The "LENTEN LANDSCAPES" (Series: #3)
The thirteen-seat van pulled up beside Jacob's Watering Hole on the highway between Jerusalem and Capernaum, on the outskirts of Sychar. Jesus got out first, followed by the twelve in single file. They were thirsty. And hungry. "Hang on for a minute, guys! Let me check the menu" he said. He was back in a jiffy. "Can you believe it?" he said: "No lentil soup...with a name like Jacob's, no lentil soup!" Pete, why don't you take the guys downtown, and y'all have yourself a hearty bowl of lentil soup and bring me one too?" "What will you do while we're gone, Jesus?" asked Andrew. "Ah,...I'll just grab me a cool one...and take a breather." So they all left and that's how Jesus found himself alone in Jacob's Watering Hole that day, sitting next to a middle aged woman with sad, brown eyes and wavy dark hair. "Bartender" he said, "pour me a ...." he stopped in mid-sentence, as he realized that Judas had the company kitty and he didn't have a denarius in his cloak pocket. "Ms....excuse me, Ms.... do you suppose you could let me take a swig of whatever you are drinking there? It's no fun driving around in this hot desert in a 13-seater with no air conditioning..." "You talking to me, stranger?...don't you know you ain't supposed to? You're one of them JEWS, aren't you? Can't you see that I ain't one of you? I am a S-A-M-A-R-I-T-A-N, Samaritan, a half-breed, heretic, your worst enemy. Why did you take the detour through our town anyway? A Jew around here is as rare as a ham sandwich in a kosher deli! "Well, yes,.." "Plus, you look like you're one of them Rabbi's. Can't you see I am a woman? Didn't they teach you not to talk to a woman in public...not even to your wife, your sister or your daughter?" "Yes, they did..." TIME OUT! All I asked you was to let me have a sip. Or you can buy me a drink...as soon as the boys get back I'll get Judas to reimburse you, don't worry.... Can you help me or not?" "Ok, Ok, don't get short with me now, Mister...it's just that I didn't expect you to ask me for a drink, that's all...It isn't kosher, you know..." "Of course it isn't kosher...but if you knew who you were talking to, you would have asked me for a drink, and I would've given you a lifetime supply of the really good stuff." "Right! Excuse me, buddy, I mean Rabbi, you don't even have the money to buy your own drink... you're always on the road, which means you don't have a permanent address or a business where you bottle the good stuff.... What are you going to leave with me... a cooler that is set on automatic refill? Where are you going to supply it from? Huh?... "Well..." "Let me finish....Are you saying that you can do better than Jacob's Watering Hole here? I need a drink, I show up. They've got it. I get it. That's it. The End. You telling me you've got better connections than Jacob?" "Lady, lady...listen to me. You keep drinking from Jacob's supply, you'll keep getting thirsty and keep coming back for more. You drink what I can give you, you'll never get thirsty for this stuff. As a matter of fact, you'll find that you've got within you an endless supply that will carry you through all eternity."
"Really? Sounds too good to be true! Say, can you arrange it so I can tap into this supply myself? I hate having to come to Jacob's all the time....especially at this time of day... all by myself...and not with my girlfriends like the other women do....Oh! that would be awesome, if I never have to come down to Jacob's Watering hole again.... Go ahead, stranger, hook me up to this pipeline...or drop ship one of those bottomless coolers, please!" "That can be arranged. But, first, we've got be on the up and up with one another. Why don't you go get your husband? Then we'll talk more." "What are you getting at, Rabbi? What does my personal life have to do with this? Besides, I have no husband, anyway!" "I suppose, technically, that's correct...You've had five of them...you'll hold the record until someone named Elizabeth Taylor comes along....and the one you're co-habiting with, he's not your husband legally...isn't that why you show up at Jacob's at this time of day when there's no one else around, so you wouldn't bump into any one else?" "Whoa! How did you know all that about me? Gosh, you are more than a Rabbi... did you read my palm when I wasn't looking or something? I can tell you're a prophet, for sure... You know, there's something I've always wanted to ask a Rabbi..and since you are one, and since 1-900 numbers haven't been invented yet, let me ask you this....We all worship the same God...our folks have always insisted we worship on Mt.Gerizim, but y'all insist that Jersualem is the only place we ought to worship at. Would you care to comment on this discrepancy, O Learned One?" Jesus knows she's changing the topic, but he goes along with her. "In response to your query, Madame Theologian, may I say that the time is coming when the location of worship will not really make any difference...Matters not WHERE you worship, only matters HOW you worship...in spirit and in truth...'cause that's the kind of people that God's interested in."
"Rabbi, are you sure you should be talking like this? This is revolutionary stuff, you know! This is what we call Messiah-talk around here. Only when the Messiah comes can we have any hope that we'll forget our differences of where we worship and focus more on who we worship and how we worship." "Psst, sister....wanna know a secret about me? You're not just talking to any old Rabbi here, you are talking to the Messiah in person, in the flesh, right now, before your very eyes."
