For the 2018 Lenten Journey, I am excited to once again be creatively collaborating with Little Britain United Church. Each worship service and blog will be informed by a resource created by Matthew L. Kelly, who is currently in ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, USA. I pray that this “Giving It Up” Lenten Journey proves of interest and nurtures the gift of this ongoing conversation with you seekers and readers, who continue to graciously extend trust by engaging with A Deacon’s Musing blog.
The Woman at the Well
4-6 To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
It’s Harvest Time
31 In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, “Rabbi, eat. Aren’t you going to eat?”
32 He told them, “I have food to eat you know nothing about.”
33 The disciples were puzzled. “Who could have brought him food?”
34-35 Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!
36-38 “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That’s the truth of the saying, ‘This one sows, that one harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others.”
39-42 Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!”
This Lenten blog journey about “Giving Up” or “Letting Go” has been interesting. Part of that interest arises from the nature in which the practice has been paired with the worshipping community at Little Britain United Church. The variations of the paths explored, whether that is on Sunday or during faith explorations, reminds me that there is no one way that each of the topics can be studied and discussed. Superiority, I have found, is no different.
For me, as this musing has been steeping, I have found several threads coming together. Some of which I have previously explored and others, the catalysts if you will, have been recent judicial decisions here in Canada. The threads that I first began weaving together have been reconciliation, #MeToo and White Privilege. The events that have offered me direction in this weaving have been the jury decisions of the Tina Fontaine and Coulton Boushie trials.
These two decisions have not been easy to accept and the media reporting has made that clear. There have definitely been appropriate challenges raised and, yet … what I have been struck by is the underlying divisiveness. Now perhaps that is indeed the focus of the reporting and the insinuations that have gone unspoken.
I heard some of my concerns named by the families of Tina and Coulton when they have been clear that justice denied must still be challenged with peaceful, though vocal, protest. The threat of violence, unfortunately, hovers below the surface of Canadian civil society. These two events, I have come to recognise, speak to a turbulent undercurrent that threatens to polarise reconciliation into either/or and us/them.
With this recognition, I have found myself returning to White Privilege. I have named, previously, the provocative nature of this phrase. I continue to believe that is important. Superiority, in our Canadian context shaped by a settler and colonial mentality, is founded upon this privilege. That privilege, by extension connects with the patriarchal sexual abuse of women and the marginalised, as expressed in the #MeToo movement, and stands central to the difficulty of living into reconciliation when unexamined.
The values that underpin Canadian civil society, which depends on the rule of law, are (I believe) widely shared. Regardless of race or gender, sexual identity or philosophical orientation, ideals of justice, fairness, equity and equality are ones that are not only important to uphold, but require deep listening when they are both threatened and require examination. Examination that leads to all of us looking into the mirror.
That mirror, I would suggest, allows us to recognise the superiority of White Privilege that is embedded in the cultural tradition we have inherited. Justice is indeed an aspiration as old as the Christian journey, but when there are systemic limitations to whom it is afforded, then we must ask how do we address that. I do not believe we need to abandon the rule of law in order for justice to be realised. I do believe that expanding the franchise that allows the rule of law to be equitably and fairly shared, however, requires us to let go of the sense of privilege – superiority – that limits us all.
We must be wary of pitting or devolving to believe I am right and you are wrong. We must recognise such privilege begins to create binaries such as rural versus urban, inner city versus suburban, poor versus rich, women against men, left versus right. All of these either/or pairs, I believe lurk in the divisiveness that is currently swirling. We must find ways to better appreciate the manner in which our systems of laws and processes speak to both a higher ideal and are also limited by a history that requires difficult conversations.
In the passage for this week’s blog, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we find the idea of superiority central and what it might mean to let it go. Jesus critiques his cultural sense of superiority over the Samaritans. In the discussion with the woman, she herself also directly challenges his ministry.
Who is in and who is out is central to the question of purity. Jesus and the woman engage in theological reflection that leads to both their own assumptions and those of the disciples to be explored. In turn, the woman is so affected by Jesus’ own demonstration of challenging traditions he has inherited that she herself shares this news of Jesus’ ministry. She shares with her own people a message where such ideals of justice and equity, fairness and civility, are central to a ministry she has only just encountered.
I wonder, therefore, what this might mean for Canadian society to learn from this story of Jesus’ ministry. What might it look like if we did engage in deep conversations, which though no doubt are complicated, awkward and most definitely difficult, that promise transformation. Unpacking the roots of historical traditions of superiority, I believe, echo the insight shared in the end of the John passage: namely that our lives are entrusted to one another and that is a sacred covenant that continues to await being fulfilled.