March 15, 2020
The Third Sunday of Lent
(Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)
Today’s Gospel lesson is one you have heard me speak of on a number of occasions, using it as an example of Jesus’ radical love. There is much to learn from Jesus’ example, as the whole of this passage speaks, subtly, of a paradox. This passage is one that is very important to those of us who consider ourselves as Liberal Catholics.
The first bit we need to be aware of is that although, Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus deliberately crossed the territory of a people widely regarded as spiritually and ethnically inferior. It dated back to the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722B.C. The victorious Assyrians deported twenty thousand, mostly upper-class Israelites, and replaced them with pagan settlers from Babylon, Syria, and several other nations. These foreigners introduced idols and intermarried with the people of Israel, creating an ethnically mixed population.
When the Jews of Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity and tried to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple, and the rest of their society, they met resistance from the Samaritans. The Jews looked down on their northern cousins’ mixed marriages and Idolatrous habits. The Samaritans looked to Mt. Gerizim rather than Jerusalem as the only true place of worship. The historic enmity between the two groups exploded when in 128B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritans’ temple at Mt. Gerizim, built nearly three hundred years earlier. By the time of Jesus, the hostility was so severe that the woman at the well was astonished that Jesus would even speak to her.
There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan conflict. Their animosity is mirrored whenever and wherever racial and ethnic barriers divide people. Jesus and the Apostles helped to show us that we need to break through these barriers, not build them up. Although, it is a world-wide problem, it has seen an increase here in the United States the past three years. This should concern us all. This is not the example of Jesus.
Although, the Jews of the New Testament era did all they could to detour around Samaria, Jesus took the “road less traveled.” He presents us an example we should emulate. Is this not what some religions, and even church denominations, do today by avoiding or excluding people of differing viewpoints, lifestyles, race or religion, just to name a few? They do, and this is part of the message Jesus is giving us in the Gospel today.
If we want to be citizens of the kingdom of God, we must learn to see past our own prejudices, eradicate those prejudices, and allow the Lord to reshape our minds and hearts. What prejudices do we harbor? Is it of people of color or of national origin outside of the United States? Is it gender or even someone who has had gender dysphoria and now considers themselves a gender that differs from their birth gender? Some people had a problem with the fact that we had a presidential candidate that was in a same-sex marriage; is that a prejudice we harbor? We can all think of someone or something. If Jesus were in his human form and on earth today, I suspect we would see him socializing with any of these I have mentioned. Any of those whom might be the social outcasts among various groups.
We have all seen articles in newspapers or magazines of some sort that has a headline that asks: “What’ wrong with this picture?” They don’t usually mean that it is a bad photo. They usually mean that someone is doing something so odd that it seems crazy. Like trying to “fix” a computer with a sledgehammer. So, in the picture presented to us in today’s Gospel, it would seem to have something “wrong” with it. Although, the picture that the Evangelist John paints for us may not seem odd or wrong to us, at the time, it would have definitely looked “wrong.”
Jesus was already known as a holy man, leading a movement to bring Israel and all peoples back to God. Of course, he is more than that, but we need to remember that at that time his followers only knew him as merely a holy man. That said, in that culture, devout Jewish men would not have allowed themselves to be caught alone with a woman, and if that was unavoidable, they certainly would not have entered into a conversation with them. The risk was too high; risk of impurity, risk of gossip, risk of being drawn into immorality. Yet, here is Jesus talking to this woman.
When Jesus struck up the conversation with a woman at Jacob’s well, the conversation quickly turned personal. This cultural background made it unusual for any male, let alone a rabbi, to talk seriously with a woman in public. However, as we know, this was Jesus’ way.
Notice also, that she was alone. No other women were with her. This woman came at a time when she was least likely to meet someone. As we learn a little later, she most probably came out alone because she was an out-cast in her own community. Women of that culture, being normally separated from the male gender, would come out very early to draw water, prior to the men getting up and out for their responsibilities. However, this woman was at the well at noon. This was probably because the other women of the town did not want to associate with her.
As we see, the conversation involves water. Jesus asks for a drink and she quickly questions how he a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. Of course, it is no secret that the area of travel Jesus had taken was desert and arid, so wanting a drink would be natural. However, when the woman questions him, he states that if she asked, he would have given her living water.
Here is another instance of misunderstanding Jesus. A that time, “living water” would have meant water from a stream or river, as opposed to that of a pool or well. John, throughout his Gospel, shows a Jesus who was constantly speaking on a heavenly level, while his listeners are understanding on an earthly level. Water from a stream or river was moving and more likely to be fresh and clean. However, we know that Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical water. He was referring to the living water of life! This new life he offers to anyone, including someone like this woman. Jesus could easily see her need; her thirst for forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and hope. Think of the parable of the lost sheep – he leaves the 99 to find the lost 1.
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
(Notice that when this woman discovers that Jesus knew all about her private life, she quickly changed the subject by saying: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” However, I don’t want to focus on her change of the subject, which is equally important, but on Jesus’ example he gives us today.)
This is where Jesus’ radical love starts to kick in. We know from the Ten Commandments and from Jesus in Matthew 19 that divorce is prohibited. Jesus makes that clear when asked in Matthew. Yet, here he is. What a great opportunity for Jesus to teach on the topic of divorce again, but he doesn’t. Might seem odd to many and even ignored by more conservatives who insist divorce is lifelong sin. But Jesus does not address the issue any further.
By this time Jesus’ Apostles arrive, and they are amazed that he is even talking to a woman. That’s her cue to exit stage right – can’t be around more men, don’t you know?! However, she clearly went to tell her family and townspeople. While Western culture tends to value individualism and independence, other cultures look to families or even larger social systems to make important decisions as a group. How the message is received is determined by family bonds and other relationships.
