Summary: Jesus meets an outcast with love and acceptance.
3 Lent A John 4:5-42 3 March 2002
Rev. Roger Haugen
For me to preach on today Gospel lesson is difficult, if not altogether wrong. This is a woman’s text. As a man I cannot possibly understand her feelings as an outcast. If anything, I represent most of which puts her on the outside, all of the stereotypes under which she suffers. She is a woman, dependent on a man for her identity as a human being. She is a woman who has suffered the end of five relationships with men and is tentative about the one she has now. She is a Samaritan in a world where Jews are supreme. And so she is alone.
She knows the life of an outcast to the point where she goes to a well far distant from the city at a time of day when no one else will be there. For her, the well was not a place to gather with other women to share the news, a time of camaraderie to be lifted above the drudgery of every day life. This woman knew that she would have likely been the subject of that conversation and gossip so she stayed away, losing the only human contact that might give her life significance.
I stand here as a benefactor of most of those stereotypes which continue to have power today, stereotypes which make it difficult for a man to taste her isolation and thirst. Most of us have been subjected to interpretations of this passage that is tinged with purple prose and poor biblical interpretation. We know that she has been married five times and is living with another. We do not know how the others ended, whether by death or divorce. She likely made some choices that she regretted but Jesus is not interested, as we might be, in the sordid details. Jesus sees a woman desperately thirsty for something more, for love and relationship. Jesus sees a woman subjected to condemnation, from all those around her and, likely self-loathing as well.
Jesus accepts her as a person loved by God, and he gives her the living water she craves, love, relationship and acceptance. Jesus acknowledges her life as it is. Yes, there may have been poor choices with the likely consequences, but he loves her without condition.
Some years ago, in another parish, I had a phone call from a woman whose son had died in Montreal. The parents were old and it was hard for them to accept the death of a son who was in his 30’s. As I sat with them, it became clear that there was more to the story. The son had left small-town Saskatchewan many years ago to live in Montreal. He had died in a hospice, surrounded by a brother and a group of friends, but not the rest of his family. He had died a long and painful death and it became clear to me that the story was one of a young man dying of AIDS. The parents could not bring themselves to say the word, but nodded when I asked them if this were the case. I don’t know the story of this young man but I expect it was one of a young person discovering himself to be gay and knew the rejection that small-town Saskatchewan reserved especially for his kind. No doubt his school life was one of hiding and lies. Likely he was picked on for being different and the only relief he could find was running off to a big city. He was an outcast, craving for relationship and in the process made some poor decisions that led to the contraction of AIDS. As he was dying, he knew he could not go home. He could expect little love or acceptance from his community or his church. He just had to read the newspapers and magazines to know this. Imagine his need for living water, for that which satisfies his deepest hunger and thirst. To know that he is loved and accepted. To know the depth of relationship he had craved all his life.
The parents also felt like outcasts. Imagine their sense of failure of knowing, even though they couldn’t bring themselves to say it, that their son was gay. After all that is what society would tell them. It was a secret they had to keep from their friends and community because of the anger and gossip that would result. The fear of disclosure was compounded by the church which made it clear that the subject was not to be discussed, and that to be gay was a sin of the worst kind. Imagine the self-incrimination knowing that they had failed as parents, or so they understood. Imagine having to be so careful with the friends while playing cards, not letting anything slip. Knowing that the few visits of their son home were ones of deception and kept brief enough so that the common secret would not have to be discussed or be revealed.