So, you may have noticed that it snowed this past Tuesday. My plans, like all of yours, were altered greatly, but I did get the opportunity to talk with some people I don’t always get to. I spoke with Fr. Kenn Katona, who was married in this parish a little over a year ago. He lives in Phoenix, where it’s about 90 degrees right now, and so a friend of his from the east visited him lately. His friend rented a 2017 Dodge Challenger for his visit…V8, rear wheel drive, quite the sports car. They took a drive around Casa Grande farm country, out in the dry wilderness, and they decided to take a road neither had traveled before. First it was a gravel road, and a little later it turned into a dirt road. About half an hour in, they were in their Challenger, totally lost, off-roading through creek beds. Eventually they decided that perhaps this was a bad idea, and that maybe they should turn around. And being two city boys, neither of them guessed that turning around a rear wheel drive sports car in a creek bed was a bad idea, and they got stuck.
So there we are in the middle of the desert, calling towing companies to see who would come to their rescue. Someone finally agreed to go get them after saying “It’ll cost you”. Three and a half hours and almost 500 dollars later, they were rescued. To paraphrase Springsteen, like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing, they took a wrong turn and they just kept going.*
For obvious reasons, Fr. Kenn’s story reminded me of today’s Gospel lesson. We have the story of a woman who, in the dry Samaritan wilderness, took a wrong turn somewhere in life and just kept going.
So “Jesus has sent his disciples off for food, and he is sitting at a well when she comes to draw water. There is every reason why he shouldn’t talk to her at all.
“First, she is a woman. It is only the disciples’ awe of Jesus that keeps them from asking him what he thought he was doing when they return and find him talking to her, without even a chaperone by her.
“Secondly, she is a Samaritan. As she herself points out to him, Jews don’t talk to Samaritans. Samaritans are self-made outcasts, from the Jewish point of view; and self-respecting Jews stay away from them.
“And, thirdly, this Samaritan has the sort of history that makes women pariahs even in their home communities. Jesus knows her status, and he lets her see that he does. She has had five husbands (after the first three, maybe it’s her?) and she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married. Even by the lax standards of our own day, this sort of history would make people look askance at her. In her village, she is undoubtedly a shamed person.”1
Shamed enough that she ventured out to the well, the only source of water in town, without friends or familial help, in the heat of the day, so very alone. Outside of that sure prize of a boyfriend, she likely lives most of her life in an effort not to engage, lest she be shamed all the more. I do not envy her lot in life.
When she gets to the well, who’s there but Jesus, who she might have assumed had taken a wrong turn Himself. Their conversation is long and full of meaning, but you just heard it and you’ve heard it before; the main thrust of it is that yes, this woman is a mess, but Jesus engages her anyway. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care that she’s a mess; it’s that Jesus cares about her despite her mess.
How does Jesus engage this Samaritan woman? He could have preached to her that her sins are forgiven, or he could offer her some other kind of pastoral help. But he doesn’t, does he? No, he asks her to help him. He opens conversation with her by asking her to give him a drink. And then look at how the story ends: she brings belief in Jesus to her village, and the villagers come to Jesus because of her.
So how much of a mess are you right now? If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that each of us is a mess in our own way, but just like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus engages each of us. Jesus offers us living water, He offers us Himself, and sends us, despite our messiness, to bring his love into the world.
*From a sermon given by the Rev. Kenneth Katona, Lent 2, 2017
1Eleanore Stump, http://liturgy.slu.edu/3LentA031917/reflections_stump.html