(Alert: If you are reading this with small children, be aware that the story involves a woman’s sexual sins. You may need to edit appropriately.)
The Gospel reading for this week of Lent is the entire chapter of John 4. It is a passage which resists any editing or shortening. You may already know the story well but take a few moments to read it carefully. If you are doing this with someone, have someone be the narrator, someone be Jesus, someone be the woman, and someone else the disciples and the people from the city of Sychar.
This woman was coming out to the well at noon because she was avoiding the other women in town. This part of the world is hot. Women come to a well like this to get water first thing in the morning when it is cool. It is a social event when they chat and help each other. She was not interested in their company. They scorned her. She knew why. They were right. Her life was a moral train wreck. She has this strange encounter with Jesus in which she asks him for the living water he speaks about. She thinks it is just water, but he has something very different in mind. He wants to restore her life. If he is going to do that he will have to deal with her sexual sins, and they are many! She tries to deflect the conversation, but Jesus won’t let her. She finally leaves her jug and runs to town. She exclaims to the people she meets, “He has told me everything I have ever done.”
I want you to think about that encounter for a moment. Imagine you are one of the people of Sychar and the town’s most infamous sexual sinner has just come up to you and said those words. What thoughts are running through your head at that moment? “Wait a minute, he told you everything you ever did!? We have all been spending the last several years imagining and talking about all the things you have been doing. I have to meet this guy!” It says the whole town came out. Is this the reason why?
The theme of this week is penitential humility. We often imagine that Jesus will use us in our best moments. We do the right thing and look over our shoulder hoping for God’s approval. But in this story Jesus sends the lowest person possible to be the evangelist of this town. It may well have been her worst moments which became the honey that attracted Sychar’s moralizing flies that Jesus might convert them.
This Corona virus has many of us feeling helpless and powerless before it. Are you trapped in your house or missing your friends? It may well be that your helplessness will become the very instrument of Christ’s great work.