In the second act of the musical Chicago, Amos Hart sings “Mr. Cellophane Man.” as he laments his being invisible to the world. According to his song, being poor, undereducated, and the neglected husband of Roxie Hart, made him a nonperson in the eyes of the Chicago Tribune and Billy Flynn his wife’s lawyer.
How many of us have felt the same, invisible, insignificant and of no value to the world. This is how the Samaritan Woman at the well felt in today’s Gospel. In a time and place where women were considered the property of their husbands, with no rights or ability to support oneself or her children on her own, the Samaritan Woman was dependent on having a husband to take care of her. It is not clear in today’s Gospel why this woman had had so many husbands. Perhaps she was the Black Widow of her day, having been unfortunate enough to have never married a man with longevity. Or, it is possible, she did not stick to convention and found herself never marrying but playing mistress to a parade of men. Again, the story is unclear and what it means that the the man she is currently with is not her husband is never fully explained.
What we do know, is, as a woman, and as a Samaritan Woman, she was among the lowest of the low in the eyes of Israel and treated as an untouchable by the members of the Ancient Jewish world.
This is why she was surprised that Jesus was willing to speak to her, let alone drink from the water she had drawn from the well. As far as she knew, everything she touched was tainted according to the Jews she encountered.
And if you think she was surprised by Jesus’ actions, the disciples were even more surprised to find their Rabbi speaking with this non person, actually, they were not only surprised, but angry that Jesus would even think to waste his time on this woman.
But he does, despite the social mores of his day, Jesus deliberately chooses to recognize this woman’s humanity and to honor her as the child of God she is.
It is no accident that John tells this story right after Jesus declares, “ God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all who believe in him may not parish, but have everlasting life.” This beloved statement is wedged between Jesus’ first encounter with the great Pharisee Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman. For the early Christian audience, the message was clear. Jesus was redefining who the children of God are. Yes the great Pharisee, is perhaps the no brainer, God’s love and salvation is certainly available to him, but it is also freely offered to those we would least expect, to those who are born outside the lines of convention and even to those whose lives we deem as impure. In our Gospel readings these first weeks of Lent, Jesus not only tells us he has come for the whole world, he also lives it.
I find it interesting, we live in a country where John 3:16 is often made the center of graffiti art and printed on banners flown at major sporting events, and yet, as a people we have been missing the point.
Our most recent example is the religious freedom legislation that has appeared in several states. If these bills were to become law, they would make it legal for business owners to refuse service to anyone whose life style they feel is contrary to their religious beliefs. As I reflect on today’s Gospel, it is with those we feel most uncomfortable with that we should be serving. In the case of the Samaritan Woman, Jesus is not revealed to her through disdain and punishment, but through love and respect.
This week, Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners Magazine, reported how new legislation is being proposed to further restrict what people can buy through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Basically this legislation is aimed at controlling what people can buy with their food stamps based on what legislators deem appropriate food items. What I find interesting about this proposed legislation is how the same people who support this bill cried foul when the White House suggested limiting the types of food available in our schools in order to encourage and teach good eating habits among our youngest citizens.
If we are to celebrate the words of John 3:16, then we are called to approach all members of God creation with dignity and respect in the same way Jesus approaches the Samaritan Woman in today’s Gospel. If we are to celebrate the words of John 3:16, then we must live fully into our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being.
I believe as a congregation, we have begun to live this. Every Sunday, when we declare that everybody is welcome to receive communion, in our own way we emulate Christ at the well. The gesture is small, but the message is big. Everyone who joins us for worship leaves us knowing that we recognize them as a child of God. Everyone who joins us on Sunday morning leaves knowing that we see no boundaries to God’s love for the world. And all who join us for worship on Sunday morning leave knowing that they are truly welcomed and wanted to be a part of us, as the body of Christ. And all who worship with us on Sunday morning leave here knowing that they are visible and important to us and to God.
This is the message Jesus conveys to the woman at the well, and this is the message that redeemed her and brought her solidly into the arms of God.
On this third Sunday of Lent, I invite you to look around, to look at your own life. For much of our lives we are told how we are to measure up and then we are told if we measure up. No one wants to be told they are not good enough or being treated as if treated as if they are invisible. The Good News we given this morning is that God truly does love the whole world, each of us and everyone else; that in God’s eyes we are worthy and we do measure up, and most important of all, we are visible and sacred to God, no matter what the world may tell us.