end we will apply these insight to our Lenten journey.

Clearly, Jesus intentionally crosses several barriers to meet this woman. In fact, the woman perceives this move and asks the most pertinent of questions:
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
Immediately, Jesus becomes suspect. How can you, a Jewish holy man take the risk to talk to a woman -- aren't you afraid of disgrace? And, how can you a Jew talk to me a Samaritan -- aren't you aware that Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans? And, finally, how can you, a Jewish holy man have anything at all to do with me -- don't you know that I am a person of ill-repute (why do you think me hear drawing water in the heat of the day)?

This is a beautiful picture of Jesus' loving burden for all people. Here we come to see in a blatant example of cross-cultural ministry that while Jesus' primary calling was to the lost house of Israel, his concern actually stretched to the entire world of people. That is, Jesus would have the world know that there is new life and a new way to live being presented in his person and his actions. More on this in a moment.

A good way to read the realty of GOD's love is found in the study of the power of the Gospel to cross social, racial, cultural and economic barriers. Here and in several other texts we see Jesus doing this, but it is not just Jesus who thinks in this way. Consider the post resurrection calling of the disciples:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8
and the example of St. Paul in say, Philippians 4:
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:22)
The barrier breaking power of the Gospel may be understood as the dynamism of GOD collapsing the Babel-divisions of the human family and finally returning to what the Almighty intended for humanity all along. Or, we could understand the barrier breaking power of the Gospel as the Father’s fundamental reality to create the new community, the new humanity, found in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in the resurrection, in the ascension and in his final, future appearing.

And, so, what Gospel does Jesus offer the woman? What is it that can turn the tide of race-hate and greed and violence, and relationship slaughter and the divergent views of religious life?

Jesus offers living water:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Whatever this water is, it demands a change. Jesus says to the woman: 
“Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The reality of the human condition has ravaged this woman. We need not inquire to how she came to this low estate because we need only look into the mirror with honesty to see ourselves among with her. No? You doubt that we could easily have followed her?  

Here I am reminded of the story of Bishop Fulton Sheen who was reported to have told some prison inmates to whom he was ministering: 
"You know the difference between you and me?...I didn't get caught"
Well, the woman has been caught. Jesus, somehow aware of her life, now confronts her with it, but not to destroy! This is the point of Jesus' crossing human erected barriers. This woman clearly lives as an outcast. To the culture she is socially unacceptable and religiously repugnant. To Jesus she is a candidate for the new humanity:
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)
O people. Please stop and ponder this good news…

This life-changing living water from Jesus flows where the Spirit of GOD streams forward and where a brutal life-truth discharges from the heart. This water is for everyone, anyone. With her honesty, "I do not have a husband," comes her moment of hope from the Master. And this is the pattern of how the living water finds its way to the heart. Tell the truth and find new life.

The woman now changed from the inside out goes to those who shun her and offers to them the living water! She becomes a barrier breaker just like the Messiah who showed her the way.

The disciples are confused for they think only of the lost house of Israel:
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
But, as we said, Jesus carriers a greater burden. And what happened? Jesus looks up from the well and sees the town coming to the well and remarks:
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
If we only we had eyes to see the world as Jesus sees the world — so broken, so lost, so thirsting for the living water of new life and a new way to live.

Which leads us, finally, to today's Lenten emphasis:

The LORD still breaks barriers to offer the living water of new life and a new way to live. Perhaps you are here today and you need to taste this living water. Yes? Well, the LORD stands not far away from you, but as close as the air you breathe. The LORD stands not in judgment but in mercy. So, turn to him in faith, believing he is present, and ask for the living water. It will be his delight to give it to you.

The LORD still leads his newly created humanity to offer new life and a new way to live to this old world at war with itself. Our Gospel calling must lead us out of the safety of the church to the world that needs us so desperately. Now, what the world does not need, and never has needed, is a church triumphant who lords a victory dance of the fallen. No, what the world has always needed from the church is the reality of the living water lived out in loving sacrifice and reconciling forgiveness. And there is not better moment for the church to return to this calling than the season of Lent. None...