Her eyes grew big as bagels, but before she could say anything, there was a commotion. The noise was unmistakeably that of the 13-seater pulling up in front of Jacob's Watering Hole. Out came the Dirty Dozen scurrying towards Jesus. John almost dropped the recycled paper bowl full of kosher lentil soup he was carrying when he saw that Jesus was talking to a woman in public, a very unkosher thing to do in those parts. The disciples just looked at Jesus, asking with their eyes: "What in blazes are you doing talking to her?", but none had the guts to verbalize it.
Meanwhile, the woman escaped the glare of the spotlight by speeding off into the city on her Harley Davidson, a very Jewish vehicle, you'd agree, David's son--get it? There she pulled over everyone she knew and said: "Hey, y'all, y'all need to come and see this man I ran into at Jacob's Watering Hole...He could read me like a Jackie Collins novel... I got a sneaky suspicion that he could be the Messiah...why don't y'all come and check him out too?" You could surely hear the endless supply that Jesus spoke about bubbling inside her and overflowing into the lives of people around her, who were not so different from her after all, for they, in their own way, were just as thirsty and could stand to discover the living waters welling up inside them too!
Of course, the disciples urged him to dig into the bowl of lukewarm lentil soup they'd brought. But, he shrugged them off. "I've got food to eat that you don't know about" he said. "I wonder if that woman bought him a Matzah-burger while we were gone" they wondered among themselves. But he said to them, "My hunger can only be satisfied by doing what God sent me to do and to complete the work I'm supposed to do...Pay attention, guys! Open your eyes and see! The fields are shining for harvest! Be more aware of the opportunities around you to bring people to the faith!" "Whatever you say, Jesus" they said, with their eyes again.
Just then, there was another commotion. There, leading a parade of local townsfolk was the woman on her Harley. The disciples rolled their eyes in disbelief. "Boy, she must've been quite enthusiastic to draw this many people behind her!" they thought to themselves. Jesus met them all, talked to them, listened to them, answered their questions, so much so that they asked if he could stay with them for a couple of days. So, he did, at Ebenezer's Bethel Inn, just a stone's throw from Jacob's, and more and more people got around to his way of thinking. Two days later, as they watched the 13-seater pull out of town, with Jesus in the driver's seat and the disciples behind him, the townspeople said to the woman: "We all got mighty excited when you told us about this stranger. But that's not why we believe in him, but because we've heard him with our own ears and now we know that he is really the Saviour of the World."
That is the JSV translation (Jeeva Sam Version) of the story recorded in John 4. Were you shocked by the re-telling? Did anything jar you? Maybe you were shocked that I set the story in a bar, rather than by a well. In Jesus' time, the well was more than a place to draw water to meet one's physical thirst. It was also a place for socializing and prospecting future spouses. You may recall the story from Genesis 24 where Abraham's servant Eliezer, who was instructed by his master to find a suitable match for Isaac, does not take out an ad in the "Connections" page, but goes to the well....after a while he spots Rebekah, starts up a conversation...and the rest is history.
Let me ask you a question: A woman such as the one we meet in the story who has already been through several marriages, one who is looking for love and acceptance, one who is perhaps struggling with issues of shame and guilt and sense of failure, where is she more likely to go...to church or to a bar, a lounge, a club, a dance hall or some other "watering hole?" That's why I set the story in a bar. Statistics tell us that more people than ever are looking for meaning in their lives, seeking to fill the gaping spiritual hole in their hearts. But not too many of them are stopping at the churches on the first leg of their journey. How are they going to find the Source of Living Water unless someone goes to them where they are as Jesus did? If we as the church make it our mission only to care for those who are already in without taking the time to reach out to those who are on the outside, how will the story of the Samaritan woman be repeated in our time? What stops us from going to where the people are? What prejudices, labels, stand in the way? Will we have the courage to overcome those barriers as Jesus did and simply accept others as sisters and brothers created in the image of the same God? Or do we let the differences in race, colour, creed, sex, sexual orientation, status or whatever else hold us back? Are we maintaining an institution instead of following Jesus' example of going places where we do not normally go? As Jesus said to the disciples, he says to us: "The fields are ripe for the harvest all around you. You people pass up too many opportunities to win people over to the Gospel. Why aren't you aware of the harvest and throwing out your sickle to bring it in?" A minister by the name of Larry Warren says:"I think the church suffers when we keep outsiders out and insiders in. We need outsiders in and insiders out! One of the signs of the Kingdom of God for me is that outsiders become insiders and bring others in. And insiders go outside the set boundaries to reach out and welcome others in." The bar would certainly be outside the set boundaries, wouldn't it?
