Thursday, March 23, 2017

Looking for love in Lent

Third Sunday of Lent 2017
John 4

Most of the women from the village would go and gather water in the cool of the morning, when the exhausting work of lugging heavy waterpots didn’t exhaust you all that much. But there was always one woman who waited until the middle of the scorching Samarian day to make the journey to the well. That way, she could be sure that she wouldn’t be disturbed, she could be sure that tongues wouldn’t wag.

But this day, she was disturbed. Not by the gossipy women of the village, but by an exhausted Jewish traveller, who asks her for a drink. Now here is the first strange thing. Jews do not speak to Samaritans. Samaritans had a long history of corrupting the Jewish faith. Most Jews wouldn’t even speak to a Samaritan, let alone risk contaminating themselves by drinking from one of their cups. But this Jewish man knows that he has been sent to gather all people to himself, to give them living water, and to make them true worshippers of the Father. And so he asks this woman for a drink. He comes to her, not immediately offering to transform her life, but humbly asking her to transform his, just a little, by quenching his thirst. Jesus, the one who offers abundant life, first meets this woman on the simple level of their shared humanity, ‘Please, give me a drink’.

As Jesus and the woman speak, he tells her of the gift he comes to bring, living water, an inexhaustible supply of spiritual life. The woman scarcely knows what to think of this. Is he offering a better water supply that their ancestor, Jacob? How can he give her water, when he doesn’t have a bucket? Still Jesus says, ‘if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ And here is Jesus breathtaking offer. He doesn’t offer living water in exchange for selling everything she has and following him, or for joining a monastery, or by reading the bible and praying every day. He simply says, ‘if you ask, I’ll give you a spring of water, gushing up to eternal life.’

We don’t receive the blessings of God’s life in us because we have worked ever so hard. We don’t receive God’s life because we have the faith of a saint. We receive God’s life simply for asking, for having the tiniest amount of faith it is possible to imagine. Perhaps you don’t think you have strong enough faith to call yourself a Christian, or to come to receive the gift of God’s life shared with us in Holy Communion. Perhaps you’ve come to church for many years, but feel a bit of a fraud because your faith isn’t strong, or you don’t understand very much. Faith as thin as a thread of spiders web is enough to bind us in love to God, not because of the strength of our belief, but because of the strength of the one believed in. 

This woman, like us, certainly has a mixed up faith. There are lots of questions she has, and it is important to ask questions. There is much she needs to learn, and it is important to learn. There are aspects of her life which need to change, and God knows, we all stand in need of change. But she doesn’t have to pass an exam before the gift is given to her. She simply asks, in a muddled sort of way, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I don’t have to keep coming back here.’ And Jesus gives her a gift beyond price.

And just as she doesn’t need to change for the gift to be given. So too when the gift has been given, she cannot but change. He asks her to bring her husband to the well, knowing that she isn’t married to the man she currently lives with and had been married five times before. I don’t think we are meant to think of this woman as terribly immoral. In the patriarchal first century, women couldn’t divorce their husbands, but men could fairly straightforwardly get rid of their wives. It is more than likely that this woman had been abandoned by five consecutive husbands, and no longer able to trust that any man truly loved her, is currently in a non specific relationship with a man not committed enough to her to make her is wife. Here is a woman with a broken self-image, who perhaps feels that no-one could truly love her, truly accept her, truly nurture and care for her. Perhaps this is why she risks the scorching midday heat.

Except that, on this particular day, in the scorching Samarian heat, she doesn't meet mockers, she meets Jesus at Jacob’s well. In the Old Testament wells are important: Abraham sent his servant to look for a wife for his son, Isaac, at a well. The first woman to offer him and his camels a drink was the lucky gal. And then there was Isaac’s son, Jacob, who built the very well they were standing at. It was there that he found his wife, Rebecca. This well was the first century equivalent of e-harmony for holy men, and here is Jesus... talking with a samaritan woman... no wonder the disciples were shocked , they all knew what happened at wells! Here is Jesus, talking to a woman who’s dreams had been shattered, and he asks her about her husband. Not to blame her, or judge her, or shame her, but to expose the deepest, most painful need in her life, to be loved dependably, and to says ‘I will be that person for you’. Not a husband, but much more, a saviour, a friend, a brother.

As we often remind ourselves, we live in such beautiful villages, and we are pretty good at covering up our deepest hurts, disappointments and wounds. We cover them up with as smile, with displays of our prosperity, with enthusiastic leisure pursuits, with being the life and soul of the party. But we all know that the brokenness is still there, however convincing a job we do at hiding it. Like this Samaritan woman, Jesus says, ‘simply ask’. As we open our lives to him, as we let him see our deepest vulnerabilities and needs, he fills those deepest needs with the fulness of inexhaustible life and love, the life and love of the God who made us. A great teacher of the Church once said:

“O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

The Samaritan woman’s restless heart found peace when she asked Jesus for the water of life. May our restless hearts likewise find this this peace, this love, and this life.