Year A — The Third Sunday in Lent

Commentary for March 27, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Exodus 17:1-7
It’s tough to be “the man in charge.” (I realize that some of the “men in charge” who read this blog are women, by the way.) Pastors will more than likely sympathize almost immediately with Moses, who shepherds the flock of Israel along their way early in the wilderness wandering.

He has been on the job for less than a year; things went swimmingly well (no pun intended) at the crossing of the Red Sea, and there had been a couple of close calls just a bit earlier in the Exodus account. 

The people had already faced this “no water to drink” problem once, and Moses (at God’s instruction) had found a solution (see 15:22ff.) They had also been without food, and God provided manna (I love it…”what is it?” is the literal translation for the word manna! — see 16:1ff.)

But, NOOOOO! That’s not good enough for the Israelites by the time we get to chapter 17; that whole “Pharaoh’s army got drowned/God gave us water/God provided manna” scene was long gone from their memories. What has God done for us LATELY? And just who do you think YOU, are, Moses…leading us out here to die like this? Geez…if we’d have known you weren’t any better than this, we’d have sent you back to the seminary!

Well, some days it’s just like that, isn’t it? People are people, and they can be pretty cranky and cantankerous and short-sighted. But, God couldn’t quite let Moses give up. “It’s not about you, Moses; it’s really all about what they believe about ME. So, pull your staff out one more time and we’ll try to take care of them.”

Pastors and preachers, you may feel a lot like Moses sometimes. It seems that we are in a real “what have you done for me lately?” business. But, don’t get discouraged; it’s more than likely not about you. You be sure you are regularly using the staff of your preparation, your prayers, and the passion for serving God that brought you to this call in the first place. God will take care of the rest. 


Psalm 95
There are few better calls to worship than Psalm 95:6 — “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!”

The psalm references the Exodus 17 text by reminding us not to let our hearts become hardened like the people who were at “Meribah and Massah.” The two words mean “quarreling” and “testy.” 

Yeah…don’t be like that!

Romans 5:1-11
Suffering may or may not be something that we, or our congregants, know a lot about. Most likely, there will be a variety of experiences among the people in our pews that will qualify in their minds as suffering. I may not agree, or you may not agree — but suffering, in one form or another, is pretty much a common part of the human experience.

Romans reminds us that there is some redemption in suffering; not that suffering should be glorified, nor that those who suffer necessarily become more spiritual or in some way superior. But there is possibility in the midst of suffering…it does not have to be undergone in vain. 

Suffering can have meaning; certainly, a part of our Lenten journey is to consider the suffering of the Lord on our behalf, the suffering that exists in the world around us, and our own suffering. In what ways can we seek redemption in suffering through the endurance, character, hope and love that come from the Spirit of God?

John 4:5-42
Neither Jesus, nor the woman from Sychar should have been at that well at noon time. It was a “woman’s place” — the men would be out and about doing the important things that men have to do. (Harrumph, harrumph…) Drawing the water for the daily needs of the household was “woman’s work” — but was not usually done in the heat of the day. Early morning and late afternoon would have been much more appropriate times for being at the well.

Isn’t it interesting how God seems to do some of God’s best work in “unexpected” places and at “uncommon” times –not to mention through “unusual” suspects!

In the sermon below, Pastor Chilton develops the idea of what it means when we are willing to follow the example of the Lord and allow ourselves to be placed in “unusual” circumstances and, sometimes, to take “uncommon” risks and actions. Perhaps that might be the key to experiencing “unexpected” blessings.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In 1978, the churches now forming the ELCA introduced a new worship book, the Lutheran Book of Worship; known to most Lutherans as the LBW or “the Green Book.”

One of the “new things” that the Green Book introduced was the passing of the peace. This was not met with, um, universal enthusiasm shall we say, amongst traditionally stoic and reserved German Lutherans in the South.

While I was in seminary in South Carolina in the early ’80s, I read in the SC Synod Newsletter about one pastor’s experience teaching his congregation about passing the peace.

He had written a newsletter article about it, preached a sermon about it, finally the fateful day came when he turned from the Altar and said to the congregation, in what he hoped was a warm and encouraging voice, “The Peace of the Lord be with you!” 

