Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent 3A

Last week, Jesus encountered Nicodemus. This week, he meets the woman at the well. And the two encounters couldn’t be more different.

Nicodemus is a man. She’s a woman. Nicodemus arrives at midnight. Jesus meet the woman at noon. Nicodemus is a highly educated, a greatly respected moral and religious leader.

The woman is an outcast, forced to retrieve her water from the well under the hot sun, instead of during the cool morning breeze, with the rest of the women.

He’s received honours throughout his life. She’s been rejected by most people who knew her.

I’m more like Nicodemus than I am like the woman at the well. I think most of us here are as well. We may have our fair share of rejection in our lives, but we managed to get through it with the help of friends, family, and fellow church members.

While the woman at the well has been the victim of her circumstance, she was also a survivor. She lived in a culture that placed woman in the same category as livestock. She observed a religion on the fringes of her world.

She was a member of a race that was met with hostility by the surrounding peoples. Her family was held together by the flimsiest of strings. She bounced from one bed to another, just to secure food and shelter for another night for herself and her children.

We know his name. We don’t know hers.

Like I said, I have no idea who this woman is. I can’t imagine what her life is like.

Despite the pain I’ve experienced in my years, I can’t measure it against her suffering. I can’t put myself in her dusty sandals. I don’t see my face in hers. She’s a stranger to me.

I’m guessing it’s the same is most for most of you. It was certainly the same for Jesus. Jesus was more like Nicodemus than he was the woman.

Even though he was a poor, wandering, homeless, preacher, he still had the respect of his friends (for the moment), crowds gathered to hear him speak. He saw the gratitude in peoples’ eyes as they were healed. His life was pretty good.

And Jesus could have easily walked past the woman at the well. He’d seen hundreds like her. He could have walked past her as he walked past the thousands of beggars in back alleys who didn’t come to hear him preach, or the lepers who stayed at a safe distance so not get to into trouble by being so close to others.

But something must have caught Jesus’ attention that day. It was probably his parched throat, since they’d be walking for hours. He was thirsty. She had water.

In what must have sounded like a reverse pick-up line, Jesus asked her for a drink. And she probably thought that this strange man wanted more than a cup of water from her. And just as Jesus received water for his dry mouth, she received water for her dried up soul.

It turns out that Jesus knew everything about her. The men. The rejection. The pain. His knowledge came from God but it probably wasn’t hard for him to guess what her life was like. Her story wasn’t unique.

Of course she bounced from bed to bed, she had no other option. She traded her body for a flimsy security. Of course, she had to get water from the well at the hottest time of the day, the respectable women would push her away if she showed up at a more convenient time.

She was just trying to get through her life and provide for her children the best way she knew how.

She was strong. But she felt weak. She was resilient. But she felt like she would collapse from exhaustion at any moment. She was tough. But she longed to just let herself fall down and rest.

And here was this Jewish preacher, who, by definition, should be her enemy. This man who preached the ancient faith and worshipped in the REAL temple. This man who exuded life and strength. This man, who by all accounts should hate her, looked at her with a love she’d never seen in a long time - if ever.

He told her all about her life. And he didn’t forgive her of her sins. At least not in words. He didn’t have to. He drank from her cup. He accepted her gift of water.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what to say. They just watched this scene unfold with their mouths hanging open, until one of them had to put a stop to it.

“Don’t you know who this woman is? Why are you talking to her?”

That’s when she took off. She didn’t want to be reminded of her past, because, all of a sudden, she could see a different future for herself - God’s future for her life.

This Samaritan woman who bounced from bed to bed, who worshipped in a sham temple, who was hated by everyone, became the first gentile evangelist, spreading the good news to those beyond Israel’s borders, making true John’s announcement that “God so love the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

And, on that day, God’s saving work spilled into the world, from a broken woman, simply trying to survive.

“Come and see!” she says, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”

Not exactly the proud proclamation of the disciples. But a proclamation nonetheless. People probably never looked at her the same way ever again.

I don’t know why that is, but that’s the way God works. God has a way of using our brokenness for God’s purposes. God has a way using our weakness to show God’s strength. God has a way of using our pain to reveal God’s glory.

God seems to be attracted to pain and weakness. That could be because that’s where God’s greatest work is done.

I’ve noticed that’s true in my life and ministry. When I meet people as “Pastor Kevin” or “Rev. Powell” I encounter a shield where people protect themselves, afraid of what I may say about their lives.

But when I drop the titles and formalities, when I take off my collar and minister to people as one who’s gone through his own personal issues; the death of a parent, a divorce, and depression, then people drop their guards, and I can minister as one human being to another, trusting that God will bring healing in the midst of common pain. In fact, it’s in that shared experience, that the healing work begins. For both of us.

So, the woman at the well was the perfect first evangelist. She couldn’t look down her nose at anyone. She was no one’s judge. All she had to do was point to Jesus and say, “Come and see the man who told me everything about me...and made me a new person, and gave me a new future.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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