Light in the Heart of the Afflicted
2008-02-24 by Larry Lange

Thoughts on the Texts for March 2

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to join this conversation!

 

I’m one of three pastors serving with the members of Grace Lutheran in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My wife, Julie Wrubbel-Lange, is another of the three pastors there. We both graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and served parishes in Minnesota, Upper Michigan. Upon our return to Wisconsin, I served six years as a part time interim pastor in Wisconsin before we came to Green Bay. During the years I served part time, I was blessed to spend a lot of time taking care of our three children and I was able to spend some time improving my preaching through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools Doctor of Ministry program. To the endless delight of my mother, CSS Publishing published part of my thesis as Retelling the Story. I enjoy every little chance I get to escape into the north woods.

2008-02-24 by Larry Lange

 

First Samuel 16:1-13

First Samuel 16:1

 

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?”

Samuel is not grieving that an exemplary commander-in-chief is about to retire after a career marked by brilliant accomplishments at home and abroad. Samuel has just finished announcing that the LORD has rejected Saul’s kingship. Neither is there any indication in all of Samuel’s dealings with Saul that they enjoyed a close personal relationship. Over what, then, is Samuel grieving?

 

Samuel began his career as a “seer” at a young age, and the very first thing the LORD had him do was confront his mentor Eli who was presiding over a corrupt temple service (First Samuel 3:11-18). Samuel went on to serve the people well as a judge, but his sons failed miserably as his successor (First Samuel 8:3). To Samuel’s chagrin, the people used his sons’ failure as an excuse to reject the LORD’s kingship and to demand a human king. Later, in a long speech, Samuel warns the people not to “rebel against the commandments of the LORD” or “the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king” (First Samuel 12:14-15). The warning goes unheeded by the king or the people or both (First Samuel 15:10-23), so Samuel must again face and pronounce the LORD’s judgment on a failed human endeavor.

 

Maybe that vocation just got old. Samuel is already complaining back in chapter 12 that he’s old and gray. Wouldn’t it have been nice for Samuel to have ended his career on a high note, with some sort of grand exit or at least a nice gold watch? Instead, having to confront Saul’s failure stands as a crowning anti-achievement in a lifetime of Samuel’s service to hopeless causes. The priests and kings of his people and even Samuel’s own sons have consistently proven themselves to be self-centered, faithless failures. If you read the whole story of Samuel you get the feeling that his grief is the grief of disillusionment with the endless folly of human endeavor. Who among us does not know a similar story of grief? Maybe we fear at the end of our own lives, that our hearts, too, will be broken with such grief.

 

First Samuel 16:2

Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.”

 

In the midst of our disillusionment, God is apparently quite busy. That is Good News! While Samuel has been grieving, God has been quite busy looking at the hearts of each and every man among the people of Israel for one to serve as a new king and has already found one among Jesse’s sons. Quite an HR department the LORD has. So the LORD orders Samuel to get up off his duff to anoint the new king.

 

Now, anointing a new king while one still occupies the throne is treason, and Samuel is justifiably frightened. His grief and fear paralyze him, shut down his creative faculties. The LORD’s creativity abounds. The LORD says something like this: “Just take a heifer along with you and say you’re going to conduct a sacrifice on my behalf. No one will notice the horn you’ve filled with oil to anoint the new king. But just in case, keep it under your cloak.” The LORD stoops to deceit to accomplish his will? If Samuel follows God’s creative plan, it won’t be necessary for him to deceive anyone. What Saul doesn’t know, won’t hurt him. Saul has caused himself a world of hurt already.

First Samuel 16:6

Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

 

Samuel gets it wrong. Eliab is not the LORD’s candidate for king. Samuel too, is failing, perhaps not as grievously as Eli or Saul had, but he is failing nonetheless. And the LORD lets him know in no uncertain terms:

The LORD does not see as mortals see; mortals look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (First Samuel 16:7)

The narrator is kind enough to exclude Samuel’s mutterings. I know this is what I would have been thinking:

Well, if the LORD is so smart, why doesn’t the LORD come down here and handle this?

It’s reasonable to conclude that the LORD apparently expects all of us to get beyond our mortal tendency to “look only at outward appearances” and to look instead “on the heart.” A study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis indicates that “good-looking, slim, tall people tend to make more money than their plain-Jane counterparts.”1 We have met Samuel and he is us.

 

First Samuel 16:11

Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”

 

That the LORD has chosen for the new king the youngest son of an undistinguished and perhaps even infamous family is a radically countercultural plan. The skeletons in Jesse’s closet that would have mattered in that world include Ruth (a foreigner), Tamar (a trickster), and Rahab (a foreigner who was a prostitute). Scholars have pointed out that this is not the stuff that kings are made of. Not only is God not interested in a buff king, but all the rest of the world’s usual qualifications apparently don’t matter to the LORD either. What matters, says the LORD, is the king’s character, the king’s heart. As we research the candidates for national political leadership in this election year, how do we find information about our candidate’s heart? Is our political agenda as important as a candidate’s character? Is the candidate’s age or race or gender or attractiveness an important consideration?

 

The youngest son of an undistinguished, perhaps even infamous, family turns out to be the LORD’s choice for the new king. Readers/hearers with nondescript or “unacceptable” backgrounds can find hope in this story: they fall under the world’s judgment as persons not expected to, not allowed to succeed, but the LORD overlooks what the world regards as shabby baggage; the LORD simply looks into our hearts; the LORD has a calling for us all. As the Apostle Paul puts it:

 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (Romans 12:7)

 

This too, is Good News.

 

First Samuel 16:12

Jesse sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.

 

Though God qualifies the unqualified, they can also be beautiful or handsome. Though being beautiful or handsome does not automatically qualify one to rule, being beautiful or handsome does not disqualify one either. The mischievousness of God is manifest. The unreliability of appearances is underlined. Look into the heart, the character of a person, is the message again. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that his

 

four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.2

 

The story of Samuel anointing the new king reminds us how challenging that can be.

 

Finally, the narrator does not give us the name of the boy who will be king until the Spirit comes mightily upon him. This dramatic flourish reminds us throughout the rest of the story of the Spirit’s connection with that name. In our baptism, our names, like the name of Israel’s greatest king, are also associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of the (apocryphal? over-quoted?) story about the young pastor who was seated at a table of older pastors. Each of the older pastors introduced himself with a list of his tremendous accomplishments. When it was the young pastor’s turn to introduce herself, she simply said, “My name is Jane, and I’m a daughter of the King.”

 

What more did she need to say?

 

Psalm 23

Psalm 23:1

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

It’s often lamented that the engine of our economic order is fueled by exploiting the hearts of our young with the motto: “I want, I want, I want, I want.” The first line of one of the most popular parts of all scripture reminds us that because the LORD is our shepherd, “We shall not want.” When the LORD is our shepherd, our heart, our character is being shaped by a radically opposite motto: “I have been given, I have been given, I have been given.” When the LORD is our shepherd, our hearts are not overthrown by covetous desires; our hearts are, instead, filled with gratitude. This psalm is often used at funerals for its comforting words for loved ones whom the LORD has led through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet this psalm is much more concerned with life in this world than it is with life in the next world. This psalm describes the basic countercultural character of those who trust that the LORD is their shepherd.

 

Bread for the World informs us that

Hunger does not exist because the world does not produce enough food.3

 

Making a similar point, the United Nations Development Program has calculated that the cost of providing basic wants (“basic health and nutrition needs”) for “the world’s poorest people” could be met for $13 billion a year.4 It is not the LORD’s fault that many millions of people live in a desperate state of want. The LORD is our shepherd; we shall not want. Our war in Iraq has cost us almost 500 billion dollars so far. Estimates for its total cost range from 1 to 2 trillion dollars. Even if the cost estimate for the basic wants of the world’s poorest people were 100% too low, the present cost of the war in Iraq could have provided for those basic wants for 19 years. Having squandered so much money on a war to remove an unpopular dictator in one country, we have sentenced the world’s poorest people to 19 more years of their miserable, desperate struggle to survive. That we have tolerated and even encouraged the perpetration of this crime means that our character and hearts can hardly be pleasing to a God whose will it is that we should not live in a state of want. We have sabotaged God’s will. Could we have trusted in the rod and staff of the LORD for our security and protection? What would have happened if we would have spent that 500 billion dollars differently?