Now, this makes for another surprising point – that the townspeople, especially the men, even listen to her or believe her. Women were not to be listened to, because they were crazed gossipers! She could have sounded like a crazed lunatic, but they believed her!
However, as I stated at the beginning of this missive, this passage is one I frequently like to bring up in conversations. We know Jesus’ feeling on divorce, and yet here he is talking to a woman who had five previous husbands. Makes you wonder why. She’s either an ancient version of Elizabeth Taylor, or a harlot. But, in a male dominated culture, it can’t really be determined.
What makes it all the more interesting is that this passage appears at all. We know from Matthew that the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Maybe they knew of the encounter at the well and wanted to know how Jesus felt. It was a test, of course. But was it a test to see if Jesus said it was perfectly fine, because they knew of his encounter at the well? Or was it to see if he would quote the law of Moses which would bring into question his interaction with the woman? We do not know. But, his answer is telling.
Given Jesus’ answer that divorce was a no-no, then here we get to see some of his radical love. Like the woman caught in adultery, he is now confronted with the woman at the well who was married five times previously. Yet, in both instances he does not condemn them; He loves them! He liberates them! I suspect both of these woman go on to be saints, maybe even one of the followers of Jesus.
Jacob’s Well, still exists and lies in the crypt of a modern Greek Orthodox church at Nablus in the West Bank.
Photina is the name the Orthodox tradition has given to the Samaritan woman. She is venerated as a martyr who was flayed alive and thrown down a well in Rome by the emperor Nero.
Lastly, we hear that the Samaritans came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Some due to the woman’s testimony of Jesus’ ability to tell her all about her life – a miracle. More came to believe simply by hearing his word – no miracle necessary. Some of us need a miracle for our faith to be awakened; some of us do not, merely understanding Jesus’ word is enough.
So, why is this so important? It is important, because Jesus again shows us his radical love for all. He love wasn’t (and isn’t) prejudiced against anyone such as many of us are. No sin, no matter how large, will stop someone from being welcomed in his arms. He never shied away from being seen with anyone who may have been viewed as outcasts. Everyone falls short of the expectations Christ has for us, but he will never, ever turn anyone away.
In a world that struggles to accept those who are different from themselves, in a world where political parties seem to leave out certain people, in a world where churches still treat some as not meeting the “saintliness” they claim one must have, we have Jesus loving everyone and anyone. Jesus does not approve of our misogynist ways, our racist and xenophobic beliefs, our sexist ways, our denying the Sacraments to someone that doesn’t meet every line of some law/teaching, denials of the Sacraments children or divorced or unmarried parents, or any and every other prejudice and mistreatment we might hear or see everyday.
He wants us to love each other. Maybe we cannot understand each other sometimes, but we still must love them. Taking Jesus’ example of radical love, we are called to be a beacon of light to those made unwelcome elsewhere and show them that God loves them. We need to love radically. Lent is perfect time to examine our thoughts and actions to see if we too love radically, and if not, learn how by asking Jesus to show us how.
Let us pray.
That as we go through Lent, we pray that we listen Jesus’ words and are guided by the Spirit to live a life dedicated to love of God and love of neighbor. We pray to the Lord.
Knowing that perfect love drives out all fear, we pray for that perfect love to strengthen and unite our human family, as we struggle to overcome the Coronavirus. Grant to all who are now most at risk those gifts of courage and serenity and care for one another that will overcome this trial. We pray to the Lord.
At Jacob’s Well the Samaritan woman begs Jesus – “Give me this water so that I may not be thirsty.” Let us pray for those in our world who thirst for their basic human rights and ask the Lord for the courage to play our part in supporting them and restoring their dignity. We pray to the Lord.
As we reflect on our lives during Lent, let us renew our commitment to Christ and allow the waters of baptism transform the desert of our lives into a fruitful vineyard in which God’s love and mercy flourish. We pray to the Lord.
We remember today our brothers and sisters in those in regions of the world where water is scarce and thirst is their daily experience. We pray for those agencies and those who support them who are working to give them access to this most essential human need. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for a personal awareness of the goodness and generosity of the Father, who created us, who gives us every breath we breathe and who so generously nourishes us with the food and drink which his creation of land and sea provides. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish always be beacon of hope to those who less welcome elsewhere, for those who have been abused but need to feel the love of our Heavenly Father once again through worship. We pray to the Lord.
That we always remember, that even if we meet someone who may not appear to meet up to the standard of the Ten Commandments or some perceived sin, that we follow the two greatest commandments and love God and love our neighbor and leave judgment out of our minds and hearts in regard to others and show them the radical love of Jesus. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
O God, in all ages you have offered surprising and gracious provision for your people. Even though we grumble and doubt like the people of Israel, your love bounteously sustains us, like water from the rock, quenching our thirst and meeting our needs. We thank you that in Jesus Christ you come to refresh and renew us, as cool water refreshes those who are weary. Jesus offers us divine love as continuous as a spring, flowing with mercy. Help us, like the woman at the well, to accept his gift and joyfully tell others that he is our fountain of joy.
Dear God, you have called us from different walks of life. From our diverse backgrounds, you have weaved us into a family of faith and discipleship. We pray that even as you have accepted us as we are, we can learn even more how to accept and love others whose ways are different from our own.
As we open our hearts to you, show us the way to open our hearts to others. We pray, O God, that you would even challenge us to love all humankind — those we do not like and especially our “enemies.” In your presence here, O God, may we worship together without exclusion and rejoice together always. May we always treat others with the same radical love that your son, Jesus Christ treated all whom he met. We ask all these things through, Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA