John 4:1-26, 39-42
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be a doorway into a deeper encounter with you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In our scripture today we hear clearly what Jesus is saying and we hear clearly from the woman he encounters. We listen in on what they are saying. But what we don’t get to hear is the voice of the disciples who have been traveling with Jesus. But if we did, if we were able to hear from them as well I bet they’d be telling us about how maddening Jesus can be.
I bet they’d tell us about how he is always wandering off where he is not supposed to go. In our Scripture for today, the disciples leave Jesus for just a moment, but when they return they find him engaged in what, in their books at least, is unacceptable. They find him talking to a Samaritan, and not just a Samaritan, but a woman Samaritan — for heaven’s sakes!
We don’t get to hear the voice of the disciples today, but if we did I bet they’d tell us that the exasperating thing about Jesus is that he is always tending to do this. He is always tending to reach out to those who really ought to be left alone. The disciples after all, are trying to get a movement started and it’s going pretty well. Crowds are following Jesus and people are dropping to their knees in front of him. He is turning water into wine, and turning the tables in the Temple.
There is something really amazing about his Rabbi named Jesus. He is the real deal, but there also something distressing about him as well.
For he cannot seem to stop himself from heading straight over to the corner of the lunchroom where the ones who are not like the rest of them, tend to sit. He has this annoying tendency to jump out of the car whenever they happen to stop at that one stoplight here where Mass. Ave meets Melnea Cass, at that section that has been termed “methadone mile.” Despite their urging he inevitably opens the door, steps out into the intersection and make his way over those slumped in a stupor against the chain linked fence. And forget about getting to the board room on time. Nine times out of ten times when they look for him as they are about to step into the elevator, he will be gone. Only to be found again, down in the copy room chatting with the one that no one else knows by name.
Of course there were no lunchrooms, no methadone mile, and copy rooms in Jesus day but you get the picture. You get the sense of how those disciple who were following Jesus must have been feeling right? I certainly do. It must have been hard for them to manage Jesus and how he saw the world.
For Jesus was operating by rules that were different than the ones that ruled their lives. And I am not talking about the rules of Empire that they clearly recognized and rebelled against. No, instead I am talking about more subtle rules that resulted out of conditioning to the patterns and rhythms that framed their lives. There were just right ways of doing things, but Jesus did not seem to have a sense of this. He kept transgressing what in their eyes was right and proper and that must have made the disciples on more than one occasion roll their eyes with frustration.
Last week’s reading and this weeks are really to be considered together. Last week we met Nicodemus, respected Rabbi, man of God, seeker of truth, earnest and struggling Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night. Protected from scrutiny by his peers, able to consider what Jesus offers without having to risk much, at least not for now.
And today we meet this unnamed woman, isn’t that interesting that we do not know her name? And she is not cloaked by night but is fully exposed under the piercing noon day sun. And from their conversation we can intimate that she, unlike Nicodemus, was not the most respected of women in her town. Multiple husbands is one thing, but being with someone who is not her husband now? Well that is another thing all together. The judgment behind this women’s story is thick and we can feel it.
We also hear it in the way she names the scaffolding that society has constructed to keep the two of them from having the encounter that much to her surprise seems to be collapsing.
I have often marveled at this woman and have wished to know her name. For there is something so authentic and courageous about her. What gave her the capacity to enter in that day? What gave her the capacity to set aside the “should”, and “ought nots” and simply to engage with what was before her?
I think it has something to do with what Bob Dylan expressed so perfectly in the lyrics to his song “Like a rolling stone”.
“When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.
How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”
How did it feel to be that woman that day?
Somehow Jesus knew. He knew her loneliness, her desperation, her fear and hardship. He knew that she did not know how she was going to make it, that she was at the end of her ropes and the end of her strength. And she dared not to hide it. She found the courage to claim it and in doing so she built a bridge that enabled them to come together, to connect and for something new to arise for her.
Often times, when we think about what it means to follow Jesus we tend to think that it is to be all about doing what Jesus does, being like he is. But that can often feel pretty unobtainable, quite a stretch for us mere mortals. So I have come to understand perhaps following Jesus looks more like doing what this unnamed woman is doing this morning. It is about taking heart, claiming self and trying something new. It is stepping out of the messaging of our culture that gives voice to some and silence to many, privilege to some and hardship to the rest, worth to some and shame to those that remain.
In order to follow Jesus, to really know him, I have found that I need to confront my own sense of how things should be and what is right and good. I may have chosen to follow Jesus but do I still hold onto a sense how thing should be and in holding on, like Nicodemus, do I come to Jesus by night? Am I missing out on what the woman in our passage today experienced? For she had not a cloaked discussion with Jesus but a noon day revelation and life changing encounter.
I say this not in judgement of myself, Nicodemus or anyone else. I just think it is the particular challenge we face.
I feel the pull to examine my own social location within the great groan of our social reordering in these times. Do I like the disciples in this story today flinch at the boundary crossing that Jesus seems to be insisting on? Am I unwilling to hear the groan of African American men and women who are still living out the legacy of an economy born from slavery? Do I turn from the protest of far too many woman who too long have born the abuse of unbridled patriarchy? Can I hear the cry of the poor who have too long born the stigma of not enough and undeserving? The groan of the addicted mother whose child was taken from her?
Psalm 42 that Elisabeth read for us is such a poignant psalm. A deer who has been pursued, whose life is in danger pants in thirst. It is a Psalm of desperation. A song that I have always thought is that of those who have their back up against the wall. I had never really thought of it as my psalm. For I never really thought that I was in wont. I have so many blessing and my life is very comfortable.
But the reading this week helped me to see something new. I don’t think that deer in our Psalm has anything to do really with the woman at the well at all really. For the woman at the well turns out to be fine. In fact she is more than fine. She enters in. Her thirst is quenched. She goes from being marginalized from her community to the prophet within it. Perhaps is instead me, the rest of us, the disciples, those who thought we were in the know, but are actually the ones left panting still.
And yet, here is a font of living water, here is the table that is able to quench any thirst. Here is the meeting place with Jesus. This table is set for me, it is set for us. This table that explodes boundaries and offers us a new revelation of what living together looks like. This table is as wide as the world and yet has a particular place for you and for me. Can we have the courage to take our place at it? How would doing so change we way may see ourselves and those around us. What words of encouragement and revelation would we find on our lips?
Praise be to God for the invitation that echoes down through the ages. An invitation to enter in. Amen