March 23, 2014 Preach it.
As I’m sure, many of you are aware, the story of the woman at the well invites all kinds of cultural judgment for the time.
From the get go: passing through Samaria could be judged because Jews don’t do that. Another scandal is that the scene takes place at Jacob’s Well which connotes a provocative tone—this is where Jacob met his wife, and I imagine was kind of like the Samaritan version of the Harding “three swings and a ring.” Did you meet that girl down by the well?
Then there’s the fact that Jewish Male Jesus is talking to a Samaritan Female. Double counts of taboo! The gospel of John invites our scoffing. Jesus is doing this all wrong, and the woman doesn’t deserve any second of attention in the story or in the gospel. But here is is.
Being a Christian, I have a tendency to judge. I started making a list of people that I had in the past thought less of or as utterly wrong… Like
Catholics. Pentecostals. Those speaking in tongues people. LGBT people. Fornicators. Clappers. People who eat in the building. Women praying out loud. People who don’t dress up at church. Atheists. Spiritual not religious people. Jews. Mormons. Muslims. People who swear.
I’ve changed though, I’ve gotten over many of those judgments, now I judge: Uneducated. Ignorant. Poor. Lazy. Unforgiving. Jobless. People who hate LGBT. People who hate women. Abusers. Sowers of dissension. Anyone who is stuck and can’t change. Protesters telling you you’re going to hell. Street preachers. People who don’t know everything I know. People who don’t give enough. People who are educated, and still don’t agree with me! People who got the job that don’t deserve the job. Internet trolls. People who own iPads and don’t know how to use them.
Somehow my second list seems more judgy than my first list…
I have also been, at one point or another, judgy of Paul on the same counts. If you talk about Paul to any liberated woman or any person who doesn’t buy into heteronormativity, you may catch an eye-roll, or some sort of motion of disdain. I am guilty, and still guilty sometimes.
Paul is often thought of as moody, inconsistent, bossy, and a woman hater. He talks to us about things that I don’t want to talk about. Lot of rules come to mind. Or whatever guilt I might harbor in the cobwebs of my soul.
His writings are rarely him telling a story, and if they are, it’s some sort of seemingly narcissistic heroism by himself. In his writings he praises some. He rebukes others. He writes dogma and doctrine. He makes one statement and immediately contradicts it. He deserves to be judged… by me.
And then there’s this whole thing other thing that he talks about: Reconciliation.
Imagine trying to culturally combine the groups and individuals that I mentioned on both my lists above, and then get them to love each other, and genuinely work together. There you have it, Paul’s challenges to the Roman church merging Gentile, Jews, and whoever else. Now back to the woman at the well.
The gospel of John has set a scene for scandal. The rules are all being broken. If you look closely at the reading, and were listening to this story in it’s cultural context, you’d be able to see how gender, culture, religious, and political boundaries were being dismantled.
Jews were passing through Samaria when they don’t usually do that, Jesus is talking to a woman at a hot pick up spot… And as the conversation goes the woman has a tendency to evade his questions and only assumes fleshly needs and desires as Jesus converses with her.
Jesus asks for water and the woman asks him why he’s talking to her…
4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
4:9 The 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.)
Samaritans and Jews aren’t even supposed to share buckets in common!
You know, Jesus was probably actually thirsty. He asked her for a drink, and then tells her he has all the water he needs. It’s like they’re speaking two different languages. Jesus just wants a drink, and she seems to want to argue. Even so, Jesus clarifies by saying that he has living water and the woman says, “You don’t even have a bucket,” still assuming that the water is literal water.
Jesus tries to explain that that’s not what he’s talking about and eventually asks her to go get her husband. And she evades by saying that she has none, at which point, Jesus calls her out on her having five husbands.
Jesus knew her, in all her dark parts of herself, and still spoke with her. By giving culture and customs no power, by refusing to argue, he broke down this cultural barrier between male and female, as well as the barriers between the Jews and Samaritans. He asked her for water/for help. He shared with her in his own weakness, along with connecting to her own hurt. He shared with her his humanity being famished and his divinity acknowledging her hurt.
The story of the woman at the well is an invitation to love, to care for, and to know one another deeply, far beyond our differences. There are some implicit themes of God’s reconciliation in this story, and if you notice, there are some powerful key words in Paul: justice, peace, grace, hope, love, and reconciliation. Paul is particularly concerned with breaking down barriers between the Jews and Gentiles. He wants them to see that not one of them is more or less sinner or saved. But it’s tough to discuss reconciliation without also having a conversation about forgiveness.
Forgiveness and reconciliation tend to be buzzwords in conversations on violence, and political and religious unrest in post-conflict regions. From a political and psychological perspective no one is totally clear or agrees on what reconciliation is, if it’s truly possible, or how to do it correctly.
Forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t mutually exclusive, but there are some agreed upon differences. Reconciliation is almost always between multiple parties, forgiveness on the other hand, can be done within yourself (without a literal meeting or conversation). Those involved in reconciliation have to be available, conscious, and willing. It involves literal meeting, conversation, and effort for all parties involved. Reconciliation may be working towards forgiveness, but is mostly conflict resolution ending in tolerance at minimum, and restored relationship with forgiveness at best.
These current definitions of reconciliation don’t really match God’s reconciliation that happens in Romans with Paul. Because this restoring of relationship with God happens without our full awareness or any response whatsoever. It reads, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God.” It seems more like forgiveness.
In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus approaches and engages her in a way that assumes there are no cultural barriers, almost as if they already have a deep relationship, with or without her awareness.
