Sermon – Lent 3, March 15, 2020
Sandra is a member of our parish and every now and then she passes on a little email that always makes me smile. This latest one is the philosophy of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Charlie Brown cartoon strip.
As you see Snoopy sitting atop a hill with his Scout cap on surrounded by the yellow bird Woodstock and his pack of friends, the questions are asked:
The scene then changes to Charlie and Snoopy sitting side-by-side on the end of a dock watching the beautiful sunset over the lake view. The words continue … how did you do?
The point is that not many of us remember the headliners of yesterday… the applause eventually dies, awards tarnish, and achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
But here’s another quiz.
I’ll bet that quiz is easier… because the people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are simply the ones who care the most.
In some ways it’s so simple isn’t it … just to care. But often there are other barriers to overcome. Like the story of Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus cared, he overcame all barriers to get to the woman … and at the end of their short encounter, a life was transformed.
But the barriers were great firstly because Jesus was a Jew and the woman was a Samaritan. Historians tell us that the Jews and Samaritans were related peoples. Both are Hebrews. The Samaritans are from the old northern kingdom of Israel, while the Jews are from the old southern kingdom of Judah. To make a long story short, the Samaritans inter-married with non-Jewish peoples and lost much of their ethnic identity, while the Jews maintained theirs. Each group ended up with their own temple, the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, the Jews on Mount Zion. And so it is a strange choice Jesus makes to travel through Samaritan territory. That he strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan is even stranger.
Another barrier was that men and women were not to talk to one another in public. It was not considered proper.
Furthermore her own people rejected the Samaritan woman. We surmise this because she comes to the well to draw water at noon, and she comes alone. Noon is the hottest time of the day. Morning and evening are times to do the hard work of drawing water from the well and hauling it home. This is work that women do in company with one another. It is a chance for a chat, for some social contact. But this woman goes to the well at a time when she will be alone. She obviously sees herself as a misfit.
But there they are together – Jesus and this Samaritan Woman - at the well, in the heat of the noonday sun. Jesus asks for water, and following a conversation Jesus promises her “living water”, as opposed to stagnant or flat. She is confused about what exactly he’s offering; yet she understands it is something she needs, and needs desperately.
Jesus continues to see the woman’s hunger for something and so he lets her know that HE knows the truth about her. She is even more surprised that, knowing the truth, he accepts her. For her, this is an encounter with the holy. The man must be a prophet.
The woman confesses her faith in the messiah who is to come, and Jesus says he is that messiah. He is the ONE WHO IS TO COME.
SO, Jesus reveals his identity not to his disciples, not to his own people, not to their religious leaders, but to this person who is marginal three times over: She is a Samaritan, a woman and an exile among her own kind. We do not even know her name, yet Jesus entrusts her with his deepest secret, the truth of who he is. The One come to bring living water – the source of true life.
So, there she is – nameless, a woman, invisible to her community, outcast, rejected by others … but to Jesus, a beloved child of God. And it’s she who bears witness to the wonder of new life. Her experience with Jesus is very brief, she has no training, and she has not been given a commission. It’s a surprise that people listen to her. But they do, for there is something attractive, compelling, and authentic about her witness.
At the end of the day, what really counts are the encounters that bring new life for others and ourselves. All the other “things” fade away.
It’s a pretty simple philosophy or theology of life. It’s the simplicity of care and love that God has for us that makes our lives meaningful and worthwhile. And if we can help other people to look, not at us, but through us to see Christ at work … then, as the Israelites soon discovered, and the unnamed woman proclaimed, “the Lord is among us!”
The Lord is among us, and guiding us, indeed!