The Third Sunday in Lent
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
John 4:1-15

 

A tired priest hurried down the concourse and barely making his plane, he threw his bag in the overhead compartment, dropped down into his seat, popped the collar from around his neck and called out to the flight attendant for a bourbon and water.

The elderly woman sitting beside him was not amused. She tried to bite her tongue, but when the drink arrived, she was compelled to voice her disapproval. “How,” she asked, “as a minister of God, can you do such a thing?”

The priest was in no mood to be scrutinized or apologetic. “Madam,” he said, “Our Lord’s first miracle was turning water into wine. And he, himself, had a drink on occasion.”

“I know he did,” the woman snapped back. “And I would have thought a lot more of him if hadn’t.”

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a story of breaking down the barriers of separation. And for many Christians, who like to use the Bible and the early traditions of the Church as a means for affirming their own prejudices and resisting change in the cultural status quo, this is one episode in Jesus’ life that they could just as well do without.

By the time of Jesus, the feud between the Jews and the Samaritans was centuries old. In the eyes of the Jewish people, the Samaritans were traitors to the faith. They had started out living in accord with Orthodox Jewish custom, but they had defiled themselves by intermarriage with pagans and worship in a rival temple. To the Jews, the Samaritans were worse than any pagans because they had given up their sacred heritage and lost their right to be called the people of God.

But despite the intense hatred between the two groups, it was sometimes necessary for Jews traveling between Galilee and Judea to pass through the borders of Samaria. In today’s gospel reading Jesus is making just such a journey.

Tired and hungry, he sends his disciples to the nearest town for food. & As he sits and waits beside the well for his friends to return, a Samaritan woman comes to draw her daily supply of water.

“Give me a drink,” Jesus says to her.
Because she recognizes Jesus as a Jew, she is startled by the request. Perhaps she considers it a kindness or even her duty to inform the man that Jews and Samaritans don’t like each other very much. They are not on speaking terms, and they certainly don’t ask for or provide one another with favors. But Jesus will have none of that. He will not allow the walls of nationality or race or social custom or anything else to block his relationship with one of his own.

In this encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus goes right down the line breaking every single barrier that religion and culture can think of to keep people apart. And then to top it all, Jesus offers this woman—this Samaritan woman of questionable character—the gift of living water, the gift of eternal life and communion with God.

Scandalous Behavior by Jesus!
It is, in fact the scandal of the gospel.

Because it scandalizes forever any attempt by persons to use Christianity as a means for exclusion. And yet, unfortunately, today in a world filled with hatred and prejudice, the signs of racism and sexism and bigotry and all kinds of division and exclusion are still evident in the Church—rife in the Church. Which is sad, isn’t it? Since we are the ones who are supposed to be reflections of Christ—indeed to be Christ, in the world and to the world. (And yet we churches bicker and back-bite and fill God’s community and family with in-house fighting and division, and are ready to summarily dismiss anyone, or any group, with whom we don’t agree, as “unchristian” or even heretics, when, in fact, we by our very actions and accusations place ourselves far away from the teachings of Christ.)

We have only to look at our Baptismal Covenant for our identity as God’s family, or who we should be as the body of Christ. The Covenant is our remembering to God that we are his people—our pledge of who we are, and what we believe, and what we will do and be about as the body of Christ: proclaiming by word and example the good news, of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving our neighbors; striving for justice and peace among all and respecting the dignity of every human being.

And yet aren’t we all—all of us—guilty of prejudice and exclusivity, indignities and disrespect toward one another: if not in practice, at least in thought, at one time or another, in one way or another. And, sometimes, just outside the front door of our church, we see those extreme examples of hate and prejudice from so-called Christians, who think it’s their mission (their duty to God) to hate those with whom they disagree.

Theirs may be an outrageous and rare and shameful example of a Christian’s “unchristian” behavior, but we all are guilty of more subtle ways dividing ourselves one from another and substituting our own judgment for God’s (and then calling it God’s).

No doubt, there are Christians out there who would probably “think a lot more of Jesus” if he weren’t quite so free with his love–if he weren’t such a stickler for things like equal rights and unconditional acceptance, or if he just didn’t expect us to be that way. But like it or not, that’s the way Jesus is and he expects us to be that way too.

During this season of Lent, when we are particularly focused on self-examination and our connection with God through prayer and contemplation and meditation and the study of Scripture, as we study and think about how we are called to true Christian commitment and service and love —of being Christ, and seeking Christ in others: may we focus on the ability to truly reflect Christ & to imitate Christ in breaking down the barriers of separation. May we pray for the removal of all obstacles that keep us from accepting and loving one another. And may we all be open to giving and accepting the true love, the true gifts, the living waters of God.

Brought to us in the Name of and by the grace of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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