Psychologists who study forgiveness usually define it as “letting go of negative feelings.” But many times they’ll also include that forgiveness allows for positive feelings toward the transgressor. So you let go of negative feelings and you give positive ones. When we allow for God’s forgiveness in ourselves and with others, there may be some transformation at work in the other person without our own full awareness.
I don’t know if any of you have ever had this happen in your life where forgiveness becomes necessary, and you do it. Full on letting go of negative feelings and letting in of positive ones—such as compassion, empathy, seeing them as human. And soon enough, the other person changes. It doesn’t always happen, and maybe it’s just your perspective that changed, its difficult to know. I want to believe that even without an intentional literal intervention, if I choose to forgive, transformation will occur in me and in you.
That’s what is happening at the well, and while we were enemies, God still loved us, Jesus still gave his life, we were reconciled, and our relationship with God was restored. We have this ability to extend God’s reconciliation to others, and we ought to extend that love to others. Something like love, when it’s at it’s fullest potential (whether it’s in the form of reconciliation or restorative justice, or peace, or forgiveness, etc.), there are no different types. Love just is.
In Rome, Paul is working toward, not just reconciliation, but a mutual love and cooperation between Christians, and between Christians and their culture. God through Jesus and the Spirit is the ultimate mediator of all of this. And Paul teaches that “No human sin is sufficient to separate us from the love of God that saves us.” This makes it easier, for me, to reconcile with Paul in myself.
In God’s reconciliation, in Paul and at the well, God recognizes and affirms “You are a part of me and I am a part of you.”
The Samaritan woman is a story of Jesus acknowledging the dark corners of her life, and still loving her. He takes himself to a place where he could be assumed as one of her many husbands. And she says that Jesus told her everything she ever did. Not that he was the messiah, but that she was known and still a part of kingdom… And all of her, every part of herself.
Lent is a time to think about these parts of ourselves that don’t get along. Or that I think are not acceptable. That are ignored. Or that I don’t want to talk about. With God’s help, it’s a time to raise our awareness in order to help reconcile pieces of ourselves that are also a part of other people. God, through Christ, begins and mediates that reconciliation in me and everywhere else.
God does the real work, with or without my awareness. It’s freeing to know that we’re finite, we can’t do it all, we won’t do it all. But reconciliation is all the more powerful when we name it, when we notice the ignored corners of our own lives, and let God be there and work there. Welcomed or unwelcomed, conscious or unconscious, God will reconcile with us, God will help reconcile us with each other, and God will reconcile the pieces of ourselves that we don’t want to reconcile.
Everytime I judge the way I judged in the beginning of my sermon. Everytime I call someone else wrong, or unworthy, I’m really calling myself that. I judge myself, because I know that if I dig deep enough, I’ll find that I do the exact same thing that that other person or group is doing that I don’t like.
Because I am a part of you, and you are a part of me.
March Sermon Musement
That’s kind of a strange testimony. It’s kind of like Paul’s reconciliation. Before we even knew what hit us, Christ knew us, and still chose us. Jesus put himself in an equally awkward situation with us, seeing us fully for who we are (even as we try and avoid it), so we can see ourselves. Before we did anything to earn anything, God took care of us. Maybe I’m a Calvinist…I have a protestant parent, and a catholic parent. I am protestant and I am catholic. And so are both of my parents. That was something that needed to be reconciled within themselves.
My church upbringing combined with being the oldest child caused serious struggles not telling people what to do. I have really good advice. I don’t want to make anyone feel weird or guilty or uncomfortable, but at the same time I want them to realize it’s okay. This happened, or you did this, and it was terrible, horrible, and you and the community should deal with it (we all have a responsibility). But there’s also nothing we can do (but acknowledge there is nothing we can do), and God does.
I feel like I’m doing the same thing Paul is doing, and I don’t like it. It’s like he says, “You have to do something. But you can’t do anything.” Everyone has sinned, and you can’t do anything about it. You can’t get out of this. God helps. That’s what Paul is trying to do, he’s trying to get the Jews and the Gentiles to get along and realize, God leveled the playing field, not one deserves salvation.
I imagine it was difficult for Paul, just like it’s difficult for us to understand, obedience, while good, is not the only way.
Sermon 1: Paul
This is what I was thinking about originally but didn’t quite finish.
I’ve noticed that it’s kind of cool, at one point or another, in a theology student’s career to hate Paul. Maybe not everyone goes through it, but I know I did. If you talk about Paul to any liberated woman or any person who doesn’t buy into heteronormativity, you may catch an eye-roll, or some sort of motion of disdain. I am guilty, and still guilty sometimes. Paul talks to us about things that I don’t want to talk about. Black and white rules come to mind. Or whatever guilt I might harbor in the cobwebs of my soul. His writings rarely are story, and if they are, it’s some sort of seemingly narcissistic heroism by Paul. He praises some. He rebukes others. He writes dogma and doctrine. He makes one statement and immediately contradicts it.
Paul is often thought of as moody, inconsistent, bossy, and a woman hater, but if you read Paul through the lens of reconciliation, which is his concept, then the rest of his writing is a bit more palatable. It’s as if he’s figuring it out as he writes it. Paul is trying to understand how to manage his own culture in the creation of a new culture in Christianity. He is aware that he is living in a world where Jesus broke the rules (like in the story of the woman at the well), not to make more rules—not to keep people in bondage, not to control leadership, not to exclude. So, even amidst all the household, church, and cultural rules that appear to be upheld by Paul, he still speaks of this reconciliation.
He’s got a lot on his plate. He has to make sure the churches don’t go too far off the mark (whatever that is), while also allowing for healing grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in a melding of very different cultures. Paul’s confusing circularity, ought to be a comfort as we attempt to understand reconciliation in our own culture.