I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately. I didn’t grow up spending hours on video games: it is something I am still learning to do. In my youth, we didn’t have remote controls let alone Pac-Man. But my husband did grow up playing video games, and now it is something we can do together. Or at least it is something we can take turns doing while we sit on the couch. I figure it is a good way to spend time with him. And scientists say that we can delay the effects of aging by learning how to do new things. Take it from me, I am learning how to do new things.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been playing a new game called Horizon Zero Dawn. The plot revolves around Aloy, a hunter and archer living in a world overrun by robots. Having been outcast her whole life, she sets out to discover how she came to be an outcast. For her tribe is a matriarchy, and since Aloy doesn’t have a Mother, she is cast out of the tribe. She is shunned: members of the tribe can’t talk to her or help her or have any contact with her. Those are the tribe’s rules: it is taboo to break them.
Today’s gospel is about violating taboos – about breaking boundaries – to make justice. Today Jesus shows us what’s really important, and his teaching comes at a time when we need to hear and hearken to his words about doing justice even when it breaks the rules.
This is an important lesson to learn in a week when a spokesman for the administration declared Meals on Wheels to be a failure for not moving people off public assistance. He apparently doesn’t understand that the people who depend on Meals on Wheels are too old or too sick to work their way out of poverty. He doesn’t see that the correct metric for assessing Meals on Wheels is how many people they feed not how many people no longer need help. Remember, Jesus said: feed my sheep. And he fed a crowd of thousands with a few fish and a little bit of bread.
This is an important lesson to learn in a week when Republican representatives in Washington heard their plan to replace Obamacare will kick 24 million people out of the health insurance coverage they now have. Remember, Jesus healed the sick. Through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he taught us how we should care for the sick.
This is an important lesson to learn at the start of an administration in Washington that made a show of throwing transgender students under the proverbial school bus. I believe federal laws and regulations still protect transgender students from harassment in school, but thanks to the current administration it will take a long court battle to affirm those protections exist in all 50 states. Jesus opened his arms and his heart to all of God’s children – including transgender people, black people, immigrant people, Asian people, Native American people, gay people, and lesbian people to name a few. Jesus made clear we are all children of God, we all have a place at God’s table. In fact, t is hard for us to see how radical Jesus is being in today’s scripture story (John 4:5-42).
The author of the Gospel attributed to John starts the story at noon on a warm day and a tired, thirsty Jesus. A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Why is she coming to do this laborious task at the hottest time of the day? She is an outcast: a woman who challenged her clan’s rules and now cannot join the other women to draw water before the heat of the day reaches its peak.
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” In speaking to her he broke a taboo of his own people. In asking her for water, for a sign of hospitality, he shattered part of the purity code observed by the People of Israel.
The Samaritan woman knows Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. So she asks: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And Jesus responds with theology: “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.”
She mocks him: “”Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”
Jesus answers: “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.”
And the woman jokes with him again: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
So Jesus says: “Go, call your husband, and come back.” And the woman admits part of the truth: “I have no husband.” Jesus replies: “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!” And the woman answers: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet” and accepts Jesus as a prophet. And she asks people in her community: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And this Gospel story concludes: “So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. hey said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Remember: people thought the Messiah belonged to the People of Israel. Yet by breaking the boundaries of Jewish law and custom, Jesus opened the way for Samaritans – gentiles – to believe. And the testimony of the woman by the well – a notorious woman long shunned by her peers – was the spark that helped her people find Jesus.
Perhaps that is what we’re called to do today: to break the bonds that hold us apart so we can live as one people again. Perhaps we are called to live as Christians who do not judge and then condemn others.
Sadly this is a radical notion for some Christians. They seem to take pride in pronouncing who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. They act as if they are appointed to stand in for Jesus, judging and condemning those who refuse to abide by a narrowly defined purity code, one which runs counter to everything I know about Jesus and His teachings.
This Lent as we search for justice, perhaps we should ask ourselves the Samaritan woman’s question: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And perhaps we should ask others around us as well. For by taking up justice for Lent, we opened the way for each of us to examine and re-examine our spiritual path. We are called to live in ways that make the Kingdom of God come near. Not to predict the end of the world or condemn each other. Jesus said, “Love one another.” How well we do that in this community, in this neighborhood, and in our lives will determine if we are as effective as the Samaritan woman in bringing the Kingdom of God yet a little closer.
May each of us help each other find our spiritual path through these dark and difficult times. And may all of us join in the Great Vigil of Easter as our past is washed away so we can find new joy on Easter morning,
Let us pray:
Faithful God of love, you blessed us with your servant Son so that we might know how to serve your people with justice and with mercy. We gather the needs of ourselves and others, and offer them to you in faith and love, seeking to be strengthened to meet them. Shape us and transform us by your grace, that we may grow in wisdom and in confidence, never faltering until we have done all that you desire to bring your realm of shalom to fulfillment. May the people of God say: Amen.