Third Sunday of Lent - Year A
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Third Sunday of Lent - Year A
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Let us pray: Gracious God, may these words which I speak be ones which bring nourishment for thirsty spirits. Guide them and use them. Amen.
††† Except for a few drives around the Arizona countryside and a scout camp weekend in the badlands of Alberta where the topography was reminiscent of the desert, Iíve never spent any significant time in what could be called the desert. I can imagine however, that during any desert sojourn the physical need for water would very early become an important consideration. So, I can relate with the Hebrew people in the story we heard from Exodus. Physical needs can easily trump any other needs. When you are really thirsty it is easy to forget the larger purpose of your journey. When you havenít had anything to eat or drink for a few days, it can be difficult to spend a lot of time thinking about your deep spiritual needs.
††† And yet, tales of desert sojourns are often used to describe times of deep spiritual insight and commitment. Think for example of the reading with which we began the season of Lent, namely the time of wilderness sojourn when Jesus was faced with many temptations - amplified by his own hunger and thirst, as a kind of refining experience so that the purity of his purpose and mission would be clearly revealed.
††† And so it is with the story of how Massah and Meribah were given place names - the place where the people grumbled and complained, wondering, ďIs God with us or not?Ē A physical need for water was relieved and resulted in a place of spiritual renewal - a place which by name, reminded them of Godís presence, and a difficult time in their history.
††† We arenít told if the physical need for water was ever relieved in the gospel story today. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman quickly moves from physical need to something else. Water is the conduit for a conversation about much deeper things. Once again, a physical need, which should trump any other kind of discussion is quickly replaced. Starting with a need for thirst quenching it becomes a lesson in soul quenching.
††† The context surrounding this story cannot be ignored, for it colours the story in a very rich and meaningful way. This is a conversation between a man and a woman, and the woman is the one with the power - she carries the bucket - she alone has the means by which Jesus can have his physical thirst quenched. It takes place in Samaria - a place that would normally be avoided - for while the Samaritans shared ethnic and religious heritage with other Jews, there was great enmity between the Samaritans and the Israelite people. One commentator has focussed on the statement which began todayís passage where it says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. There were other routes to follow that would bypass the Samaritan countryside, so the writerís word that Jesus had to pass through Samaria implies some deeper need, some urgency, some calling for him to be in this land of outsiders. What follows is a conversation that builds bridges of acceptance and trust between these outsiders and the people who lived beside them.
††† So, it is not only the conversation which tells a story, but the setting and surroundings, the place where the conversation happened, the people who had it, and the complicated relationship which was tied up in this meeting at a well.
††† Physical needs can trump any other needs, but as our scripture stories remind us today, they are quickly satisfied and when they are satisfied, much deeper needs become apparent. I see the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well as an invitation for us to reflect on our own deeper needs. What does living water mean for us? What deep spiritual thirst do we need quenched?
††† I had a conversation last week which touches on this same question. It centred on the claim of Jesus as Saviour? What does it mean for us to claim Jesus as Saviour? From what are we being saved? What does this language tell us in our lives and faith? Interestingly enough, this is much the same question that the Samaritan woman had to consider - when she was able to see through all the metaphorical language about water - living water, running water, and so on and finally get it - namely that Jesus was talking about spiritual thirst and not physical thirst - she was quick to make mention of a Messiah.
††† People in some branches of the Christian faith have no trouble making claims of Jesus as Saviour. They are clear about what it means for them - and usually it is a statement about being saved in a very intimate and personal way. Mainline Christianity, or perhaps the more recent descriptions are more accurate Emerging Christianity or Progressive Christianity. However we describe it, I† think this expression of the Christian faith has a harder time with the concept. With a wider perspective that goes beyond just the personal, many people see lots of things that need to be saved, and there is a wondering about how a claim of Jesus as Saviour connects with that. How does a Saviour Jesus help us when our spirits are weighed down by the economic injustice we see in the world? How does a Saviour Jesus save us from the corporate mistakes we make that are causing the earth to warm faster than we can control - creating even more injustice? What does a Saviour Jesus mean for people whose biggest concern is where their next cup of clean water might come from, and whether there will be food for their children that night, and a viable harvest to provide food in the next year?
††† These are not easy questions, and they are ones which have deeply spiritual effect. Here is where the context of the story in Johnís gospel is so important. This was not a simple encounter between Jesus and a woman at a well. This was a Samaritan woman. That adds so much depth to the story - for it speaks of acceptance of difference, insight from unexpected places, bridge building across cultural and ethnic lines and lines of age old hatred and enmity. The encounter occurs between a woman and a man and thus speaks of bridge building across gender difference. And as I mentioned before, Jesus had an option not to pass through Samaria, but we are told that he had to. We are called to engage situations which are not always wanted, but which cry out for our attention.
††† The saving significance of Jesus is not just something that happens to us, it is also something that we help to make happen. The claim of Jesus as Saviour is not something that we seek, it is also something we enact. As followers of Jesus we are not only seekers, we are doers. Following is not a passive activity. It requires decision making and commitment. We donít just fall in line and the rest is easy. Being a follower is something that requires constant decision making about where the next step will lead us.
††† Of course it also requires self-assurance. While the language of claiming Jesus as Saviour may be difficult for us, the concept of finding a centredness in our lives, an assurance that we are engaged as one of Godís people is important. Despite the claim that John the gospel writer has him make to the Samaritan woman, I would say that Jesus was really more about helping people to see God as Saviour, and that we would do well as followers to make that claim for ourselves as Christians - namely that we are followers of Godís way. Maybe thatís an easier way for us to put it. I know it works for me to say that I try to be a follower of Godís way much more than to claim Jesus as Saviour.
††† When I say that I am such a follower it means that I claim God and the way to God shown by Jesus as my basis and I claim the path upon which that leads me to work to save others - from physical hardships† if that is what they need, from spiritual burdens if that is what they need, and just as importantly or maybe even more importantly to work at transforming the systems which bring hardship and burden to so many in this world. I can bring items for the purple box and I can work to resolve the powers and principalities in our world which cause the purple box to be necessary.
††† Itís not an easy path to follow, but itís the path that God places before us. Itís the path that the season of Lent is meant to help define for us.
††† God help us as we live as followers of your way. Amen.†