 

Psalm 23:4

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me.

 

Scholars claim that the image of the LORD as a shepherd who wields a rod (scepter) and staff to comfort and protect us is a royal image.5 Our real king is not Saul, David, nor one of our choices among the candidates for president. Our real king is the LORD. Our real provider is the LORD. Our real security is the LORD. Our disillusionment and disappointment at the kings of this world need not grieve and paralyze us as they did Samuel. “I fear no evil!” Though our kings on earth may disappoint us, the One who rules from heaven will not. That One is with us. Christians trust that that One was born among some of the poorest people on earth as Jesus, another name for whom is “Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23) Jesus’ final promise to us is an echo of the Good News in Psalm 23:

 

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

 

Psalm 23:5-6

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

 

In the second half of the psalm, the metaphor changes: the LORD is a host. As a host, the LORD provides the same kinds of things that the LORD does as shepherd: food, protection, comfort, drink. Scholars note that the verb usually translated follow, is usually translated as pursue.6 Instead of wolves pursuing the sheep, the LORD’s goodness and mercy do. If we stray from the flock, the LORD’s goodness and mercy will pursue us and restore us, so that we may live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives. Though the first half of the Psalm is written from the point of view of an individual sheep, the writer of the psalm also understands his life as a guest at the table of the house of the LORD, an image which refers to congregational life.7 We are not complete, as many folks in the upper Midwest insist, alone in the woods with God. My daughter and I, having worshiped together on a Thursday evening, took a canoe trip up a river flowage on a summer Sunday morning to see if people really were worshiping out in the woods, as they claimed. We saw people arguing, cleaning, eating, fishing, getting drunk, relieving themselves, playing loud music, and burning up gasoline with all their water toys: but we did not see one person worshiping out there in the woods. We saw one harried woman on a beach watching over two rambunctious toddlers. While she tended to one, we watched the other wandering alone down to the water’s edge. Where was the father of these children? We pitied that mother, feared for those children, thought they and their father would have been much better off together in the house of the LORD.

 

Ephesians 5:8-14

Ephesians 5:8

“You are light!”

 

We began this Lenten season reminding ourselves that we are also dust, reminding ourselves of the story of how the LORD God shaped us out of dirt. It has always amazed me how the dusty dirt of the moon shines as if it were made of light, as if its craters and seas were etched in delicate blue-gray ink on a translucent, silken skin. But the moon is not made of light. The moon is made of dirt. How can dull dirt glow with such luminous light? It must be the quality and the quantity of the photons that zoom 90+ million miles from the sun, leap again off the surface of the moon, and race to our eyes to reveal the moon to us. Fewer of the photons that fall into the shadow of valleys and craters and seas make it back out again, their absence giving us a sense of the contours of the terrain.

 

The ancients believed the celestial lights like the moon were alive with living light; some believed the celestial lights were angels or gods. The writer of Ephesians believed the Christians he addressed had once been asleep, had once been dead, had once been darkness, but because Christ had shone on them, they were now light (Ephesians 5:14, 5:8). So even though we are nothing more than dull dust like the moon, because of the quality and quantity of the light shining on us from the Lord, we can shine as extravagantly as does the moon. If or when we glow in this way, it is because of God, not because of our own doing. This is humbling, but encouraging Good News as well. Unlike the light of the sun, the stream of empowering light from God will not cease. Though human institutions and leaders fail, God is always quite busy making up new ones, baptizing and anointing new kings and queens, his sons and daughters, by the thousands, maybe by the millions every day. Like the sheep of the Good Shepherd who shall not want, we shall not lack light. We can, in fact, be light!

