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What Would You Leave Behind?

140323_coverJohn 4:5-42

Year A, 3rd Sunday in Lent

Jesus is sitting at the well in the noonday sun, thirsty from a day of walking, when the Samaritan woman approaches with her jar, and Jesus asks her for a drink. In the dialogue that follows, we move from physical thirst to spiritual thirst, and Jesus offers the woman living water.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Then, when the woman responds as though Jesus were offering literal water, he says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Jesus has her attention now, and she asks for the gift of God that Jesus offers, this living water, and that is when we get to the heart of this story. Before Jesus gives her the gift of living water he tells her to go and call her husband, and come back. When she responds that she has no husband Jesus truly sees her for who she is. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

In the past I have heard the Samaritan woman described as a fallen woman, either as a prostitute or at least as someone engaging in serial relationships, but that doesn’t really fit the story. Jesus does not say, “Go and sin no more,” as he does to the woman accused of adultery. Instead he speaks to her of worshiping in spirit and truth.

The problem with the all-to-common interpretation of her as a fallen woman is that it distracts us from the rest of the story. She says, “I see that you are a prophet.”

In John, seeing is connected to faith and belief. She “sees” that Jesus is a prophet because Jesus sees her. He sees that she has suffered through the loss of five husbands. She has been divorced, or abandoned, or widowed five times. Chances are she is barren, and that has led to her rejection by her husbands. Her people have certainly rejected her. That is why she is coming to the well alone, in the middle of the day, when she will not encounter their judgments or condemnation. Jesus sees not a fallen woman, but a beloved child of God who has suffered.

  • She is a woman in a patriarchal society that values her mainly for her ability to bear children.
  • She is a Samaritan in a Jewish nation.
  • She is divorced or abandoned or widowed five times over.
  • The man she lives with now is not her husband.
  • She has been rejected by her own society.

Jesus offers her living water and worship in spirit and truth, and the woman is so happy that she runs back to town to tell people about this prophet, this Messiah she has met at the well.

When she goes, she leaves her jar behind. With that jar, she leaves behind the things that set her apart from God and from her people: all her sorrows, her shame, and her worries about the future.

What would you like to leave behind? What do you carry that is burdening your heart? What is isolating you from the people in your life? What is separating you from God?

I would like to give you the chance to make this real. In your bulletins there are peach colored strips of paper. Take a moment now to write down what you would like to leave behind. What are the jars you would like to leave behind, to trade past tragedies and present challenges for the living water Jesus offers?

  • A past wound?
  • Fear about the future?
  • A dead end job?
  • An unfulfilling relationship?
  • An addiction?
  • Resentments?
  • Illness in your mind, body, or spirit?
  • Grief, anxiety, guilt, sadness, shame?

What would you like to leave behind? When you have finished writing them down on the slip of paper, fold the paper in half, and put it into this jar.

<collect papers – take jar to the altar>

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God, you want for us only good things, and yet sometimes we have a hard time accepting your gifts and being the people you have called us to be. Help us let go of those things that hold us back; remind us of your unfailing love; and create in us the hope and courage to drink the living water you offer and live into the future you have created. Help us to be grateful for the gifts you have given us so that we might worship you in spirit and truth, and experience the abundance that comes from trusting in you. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We will burn these strips of paper, these burdens and grief and challenges, at the Easter Vigil when we light the new flame for the Christ Candle.

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