John 4: 5-42; 03192017; 3 Lent
I have to confess that I was very suspicious of both Deacon Tom and Rick Lopez being away this weekend. I asked them if they were going to be here, because this morning’s Gospel reading is the longest Gospel Reading in the lectionary, other than Holy Week. They both proclaimed their innocence, but they were laughing as they did so.
I wanted to talk about reconciliation this morning, on a couple of different levels. It would be a highly unusual thing to discover someone who was reconciled with everyone. We are humans, and we are pretty good at finding things to disagree on. There are those people that we disagree with, in the micro sense; perhaps an ex or a parent or a sibling we can’t get along with. And, on the macro side, we can find ourselves disagreeing with whole groups of people. Churches are not immune to such forces, and over the centuries they’ve been quite good at finding things to argue about.
In our story this morning, Jesus addresses this issue. He enters the land of the Samaritans, a people the Jews really, really, didn’t like. They each shared a common ancestry, but were like the modern-day Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Much of their animosity is centered in where they worship their God. The God they both worship is one and the same, but they’ve chosen to worship in two separate places. And, of course, they each claim to have the right spot. It’s amazing how long religious folks have been fighting these battles; you’d think we’d have learned better by now.
The Jews, of course, worshiped at the massive Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But the Samaritans had to have their own place. They built their temple on the top of Mt. Gerizim. Same God, two temples, approximately twenty-eight miles apart and never the twain shall meet, the exception of course being Jesus. Two temples to worship the one and same God, that is until both were destroyed.
But the temples were both in their heyday, when Jesus walked into Samaria. After sending his disciples to go and buy food, he sat down and leaned against the place called Jacob’s Well. Ironically, the site of Jacob’s Well is one that all major faith traditions agree on. It lies at the entrance of the valley that lies between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, and is currently inside the Orthodox Church of St. Photina, the Orthodox name given to the woman at the well in our story.[i]
Now reconciliation can happen in a number of ways, but it always requires one thing: It requires someone to take the first step. There can be no reconciliation without someone trying. There has to be personal contact. Reconciliation may not always occur, but one thing is sure. If no one takes that first step, reconciliation won’t happen.
So many families I’ve met, where the members are feuding. It reminds me of that old country song, “Hey, won’t you play, another somebody done somebody wrong song.”[ii] I was even present at a funeral, where a family was fighting about the estate of the deceased, literally as they walked to their pews. How sad it is, when families ostracize one another over such things.
And then we have the issues with churches. Our churches are still seeking reconciliation with one another after the Reformation, which occurred five hundred years ago. Five centuries have passed, and we’re still fighting about doctrine. Now that’s what I call holding a grudge.
In our Gospel story this morning, Jesus shows how it’s done. No Jew wanted to deal with those nasty Samaritans. After all, they thought God lived on their mountain. Over time, the two groups had drawn stiff boundaries, and as the old saying goes, never the twain shall meet.
But Jesus isn’t into boundaries. And he isn’t willing to take the long way. His route is much shorter if he cuts through Samaria, and besides, he has some things that need saying. And so we find him at Jacob’s well, resting in the shadow of the Samaritan’s Mt. Gerizim. And along comes a Samaritan woman, in need of some water. Jesus breaks the rules, and asks for a drink. It is interesting that despite their lengthy conversation, Jesus never does get that said drink.
As Christians, we’re called to be healers, to be repairers of the breech. If we’re not in the healing business, we’re not walking with Christ. Jesus was always healing people on his travels, but much work remains to be done. The church, it’s been said, is a hospital for sick people, and the church involves a whole lot more than this building.
Prayer from afar can sometimes be good, but conversations are usually better. They involve one on one contact, with the benefit of seeing one another as humans. And even in those cases where the conversation goes nowhere, persistence often brings the desired results. As we engage with people who believe differently than us, they often destroy our own preconceptions. People are often much different than how we imagined they’d be.
Jesus approached the Samaritan woman and said something rather mundane. “Give me a drink”, is all that he said. From there, the conversation turned to a discussion about water, and then how water could, in fact be alive. As Jesus spoke to her of the living water, she became mesmerized by his story. She was able to step out of those things that she’d been taught and ended evangelizing much of her village.
Reconciliation often means finding some common ground for people to stand on. It breaks down divisions and allows for new things to happen. The Jubilee Center is a classic example. People from several faith traditions have served there, because they realize there are things that need doing. We are all called to feed and comfort the stranger, whatever the doctrines we might have been taught. We are all a part of the body, whatever our differences.
So what can we learn from the words of John’s gospel? How can we reach out to folks who seem so unlike us? What can we do together with our Muslim brothers and sisters, those Hindus and Jews and other faith traditions? How can be reconciled to folks different than us? I pray that we all will be reconcilers in this City of Midland, and that we will be willing to take that first step.
[i] Internet: http://www.seetheholyland.net/jacobs-well/
[ii] Wikipedia contributors. (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. March 18, 2017, 23:46 UTC. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=(Hey_Won%27t_You_Play)_Another_Somebody_Done_Somebody_Wrong_Song&oldid=771007996. Accessed March 21, 2017.