 

Ephesians 5:10

Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

 

“Seers” in the Hebrew Scriptures like Samuel received text messages directly from the LORD telling them what to do, who to “reject,” who to anoint as king, and so on. Wouldn’t direct messages from the LORD be nice? The quote above from the letter to the Ephesians suggests a provisional status to what we think is pleasing to the Lord. Finding out what is pleasing to the Lord is an ongoing process of discernment (Romans 12:2) that happens because “Christ dwells in [our] hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). There is a list of things that are not pleasing to the Lord at the beginning of chapter 5, though it is by no means exhaustive. There are lists elsewhere in the New Testament and in the Hebrew Scriptures.

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. (First Timothy 2.12)

or

If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:23-25)

Which items on which list are “pleasing to the Lord?” Anxious for simple moral clarity, some folks rely on their favorite list or their favorite preacher’s list of scriptural quotations. The letter to the Ephesians envisions a process more guided by the living word than by the written word, more defined by love than by the law, more illuminated by the light of the world than by any mere mortal.

 

Ephesians 5:11

Expose the unfruitful works of darkness.

 

There are a variety of opinions about the meaning of this exhortation. It may have to do with the process by which those who sleep (5:14) in darkness (5:8) are awakened (5:14) and raised from the dead (5:14) by the light of Christ (5:14).8 Recently, a lawyer who is about 50 years old had a nearly fatal heart attack while he was out exercising. His colleagues were shocked. Without bragging, the lawyer made a simple case: “If someone who’s in good shape like me can nearly die from a heart attack, what about you guys? You guys are still smoking, eating greasy burgers, and not exercising at all.” The lawyer went on to talk with his colleagues about how he believed the care for his body was a spiritual discipline: it was first of all, a matter of gratitude to God for the miracle of life. Furthermore, being well and continuing to earn a good living allowed him to support his family and his church. Next time I see him, I’ll have to ask him if these words woke any of his colleagues up.

 

John 9:1-41

John 9:2-3

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

 

The ancients believed our eyes are made of fire, are lamps emitting the same kind of divine light of which they believed the celestial bodies were made.9 A blind person was, therefore, thought to have been filled with darkness, with sin. Whose sin compelled God to abandon to darkness the man who had been born blind? the man’s sin or his parents’ sin? Why do the disciples want to know this? Is there some sort of innate satisfaction about blaming someone? That was apparently the case for Adam and Eve. Or did the disciples want to know, because it helped them make sense out of the world? Jesus’ answer explodes this ancient explanation of blindness. The man’s blindness was not God’s punishment for his sin nor was it God’s punishment for some sin of his parents.

 

There are times when people’s suffering does seem to be a result of sinfulness. Sometimes such suffering is interpreted as God’s punishment. This happens, in part, because the scriptures themselves occasionally claim that God punishes sinfulness:

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me…(Exodus 20:5)

Yet no matter what kind of claims of clarity there are about such explanations, Jesus dissuades us from seeing tragedy as God’s punishment for sin. Tragedy might be an inevitable consequence of sin, but not God’s punishment for it. After all,

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

 

I used to visit a young woman named Melissa who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. Was her mother an alcoholic, suffering from a disease over which she had no control, the poisonous effects of which she passed on to her child? Or was her mother a careless partier, enjoying the buzz of alcohol, fully aware of the poisonous effects she was passing on to her fetus, but recklessly partying anyway? The former cause of fetal alcohol syndrome might be said to involve a complex web of sin in which the young woman’s mother was caught: maybe she had become an alcoholic as she relied on a socially sanctioned method of escape of a life full of abuse or poverty. It seems clear that the latter cause of fetal alcohol syndrome was the result of selfish, careless, reckless sin of the young woman’s mother. In either case, the tragedy of fetal alcohol syndrome seems to be a consequence of a complex set of individual and societal sins. Although Jesus teaches us that God does not punish people for the sins of others (how would that be just?), God does allow the innocent to suffer because of the sins of others. And that is a disconcerting mystery indeed.

 

Yet for some reason, Melissa did not trouble herself with this disconcerting mystery. She did not sit around moping as Samuel did, disillusioned with the folly of the human endeavor. Melissa believed God loved her. She missed her church. She begged me to prepare a communion table before her in the presence of her enemies. Since there was no quiet place in the group home she was living in, since it was not wise for me to have visited her alone in her room, Christ’s love and light filled our hearts through Holy Communion out in a hallway smelling of stale pine cleaner and cigarette smoke.

