Third Sunday in Lent / Feb. 24, 2008 / Resurrection Lutheran
Text: John 4: 5-26 / Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley
The Bucket List Revised
One of the activities that Pastor Jim and I enjoy the most is seeing a really good movie. And one of the ones that we saw most recently reminded me of today’s Gospel lesson. The two main characters, played by veteran actors Jack Nickelson and Morgan Freeman, suddenly find themselves in search of something. Tangible “things” that they thought they couldn’t live without…or at least, needed to experience before ‘kicking the bucket’, so to speak.
Without giving too much of the story away, both men have been told that they have a short time left to live and so…they create the “bucket list”. They then set out…trying their best to fill their empty buckets…their empty lives…their empty dreams…with what?
The same question can be asked of the woman in today’s Gospel. We are told that she is a Samaritan...which in essence tells us quite a bit. Her people are despised by the Jews for having intermarried with other races making them an “unclean race”. No self respecting Jew would be seen talking to a Samaritan…much less using any utensil that had been touched by one first, which would explain why the woman in today’s story was so surprised when Jesus, a Jew, turned to her and said,
“Give me a drink.”
Like her, he too, is thirsty for some water. And yet, what is most astonishing for us to realize is how easily Jesus is willing to break with protocol. Why? Perhaps…there’s more at stake here than a mere drink of water and…Jesus knows it.
Notice he begins right where she is…caught up in the trap of trusting in the tangible things of this world. She assumes…that since Jesus “has no bucket”…he can not access the water in Jacob’s well. We are told that it is deep, and the truth is that in 1935 such a well was discovered in that exact area and sure enough…was 138 feet deep.
Jesus in turn begins to move her in a whole new direction by informing her that there is another kind of water…living water…which will allow her to never again be thirsty. To someone who has had to walk to this well day in and day out…in the hottest part of the day in order to avoid gossip…such a claim is beyond her ability to say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Just perhaps…like the characters in the movie…this woman was beginning to realize that she had spent her entire life looking for “love” in all the wrong places. Love of self…love of neighbors…even love of God were all a mystery to her.
As a Samaritan, she had been taught from the first five books of the Old Testament. All five books having been written by Moses who had told the people to go and build an altar for worshipping God,…not in Jerusalem (as the Jews maintained),…but on Mount Gerizim. It was there that the Samaritans had built a temple around 400 BC…which the Jews then destroyed around 128 BC. No wonder there was still bad blood between them. Jesus decided that enough was enough.
In order to jar her away from her false beliefs about worshipping God…Jesus dares to suggest that God can not be confined to a building, a temple, an altar, even a church…no matter where it is located. True worship can no longer be prescribed just to the Jews. In Jesus, God was reaching out to all people, including her…because, as Jesus states, God is spirit…and those who worship him must do so in spirit (as in the holy spirit)…and in truth (as in…I am…the way, the truth, and the life).
And speaking of the truth, to her credit, the Samaritan women did speak the truth when the question came up about her present “husband.” There was none. In fact, there had been five husbands before…and knowing that the law only allowed for three divorces…she certainly wasn’t a well respected lady.
Which would explain once again…why she comes…in the middle of the day when everyone else comes at the end, just to avoid the gossip. She has learned to play the game well…this hide and seek…not only from the truth about herself…but from even knowing the truth about God…and his promised Messiah.
Returning to The Bucket List for just a moment, did I fail to mention that of the two characters in the movie, one is a believer in God…and one is not? As time moves on and they are spending all of their last few days trying to fill their buckets with “one mountain top experience” after another…it begins to dawn on them that something isn’t quite adding up. No matter what they do…no matter how much caviar they manage to eat…no matter how far they run from the truth of their lives (the good as well as the not so good)…they can’t seem to satisfy their thirst for a meaningful life.
No amount of “water” found here on this earth can even begin to quench the thirst of a life not centered in Christ. In the end…that’s what I suspect the Samaritan women needed to discover all along. Being moved no doubt by the holy spirit, she suddenly felt called to return to her people…and to engage them with the truth she had come to believe. She even leaves her precious water jar behind…leaving her, much like Jesus, without a bucket.
In chapter three of our Lenten study, The Centered Life, we are reminded that callings come in one of two ways. Sometimes it happens when we get an idea…we change everything in our lives and we go in a whole new direction. But more often than not, a calling isn’t about a different life…but living life differently BECAUSE of God’s presence in our lives.
To her credit, the Samaritan woman chose to engage in the most meaningful conversation of her life…and in the end…came away blessed to become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. A well-spring of “hope”…from which everyone in her community could now drink…including Samaritans and Jews alike. May we be so blessed here at Resurrection…to not be afraid to open wide our doors…and invite everyone who thirsts to come…be a part of the “centered life” we all share in Christ. Amen