The Church of the Saviour March 15, 2020 The Third Sunday in Lent The Reverend George C. Wong “All shall be well”
In today’s well-known, much beloved gospel text (John 4:5-42), Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. In the course of their meeting, both Jesus and the woman are transformed. Each time we read and study the passage, it offers to us the possibility of transformation and of quenching our deepest thirst. It is a passage which quite miraculously allows us to lower our buckets into the well repeatedly and to come up with life giving water each time. And this week, the passage seems particularly resonant with the lived experiences of the last few weeks. The Samaritan woman speaks to us with a relevant and needed message which acknowledges the wrenching fear, anxiety and uncertainty we have been and are navigating.
The Samaritan woman says to us: “I understand what it is like to fear and to be feared.” The Samaritan woman was clearly not a welcome visage in her own town. As many biblical commentators note, the woman went out at the impossibly uncomfortable time of mid-day to the well to draw water because she feared contact with people. I used to think the fearfulness was mostly or all on her part. But, it dawned on me in light of this week’s events, that people harbored not merely disdain for her, but profound fear. As a woman divorced five times with no husband, she would have been considered a pariah, a no good social leper who was to be avoided and ghosted. Or, heaven forbid, lest the folk who lived proper lives and who judged her harshly be infected with what they considered her scandalous past and dissolute living. It is interesting that Jesus is aware of her past and didn’t seem to be too concerned. “I understand what it means to live in self-imposed isolation”
The Samaritan woman lived in a constant state of fear, and, in turn, other people feared and loathed her. Some fear can be protective and alert us to danger. But FEAR writ large never, ever brings out the best in folks. This was true then and it is true today. So, it is not hard to imagine that she had her fill of ugly, potentially dangerous encounters with hostile people. No punching bag and no fool, she used distance to keep her out of harm’s way. The Samaritan woman would be the first to say, I get what you are doing. I’ve been there done that. Two thousand years ago, I knew about and used social distancing to afford a safe margin. The distancing saved her but it also came at the cost of a death of thousand cuts of despair, loneliness and isolation. I suspect the woman would caution us to mitigate the pitfalls of social distancing and to use it judiciously. “I understand what it is to be thirsty.” Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman come to the well out of thirst. Jesus knows she is physically thirsty, but suggests to her that her true thirst is not about that most basic human need. Jesus suggests a possibility more satisfying, something that got at what she was really longing and seeking. He offers her living water—the only thing that could sate her aridity and dryness of body, soul and mind.
This week, I have seen with my own eyes that many have filled up carts with all manner of things and frequently in enormous quantities. This was panic buying fueled by a fear of not having enough and out of a desire to not lack for anything. Yet, even if we had wagon trains of shopping carts filled up, our truest needs might not be sated. No matter how much we buy or stockpile, might we still be hungry and thirsty and want for more? And more. And more. Having been transformed by her encounter with Jesus and also having a deep personal understanding of our current plight, the Samaritan woman greets us and speaks to us with great compassion: “I know what it is to fear, I know what it is to live in self-isolation and I know what it is to be thirsty.” The Samaritan woman knows our burdens and has something enduring and life-changing to offer us. In the face of circumstances that unnerve us and which beget fear, which move us towards social distancing in the name of personal and communal safety and which reveal a deep longing to be satisfied and filled up with something enduring and life changing, the Samaritan has words of comfort, healing and affirmation for us:
“My friends, come to the well. Jesus has been waiting for you. Go and see him. He will give you living water and it will change your life.” In these times of fear, contagion, dislocation and always, this is my prayer for each of us individually, our church community, for our country and for the world.