You may have also been shocked by the tone of the conversation. Jesus is not up on a pedestal, or in a pulpit, "six feet above contradiction", but right at her level, face to face, rubbing elbows, loose, relaxed, honest, open, as an equal, not as a superior in any way. Isn't that a mistake we've often made in approaching others? We set ourselves up as being superior morally "I'm glad I didn't cheat on my husband like she did" , ethically "I've always played it by the book" or theologically, "I'm glad we are not like those fundamentalist dunderheads or evangelical, born-again types flying high on some kind of spiritual gas!". And that cuts off dialogue and communication in a hurry, doesn't it? Instead there is a lot of give-and-take in this conversation. Jesus doesn't shun her questions. He doesn't cut her off abruptly. He listens. He answers. He speaks his mind. He lets her speak her mind. Wow! What an example Jesus set for us to follow!!
What else shocked you? The brutal honesty of Jesus in confronting her about her personal life? Or the surprising absence of a call to repentance? The fact that he did not tell her to convert to Judaism? The fact that he did not tell her to go and leave the man with whom she was living out of marriage? He didn't even tell her to go and sin no more. He simply showed her that, in spite of all she had done, God's acceptance was unconditional.
Virginia Satir, a Family Therapist, wrote a poem which goes like this: "I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging, join you without invading, invite you without demanding, leave you without guilt, criticise you without blaming, and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you then we can truly meet and enrich each other."
Jesus modeled this delicate balance well, didn't he? For when Jesus said the secrets aloud, the woman was free at last, and confessing that what he has revealed is true, suddenly she was transformed from outcast to evangelist, proclaiming to people she thought she could never face again, Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" And in her question, she gives the answer. "This man who knows everything she's ever done, is the messiah, the savior of the whole world, Jew and Samaritan, righteous and sinner." Her confession is a private thing between her and Jesus, but the result of that confession is a faith overflowing, a faith proclaimed to the entire world, a faith that shouts friend and foe alike, "God has come to save me!" No one else was there at the well when Jesus revealed that he knew her sin. Our confession is between our God and us. But once we know that God loves us despite our sin, that we are forgiven people, then our faith leads us to shout, "Behold, the messiah! Behold, my savior!" She no longer had to bow down under the weight of her shame and humiliation. Thanks to Jesus' acceptance of her as a person, including her past, her race, and her gender, she could rise above the walls which had enclosed her for so long to courageously and convincingly share the good news with others. As the gospel tells us, Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony. They too were discovering the fountain of water springing up in their own hearts -- the forgiveness of God, the sense of peace, of joy, of love within -- and they were saying with almost unbelieving tones,We don't need to hear the woman talk about it now; it has happened to us. He is the 'Saviour of the world.' And why did this woman manage to bring the entire village with her, when the disciples, the professional workers of the church, couldn't? Isn't this proof that if we really want to grow as a congregation it is up to the people in the pew, and not the professional leadership, to do the work? Is this not witnessing to the fact that it is our personal stories which brings people to Christ, and to the church? Isn't this an example of what we used to call "Telling our Story, Sharing our Faith?" Works, doesn't it? Do we do enough telling and sharing?
Isn't it amazing what one person's unconditional acceptance of another can do? There was a man named Bill. Bill had wild hair, wore a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans & no shoes.This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.
Across the street from the campus, was a well-dressed very conservative church.They wanted to develop a ministry to the students, but were not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decided to go there. He walked in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, & wild hair. The service had already started so Bill started down the aisle looking for a seat. By now people were looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything. Bill got closer & closer to the pulpit & when he realized that there were no seats, he just squatted down right on the carpet. By now the people were really uptight, and the tension in the air was thick. About this time, the minister realized that from way at the back of the church, a deacon was slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, a three-piece suit, a pocket watch. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, & very courtly. He walked with a cane & as he started walking toward this boy everyone was saying to themselves, "You can't blame him for what he's going to do. How can you expect a man of his age & of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?" It took a really long time for the man to reach the boy. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane. All eyes were focused on him. You could hear the people thinking: "The minister can't preach until the deacon does what he has to do." And now the elder dropped his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowered himself & said to the young man: "May I sit with you?" He squatted next to Bill and worshipped with him, so he wouldn't be alone. Everyone choked up with emotion. After a moment of silence that seemed liked eternity, the Pastor said: "What I'm about to preach, you will never remember; what you have just seen, you will never forget." And that is how that congregation's ministry to the students came to be born.
Look out over the Lenten Landscape before you. Do you see Jacob's Watering Hole? Walk in. Sit down. Talk. Listen. Drink. You'll never know who might be waiting for you. You have no idea how your reaching out will touch that stranger's life and change it forever. You don't believe me? Just ask the middle-aged woman with the sad brown eyes and the wavy dark hair who walked one day into Jacob's Watering Hole. Thanks be to God. AMEN.