“And also with you,” came the mumbled, almost hushed, reply.

Stepping bravely out of his appointed place in the chancel, the pastor went forward to the front row to shake the hand of the woman there and greet her with words of peace.

She was someone he barely knew, who sporadically attended services and always slipped out during the last hymn.

The moment his hand touched the hand the elderly woman tentatively held out, her face crumbled, her eyes flowed with tears and she fled the building by a side door.

It was all the pastor could do to finish the service, and as soon as possible he drove to her house to check on her.

She politely ushered him into the “front room,” and told him, “I’m so sorry I made such a scene. It’s hard to explain. You see pastor, since my husband died 5 years ago; you’re the first person who has touched me.”

There are many people in the world today who are yearning to be touched, looking for someone to reach out to them, to make contact with them.

Ours is a world full of hurting, lonely, scared and scarred folk, needing to be touched and healed.

In our Gospel lesson today, we read the story of a time when Jesus touched a life.

It is a story that calls us to the ministry of touching the lives of others with the love and concern of Christ.

It was not easy for Jesus to touch the Samaritan woman’s life. He had to overcome, or simply ignore, many societal and cultural barriers to do it.

He was a Jew – she was a Samaritan.

He was a man – she was a woman.

He was a Rabbi – she was a woman of suspect moral character.

Yet, here was Jesus, a religious leader, alone in a lonely place; not only speaking to her but holding a long conversation with her, someone he was not supposed to even make contact with.

And yet, Jesus found a way to touch and transform her life.

Jews considered Samaritans to be racially impure, a mongrel race, half Jew and half Barbarian.

The Samaritans were the descendants of the lower class people left behind when the rich and educated and powerful leaders of Israel had been carted off in bondage to Babylon.

The ancestors of the Samaritans had inter-married with the non-Jews living in the area and had tried to keep the faith alive the best way they could without a temple or priesthood, passing on the Torah in oral fashion and worshipping at outdoor altars on mountaintops.

When the Jews returned from Babylon years later, they wouldn’t let the Samaritans help with the rebuilding of the Temple, indeed wouldn’t have anything to do with the Samaritans at all.

So the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Girizim. Eventually, tensions between the groups erupted and an Israeli army destroyed the Samaritan temple, leaving them to worship on the lonely mountaintop.

Jesus was a Jew – she was a Samaritan; they should have ignored each other. But there’s more.

Even if she had been Jewish, the encounter would have been suspect, because many Jews believed that men should not speak to women in public.

The most strict Rabbis advised that men should not speak to their own wives in public.

There was even a group of devout Pharisees who were nicknamed the “black-and-blues,’ because they walked around in public with their eyes closed to avoid seeing a woman and kept running into things.

BUT Jesus ignored all this, and at mid-day, while sitting alone at a well, he asked her for a drink of water.

Nothing extraordinary, nothing stupendous or profound, just a drink of water.

And she could not have been more surprised if he had asked her to fly.

What was said between them was much less important than the fact that he spoke to her, he carried on a conversation with her, he treated her like a person worth knowing.

He treated her with respect, he treated her, A SAMARITAN WOMAN!!!,
like someone who was acceptable, like someone who was touchable.

He touched her life in that conversation. He talked to her about important things; about God and life and worship and love.

And most importantly, he did not condemn her as others had done. Rather, he offered her an opportunity to change her life. He offered her the Living Water of God’s Love.

He did not argue with her about the relative merits of Jewish and Samaritan ways of worshipping the same God. Rather he shared with her his love for that God and his certainty that without Spirit and Truth, no worship was true.

He touched her – by going where she was.

He touched her – by ignoring societal barriers that  separated them.

He touched her – by letting her know that he cared about her, he accepted her, he loved her.

Jesus is reaching out to us today, reaching out with love and acceptance, reaching out to invite us to follow him on the way of the cross.

Jesus also calls us to call others, to reach out to the world around us, to the people around us, and touch them with the love of God in Christ.

We are called to be like the woman at the well, going and telling others about the one who has touched our lives.

Amen and Amen.

One thought on “Year A — The Third Sunday in Lent

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Third Sunday in Lent (March 23, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

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