 

Then Melissa told me a story. One of the first fine spring days of the year, she was sitting outside in the backyard of the group home, basking in the sunlight. The neighbors behind the fence in the backyard of the group home came outside and began working in their backyard. At first Melissa didn’t pay much attention to what they were doing, but it suddenly became apparent. The sun was exposing a winter’s worth of dog feces in their backyard, and they were shoveling it over the fence into the backyard of the group home. Why not? People living in group homes were from bad families, infamous families. They were shiftless, violent, wretched people who weren’t going to amount to anything. Why not throw dog feces in their backyard? Serves them right for causing the property values to plummet in their neighborhood.

 

Persons with fetal alcohol syndrome can have some difficulties with impulse control. At times they say and do whatever occurs to them. What was occurring to Melissa when those people were pitching poop over the fence was that she didn’t have to put up with that kind of abuse. She was a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock. She was a baptized and anointed daughter of the King. Yes, she came from a completely dysfunctional family. Yes, she was afflicted from birth with a tragic disability. But she did not believe the punishing hand of the Lord was upon her; no sir, she believed she was light; she was there, she believed, to expose those works of darkness, to stop her neighbors from piling evil up in her life. At first she confronted them with words, but they reviled her, called her names, kept right on pitching the frozen turds at her.

 

Then Melissa threw them back. Where they belonged.

 

I’m not sure how the authorities handled Melissa’s behavior. I only know that like the man born blind in the Gospel, she stuck with the Son of Man and whatever healing he had wrought in her soul. No threats, no assaults, no insults, no disappointments kept her from believing and worshiping Jesus. She was light, light in the darkness of human folly so thick and disconcerting it saddens me to recall it.

 

When she finished telling the story, the two of us laughed. And the darkness dispersed. For whenever two or three are gathered in his name, there is Emmanuel, God with us; there the Shepherd’s staff comforts us, there the Light is with us always, to the end of the age.

Endnotes

1http://money.cnn.com/2005/04/08/news/funny/beautiful_money

2http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.html

3http://www.bread.org/learn/hunger-basics/faq.html

4http://www.bread.org/learn/hunger-basics/hunger-facts-international.html

5“The Book of Psalms,” J. Clinton McCann, Jr. in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IV (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 768.

6“The Book of Psalms,” pp. 768-769.

7“The Book of Psalms,” p. 769.

8“The Letter to the Ephesians,” Pheme Perkins in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2000), p. 437.

9Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) pp. 40-41






Festival of Homiletics
2008-02-22 by David Howell

I just returned from Minneapolis. We had a great time filming Garrison Keillor for the Festival. You don't want to miss this!

For a southern guy, it was plenty cold: 15 degrees below zero with a 35 below zero wind chill factor. But I still have all my extremities!

We are busy finding more hotel rooms for the 1800 plus already registered. The folks at Central Lutheran and Westminster Presbyterian are so excited about hosting this event. Minneapolis has become one of my favorite cities!

Thanks to Cindy Rigby for blogging this week!

Check out Rick Brand's sermon on the Exodus text in Sermon Feedback Cafe





Less to lose. . . and more?
2008-02-22 by Cindy Rigby

I’m thinking about Stephen’s point that the woman may have had a lot less to lose, in terms of power and prestige, than Nicodemas. And so Nicodemas leaves his encounter with Jesus even more anxious, maybe because he in some sense “gets” what Jesus is saying. To be born again requires losing some of what one has “got,” some of one’s power, and some of one’s prestige. Certainly, it means losing one’s identity – one’s self, Scripture teaches – as we have known it. (I think of what Ann Lamott says, along these lines: that the last thing she wanted to tell her liberal friends was that she “found Jesus”!). Those of us who have a certain modicum of power, prestige, and identity; those of us who count ourselves (at least on some days!) as spiritual leaders may relate better to Nicodemus, thinking that opening ourselves up to Jesus (and, for that matter, the townspeople) would be a lot easier if we were more like the woman at the well, having less to lose.

