Sunday, March 15, 2020

God's Love in a Time of Coronavirus: John 4:5-42 - Third Sunday of Lent

5[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.” (NRSV)
By nakashi from Chofu, Tokyo, JAPAN - Shibuya, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thanks to the Coronavirus epidemic, life has taken a sharp turn into the surreal.

Entire countries are under lockdown, including Italy and Spain.

The stock market went into freefall this week, due to concerns about the economic impact of the pandemic.

Here at home, our attendance last Sunday was about half of what it had been just two weeks prior. And good luck trying to buy hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes at the stores.

How do you live life in a time like this? The line between prudence and hysteria is becoming impossible to define. We should always wash our hands for twenty seconds, and we should always feel free to stay home when we’re sick. However, I fear that the public hysteria will outlast the virus.

Long before Coronavirus was a thing, we were already keeping ourselves in quarantine.

I’ve lived in a townhouse complex for almost nine years—and I don’t even know the names of the people living opposite my walls.

If you engage in casual conversation with a stranger in public, they may look at you like something’s wrong with you.

And nowadays, if you sneeze, you’re more likely to hear the words “get away from me” than “God bless you…”

It’s not hard to imagine the social taboo Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel. Jesus was in the Samaritan city of Sychar, and he was resting by Jacob’s well. He asks a Samaritan woman, “give me a drink.”

She’s stunned—normally, Samaritans and Jews avoid each other like the plague. But she opens herself to him.

And she certainly needed Jesus’ love—because she was no stranger to tragedy. Jesus knows she’s had five husbands. Perhaps she’s buried five husbands; perhaps she’s been divorced by five husbands. But in a world where women’s lives were devalued and their bodies were treated as property, she is in a very desperate place. Please understand that Jesus isn’t saying that she’s sinned. He’s speaking truth about the tragedy she’s suffered—and loves her in her pain. Through her open wounds, Jesus poured in the living waters of his love.

But isn’t it ironic that she leaves her water jar behind and goes back into the city? Jesus quenched her thirst for living water with relationship. Because Jesus loved her and taught her, she will never be thirsty again. Subsequently, she goes and tells her neighbors about Jesus, with the result that many Samaritans believe in him, because her testimony led them to him.

Before there was faith, there was relationship. Before there was relationship, there were barriers that had to be broken. That’s the challenge for us.

Before Coronavirus, we were already living isolated lives. It is our habit to pay more attention to our devices than to the people around us—even when those people are our own kin. Anymore, a good neighbor is one who minds their own business and stays out of your way. What’s worse, you are culturally conditioned to be suspicious of your neighbor—if they don’t believe what you believe. If they don’t look like you do. If they don’t vote like you do. We are far more likely to perceive the neighbor as a threat than a fellow child of God.  As long as Christians continue to quarantine themselves in the safety of their church buildings, and the love of Jesus Christ will be the Church’s best-kept secret.

Jesus, on the other hand, meets you in your basic needs, your deepest questions, and your most painful hardships. The cross shows the extent to which Jesus lovingly enters your fear, shame, and disgrace. And there, in your open wounds, Jesus makes the waters of God’s love to flow, to make you alive again.

As the living water flows into you, it will also flow out of you—because your neighbor is thirsty, and the world is a parched place. So often, we think of ministry as preaching to the neighbor and fixing their problems. But ministry is about relationship. Relationships are the rivers through which the living waters flow. The first expression of Christian love is to see beyond labels, judgments, and suspicions, to behold the image of God in the other. And it is in relationship and community that the power of Jesus’ love becomes undeniably real. All it takes is to lovingly enter the space of another’s life; hear their story; acknowledge their pain; and simply be with them. If you are willing to go that far, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

We certainly pray for medical professionals and researchers to quickly find a vaccine to eradicate this wretched sickness once and for all, so that no more lives are lost. And yet, the number one way to protect yourself is to wash your hands with soap and hot water. And keeping three feet away from a person doesn’t mean you’re avoiding them. No one is going to get better unless without someone else lovingly entering the space of their life to show compassion and mercy. For it is only in relationship that healing and restoration can begin. Only in relationship will the waters of Jesus’ living waters flow and lives will be restored.

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