Exodus 17:1-7 † Psalm 95 † Romans 45:1-11 † John 4:5-42
So how was your week? Anything new?
I kid, I suppose, because it is important for us to laugh as often as we can, to hold onto a good humor, especially when things are rough, especially when anxiety is high and the future, much less, the present, is uncertain, especially as we work to navigate the narrow path between catastrophizing and magical thinking. It helps me to keep things in some perspective, or at least to make a good attempt! I suspect it may help all of us. It’s good for our health. It may even be good for the soul.
I was caught this week by this on several occasions. As you can imagine, it was a busier week for many of us. I spent a good bit of time working with the task force we’ve formed to consider and enact responses to the coronavirus outbreak. I am deeply grateful for these souls who have gathered together—by phone mostly—to offer a thoughtful St. Andrew response.
All the while, I was mindful that it is important to consider what our work is and isn’t. I said to you in one communication this week that I believe the church and its good news is made for times just like this. And I think the Samaritan woman has been sticking around, waiting for us, for just a time as this.
You see, she is just about the polar opposite of Nicodemus, whom we met last week in the dark of night. She’s there by the well at high noon, reminding us that faith lives in the light with its dual qualities of spirit and truth (John 4:24). And throughout the story, she continues to live her faith out loud, asking bold questions, engaging Jesus and then her neighbors with a refreshing curiosity and a hopeful witness that changes everything. Indeed, her Samaritan village becomes the fulfillment of John 3:16.
This Samaritan woman teaches us that in our own encounters with Jesus, it’s not just that we are changed—for we surely are—but what God reveals to us changes as well.[i]
Here’s what I mean by that.
Whereas Nicodemus can’t even hear that Jesus is sent by God, this woman at the well who challenges and engages Jesus hears the actual name of God. In John 4:26 the “he” isn’t there in the Greek. “I AM” is what he says. Likewise while Nicodemus leaves with his disbelief spilling out (“How can these things be?”) the last question of the woman (“He cannot be the Christ, can he?”) leads her back to town, cup full, with a presence that has them all running out to the living water who bubbles with life there in the disinfecting sun of the full light of day.
Faith leads to faith, and courage to courage. What we see opens our eyes to seeing what is truly there. That’s the inverse of the insight of the writer to the Romans (1:22) who lamented that those who claimed to be wise became fools. The Samaritan woman seems to recognize the societal barriers and boundaries that not only keep her in her place, but others in theirs. I mean this both socially, and in cognitive terms—what we think, how we react, what we trust.
Another way to think about this idea is that our assumptions are mutually constituting. Our social locations, privileges, sources of knowledge and the like all work together to reinforce what we already think we know. It takes interactions with that which is outside our bubbles to ultimately free us, to help us recognize that living water that is waiting for us to draw on.
I suspect this is important for us when what saturates our news feeds is a constant stream of coronavirus worries. While we are blessed to have health officials and government officials who are taking appropriately significant steps to suppress the rates of infection, we are reminded they have offered no wisdom on how to prepare the soul.
That, I suspect, is our work. That is the work of the church that points to the one with living water that never runs dry—even as we are apart from one another, even as we are pressed in on all sides by worry and fear and uncertainty.
I think the Samaritan woman has left her water jar by Jacob’s well (John 4:28) as a marker, a reminder, a cairn, if you will, so that we might keep in mind the deep well of resources we are given as people who follow this Messiah and his way of self-giving that leads to salvation. This well does not run dry, no matter how long we are kept, for good reason or ill, from one another.
We remember that human life is fragile and uncertain. This is no surprise to those of us who have been paying attention and looking to the one waiting for us in the light of day. But this is not an end, just a beginning that then leads us to the imaginative, creative acts of love that I’ve already seen waterin the garden that is St. Andrew and our broader community. And this is only the beginning. I, for one, can’t wait to see what God does from this season of ours.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5).
Just as I was finishing this up, my wife Barb came into my study with a few memories she uncovered while cleaning out her work room. There was a conversation she had with our daughter Claire some 17 years ago, letters from her dad, from other friends, all reminding her of what she has long known, but can sometimes forget. These too are cairns, I suspect, in the ongoing story of God’s presence with us.
[i] Cf. Bartlett, et al. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2010), 97.
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