But I also think we can look at this matter another way. What I mean is this: isn’t the risk the Samaritan woman takes, in being open to Jesus, in some sense even greater than that Nicodemus is being asked to take? Isn’t it greater precisely because the woman doesn’t have a lot to lose, and so risks losing everything? Whatever her reputation with the townspeople, she is clearly respected enough that they “believe. . . because of” her word and respond to her insistence that they go and meet Jesus. In urging them to come to the well, isn’t she risking that she might be proven a fool?

I wonder if we are willing to risk as much as she who has little, but everything, to lose.

 

 





Cindy, Stephen and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-02-22 by David von Schlichten

What a pleasure it has been to listen to Stephen Schuette and guest blogger Cindy Rigby converse with such depth and warmth. Things are bubbling here in the tub. This is just what I need as I recover from the flu.

Speaking of salubrious, go to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics under Share It! To enjoy a free “Preaching the Lesson” article from Anna Carter Florence.

Exegesis”

Janyce C. Jorgensen and others point out that this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the longest dialogue in the Gospels. Jorgensen also notes that, in Greek, the woman's question about whether Jesus is the Messiah expects a negative answer. The woman is uncertain, has work-in-progress faith, but she still is able to be a witness. The woman still invites others to “come and see,” an invitation that recurs throughout John's gospel. Overall, the passage serves to reveal Jesus' identity and put into boldface Jesus' “mission and purpose” (p. 28), which has a universal quality.

Preaching the Lesson”

Especially poignant and salutary is Florence's question, “What would it be like to set out on our errands today, expecting that Jesus will show up, any minute?” (p. 34). We can encounter Jesus at the gas pump, the hardware store, in the person who mows his lawn three times a week, and in the woman who's up running every morning at five (p. 34).

“A Sermon: An Invitation to Life – A Water Jar Left at the Well

William G. Davidson's sermon leads the reader/hearer to this evocative question, “What does it mean to leave the water jar?” Just as the Samaritan woman left behind her water jar, so also Jesus invites us to do likewise. What burdens do we leave behind at the well so that we can invite others to come and see?

Speaking of water, I'm climbing out of the tub to towel off and get a cold drink of water, remembering my baptism, wondering what I am carrying and what Christ wants me to lay down for his sake,

Ever yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Meeting Place
2008-02-20 by Stephen Schuette

Thanks to Cindy for the amplification that makes clearer the contrasts with Nicodemus.  It does seem those details could hardly be arbitrary – not only the times of day, but the contrasting ways in which Nicodemus and the woman respond to Jesus.  Isn’t it typical that there is more work to do with “insiders” than “outsiders” …what with all the baggage of assumptions that the (or we) insiders bring?

(Thanks, too, for the wonderfully humorous comment regarding boundaries!!)

A colleague pointed out to me the place might be significant too.  There’s the obvious but not-to-be-overlooked fact that Jesus speaks with a woman who is both woman and Samaritan.  But my friend suggests that the well is the place where people of different backgrounds gather.  All people go for water – no matter their ethnicity, politics, faith, gender, orientation, martial status, age…  I know I tend to think of people in these ancient contexts as much more homogeneous than they were.  Maybe it’s that the leap back from our context to theirs seems greater than any difference among them, right?  Wrong!  Maybe the modern parallel is the quick stop.

Another interesting conversation point is the difference in anxiety levels.  Maybe it’s why the woman is never named.  An unnamed Samaritan woman who has had five husbands may have little to lose.  A named teacher in Israel has a lot to lose.  Her world is “opened” with Good News.  I get the sense that Nicodemus was as shaken when he left as when he arrived.  Of course, the woman was shaken too, but in another way.  It makes me want to know more about both of them…. “the rest of the story…”

Or maybe, in a way, we’re writing the rest of the story…we who come from our different places, with our different assumptions, with our perspectives on how we measure “gain” and “loss” – all of us who have had an encounter with Jesus and can’t quite shake it.





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