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Friday, March 25, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

"She is not a prostitute. She doesn't have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms "
Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well, David Lose, The Huffington Post

John 4:5-42

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text


General Resources for the Texts this week


Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from John


Some interesting articles on this passage:


William Loader's "First Thoughts"


Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today


Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Prayer

O Lord and Master of my life,
give me not the spirit of laziness,
despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of sobriety,
humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own transgressions
and not to judge my brother,
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen
St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 305-373)This week Lenten text from John's Gospel follows Jesus from his discourse with the pharisees into Samaria as he makes his way back to Galilee.
Click here for more Lenten collects and prayers.


Some thoughts...


It is probably good to remind ourselves that the Samaritans are the Israelites who were not deported during the Assyrian occupation.  They did not go with Isaiah to Babylon.  They settled in Palestine with the Gentiles.  They had recently been a fight between the Jews and the Samaritans and the Romans had intervened. (Chris Haslaam points us to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.6.1-3 118-36; Jewish Wars 2:12.3-5 232-46). [NJBC]

Shechem was a real place, maybe called Askar. The geography is important as a revelationary vessel of who Jesus is.  Chris Haslaam does some great research and reminds us that "in Genesis 33:19, Jacob buys land at Shechem. In Genesis 48:22 he gives land to Joseph and his brothers, giving Joseph a double portion. In Hebrew, portion sounds like Shechem. See also John 1:51, where Jesus tells Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. Jacob, with his ladder to heaven, is the type (forerunner) of Jesus. [NOAB] [NJBC]"  So we cannot underestimate the power of the place in memory and prophecy within the tradition of the first followers of Jesus.

Jesus begins by breaking down the barrier between them by asking to her to give him a drink.  (Jews and Samaritans did not share things in common.)   This invitation though leads into the revelation of Jesus as not only the Son of God, who has come down and is with us, but also as the one through whom all things come.  Jesus is the gift.  Jesus is the living water for those who thirst. Jesus is the one who will give the Spirit of life.

We remember then also that the water rose to the top of the well for Jacob, that in Jeremiah 2:13 God is the fountain of living water. As Christians we see the revelation clearly and powerfully, but for her in the midst of this story she asks the questions that many must have been asking of Jesus. We might well remember that for those still seeking God or in the midst of a dark place on their pilgrimage the question she asks are important and worth hearing again - even if we have not asked them ourselves in a long time.  She says, "Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus then responds.  While the well obviously had been enough for the great herds of Jacob, and his family, one will always thirst again.  So Jesus is speaking of a different thirst the thirst and hunger for God.  He is the bread of life who has come down from heaven.  Like the words of God to Moses, "I am goiiong to rain bread from heaven for you." (Exodus 16:4) Here I am so very struck by the beginning of a switch. The place, the earth, the well, the water, and the bread...are earthly physical things.  Jesus is holding up a mirror to our human condition in some manner and saying that while you have the need and desire for these basic things your soul hungers for something different.  Believing that the world will give to you what is needed for spiritual things is misguided.  Jesus is offering to this woman and to us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."  We might remember furthermor that in 10:10, Jesus says: “‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’”.

So just as last we and this week we see the reoccuring themes of the incarnation.  Jesus comes from above.  So too we see the imagery of spiritual life flowing from God, in Jesus, to the Holy Spirit and out into the world.

Jesus continues:
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
The theme continues then as Jesus offers a vision that worshiping God then is not located to geography.  Here in this Holy place, which offers us a revelation of who Jesus is, is not the only place where Jesus is found.  Those who follow him and those who are filled with the Spirit find and discover that God is worshipped and followed in all places and in all times.  A disciple does not have to make their pilgrimage to a place but that God is with the pilgrim everywhere.  Likewise the responsibility of the pilgrim is to make God known and to worship God in all places of their daily life.

These are revelutionary and revelationary words.  Humans from the very earliest of recorded history have desired to mark out sacred space in the world, to separate the sacred and the profane.  Our desire to continue to build altars in the world and churches and sanctuaries illustrates this fact.  The reality is though that as Christians we believe in a God in Jesus Christ who came and walked with us and left the holy places and went out.  It is this God that beckons us still.

Clearly gathering that Jesus is different and special she says, “‘I know that Messiah is coming’”  There is a lot of conjecture about who the Samaritans thought and how they thought about the messiah's coming.  Most agree it was something like a hope for a new prophet, a great prophet, like Moses. This is partly based upon the fact that they used the prophetic books, while most Jews only used the first five books of the scripture.

Chris Haslaam writes about the next verses:
“I am he”: Perhaps Jesus points to his divinity, in an echo of God’s self-identification in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’'”. This is the first of a series of self-revelatory sayings, all echoing an Old Testament formula This is particularly striking in those sayings (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) in which Jesus uses the words I am without any predicate. This verse is in striking contrast to the synoptic gospels, where Jesus tells his disciples not to disclose to anyone who he is. Perhaps he felt he could say openly in Samaria what would have seriously impeded his mission in Jewish territory. [BlkJn]
So what we have just witnessed, like the conversation with Nicodemus, is that Jesus is continually in conversation with those who do not yet believe.  As Lent is a time for new converts to be prepared for baptism and confirmation, and the whole of the church is to be renewed in its faith, the message of the woman at the well and her conversation helps us to remember the power of conversation with those who do not yet believe.  We are to listen and reveal who Jesus is. We are to be out in the world. We are to engage and make holy all the places we make our pilgrim way.  To make places holy through conversation with all people, perhaps even those who are the most separated from us by either wealth, or status, or ethnicity.

Look at what happens in the text:
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
When we dare to do this we will find and discover that the converts zest for new life, living water, and the holy spirit will renew the greater community and draw others to Jesus Christ. We too will be renewed and have the opportunity to leave our buildings and go with them out into the world.  All receive not from our testimony but from God's empowering Spirit that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

What happens is that the disciples show up and they are all upset for many reasons, most of which probably escape us today.  (I think we spend a lot of time on the woman's background and on why they are upset because Jesus talks to her. This seems less important than the conversation about conversion and evangelism)  Jesus responds to them with at proverb and a teaching. Jesus begins with this proverb: Four months more, then comes the harvest?  In everyday language the proverb may have simply meant, "what's the rush?"  You have to remember when you sowed seed,instead of drilled seed into the ground, you had to wait for the seed to take root.  So we have this beautiful image of Jesus saying just be patient.  It is a parrallel conversation with the actions of the towns people.  See the seeds are taking root in the people's ears and hearts.  Sowing and reaping are the work of the disicple.  And, sometimes the disciple does not get to see the fruit of their labors. 

We live in such an instant society we want to see the change now! We want to see new disciples made from our proclamation now! The reality is that if we are like the sower, and are focussed on the work of the sowing we will have a great harvest - though someone else may be the one to harvest for us.  In fact Jesus is saying that part of living in the kingdom now, part of living in the reign of God, is the proclamation of the word.  When we do this both the sower and the reaper rejoice together.  As we think of our own Christian story between John and Acts, we can see that while Jesus stays with them for a few days, it is Philip in Acts who returns sows some more and reaps. (see Acts 8:5-17)

This is a great passage to talk about evangelism, conversion, the work of the church in the world.  It has images of how we meet people where they are in the world where they live. I hope you enjoy exploring what is a very full passage, it is itself a deep well from which much living water can flow.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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