Readings for Sunday March 15 2020
It might seem quite normal for a person travelling to talk to those they meet in the town they arrive in. Jesus was sitting by the town well, waiting while the disciples bought something for lunch. He asks a woman for some water, because he has no dipper. This might seem an everyday occurrence here, but life was different in Samaria in the first century. The Jews and the Samaritans were not on speaking terms as a rule – there had a been a difference of opinion about how to worship God, back in the centuries gone by, and the two groups avoided each other.
There was another avoidance that was normal too – a devout Jewish man would not talk to a woman in public, especially not a woman who was not a relative. But Jesus ignored these two things, and spoke to a woman, and a Samaritan woman, at that.
Jesus was radically inclusive, and this is a lesson we can still learn from Jesus. He didn’t regard the “Other” as less than human, as different. He just treated them as a normal human being, worthy of God’s love and Jesus’ attention.
Our country is commemorating the Mosque attacks today. A year ago, a terrible thing happened, that showed us that there were different people living in our midst, and that someone was evil enough to harm them. Many of us were not greatly aware of the Muslim community. Many didn’t even know where the mosques were, especially the one here in Linwood, set discreetly back from the road.
If we did know abut the Muslim community, we would have seem a group of people who largely kept themselves to themselves, but looked a bit different going about their everyday activities. The head scarfs the women wear are a point of different here.
But the events of last year showed us that these people were vulnerable to hate, and as a nation we condemned that hate. We all came together in love as a community around our Muslim neighbours.
This is a kind, loving, Christian, human thing to do. But is it enough? We can support those who have been obviously harmed, we can hold hands around Hagley Park in support of love and togetherness, but how about when there are other challenges to our world view?
If we have learnt anything from the Mosque shootings, it should be that everyone needs to be loved and supported, and allowed to live in freedom and safety in our country.
If there are people who are marginalised, what would Jesus do?
Well, what did he do? You may argue that the Samaritan woman was not marginalised by being a woman and a Samaritan. Indeed, in her own community, that was not a problem. But there is another detail about her. She was going to draw water at noon. The normal time for the women to draw water was early in the morning, so their households would be prepared for the day. But this woman was not able to join in with the others. She was shunned. Why? Probably because of her history with five husbands and her current not-husband. Her community turned their back on her, excluded her, because of her marital status. Maybe they thought that losing husbands was contagious, and they might be affected. Maybe she had been divorced. We will not now, and Jesus also tells her that her current bloke is not an official husband.
Here is another reason that people have been excluded in our society – their marital status and their choice of who to love is disapproved of. But not by Jesus.
To come back to our earlier question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ He talked to the woman, treated her like she was worthy of his notice, and indeed gave her the greatest treasure he could, that is, telling her about the water that will never run out, the gift of eternal life. He respected her in spite of her status as an excluded member of her own society, and in spite of restrictions placed upon him by his own Jewish maleness.
Jesus gave the woman more – he gave her the confidence to go back to her community and tell them about him. Here was the woman who was avoiding the other women at the usual water-drawing time, going willingly to tell everyone about Jesus! She had a new confidence, because Jesus noticed her, treated her like a worthy person to share the greatest gift with.
While the woman is rounding up the others to see Jesus, the disciples return, and they urge him to eat,. Jesus then teaches them about his and their mission. and he says, cryptically, that “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
This is exactly what Jesus has been doing in speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. But he needs to tell the disciples more. He needs to show them the path ahead for them. He uses a metaphor about reaping the fields.
“Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” (John 4:35-38)
I can imagine the disciples scratching their heads at this, and taking some time to understand what Jesus means. Reaping where other shave sown? In the natural world that would be theft, wouldn’t it? It’s like taking someone’s peaches from their tree without permission. What then does Jesus mean by reaping? He means a gathering in, bringing to fruition. The seed is sown when people hear about the word of God, the life of Jesus. The seed is watered when there is more teaching, more experience of the Christian life. But just as a plant takes a while before it can produce fruit, so the Christian life can take a while to mature. Some of us are quick growers, like poppy plants, ready to bear seed within a short season. Others are like a pine tree that needs to grow for many years, buffeted by the winds of life, until we are finally ready to start bearing fruit.
Well, what does this mean for us? If we place ourselves at Jesus’ feet, listening like the disciples, we can take the same instructions.
‘I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour.’
We are all called to the work and the joy of welcoming people into the kingdom of heaven. That’s the scary bit isn’t it? Coming to church is easy compared to telling people about Jesus and asking them if they are ready to receive Christ. This is where the saying of St Francis of Assisi is so apt: Preach the gospel, if necessary, sue words”
If the events of a year ago have taught us anything, it must surely be that loving, all-inclusively, is the only way that our society can flourish. We must surely have learnt that there are no grounds for exclusion. Not race, religion, gender, sexuality, taste in music or clothes, how much money we have, how clever we are, which rugby team we support, anything. This week, I want you to look at your attitudes to all those you encounter. Bring them to God in prayer, ask God to show you if you have been less than loving in any encounter or attitude. Especially pray about those who challenge you the most.
And never forget that God loves you, and them, so very much.