March 27, 2011
Third Sunday of Advent
Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-52
Because we have bodies we’re always thinking about the body. About the physical. Because our lives are so short we are always thinking about the past. About history. And God knows this and allows for this and in his mercy and his love reaches out to us as physical, historical beings. That’s what the Incarnation is: God becoming human, so that we can see him and touch him.
The Lord is “tired from his journey,” John tells us, and “sat down at the well.” The Creator of the universe, of all the galaxies, sitting down by a well.
“It was about noon,” John says.
But I can’t help noticing, too, how the Samaritan woman keeps taking Jesus literally. I can’t help noticing how at first she only thinks about the physical. When Jesus offers her the waters of life she says, wait a minute, you don’t even have a bucket. She says, yes, I want that water, because then I won’t have to keep coming to the well.
But Jesus keeps gently trying to move her inward, from the literal to the spiritual. No, he says. The “water I shall give will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It’s as if the woman can only grasp one pole of the paradox, one part of the Incarnation, the human part, the physical. And Jesus is gently trying to move her towards the other pole, the other part: the spiritual, the inner.
The disciples are the same way. They come back from town, where they’ve gone to get food, and they urge Jesus to eat. But he says to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know,” and they think, what? Did someone already bring him some bread? The disciples, too, are literalists. Here they’ve been with Jesus and walked with Jesus and known Jesus and still they only see what’s on the surface. “My food is to do the will of God,” Jesus says, and he’s been saying that all along. It’s the whole emphasis of the Gospel of John, this effort to help the disciples and all the people see things as signs, as openings to something greater.
And this is us, too. All of us. When we read the scriptures we tend to worry too much about the miracles, whether they happened or whether they didn’t. If we don’t think they did, we don’t believe. If we do, we do. Our sense of the Eucharist seems to verge on the magical, too, sometimes, as if through the words of consecration we can force God to appear, and in our own narrow, merely physical terms. If we believe that, we believe. If we don’t, we don’t.
It’s as if we get too caught up in history. When we think about religion we tend to think only about the past, only about all these strange and wonderful things that happened centuries ago--we’re fascinated by this, and sometimes trapped by it. Because after a while that’s all that the Bible becomes: just ancient history, just a collection of dusty scrolls. What does any of it have to do with us, with our own lives?
It’s as if sometimes we only think about part of the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery: not just the Crucifixion, not just the Resurrection, but the Ascension, too, and Pentecost, Jesus becoming Christ and in a sense leaving the earth, joining the Father, but only to fill up all the earth, every nook and atom of it, through the Spirit.
It’s as if sometimes we don’t believe in the Spirit, sometimes we’re not really Trinitarian, we believe only in the Father and in the Son, and we have to correct that. We have to take advantage of the marvelous economy of the Trinity, and of the Spirit in particular, of the Advocate, the Paraclete, because it’s the Spirit that helps us to see the beauty and the wonder all around us. That the miracle is now. That the Eucharist is everywhere.
“The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth,” Jesus says. The hour is now here, and he means here, this moment. Because God has come into history, all history is meaningful, even our own. Because God has come into history, all history has been transcended.
We all have cause to “boast,” as Paul puts it. We all have cause to “boast in the hope of the glory of God,” and “hope does not disappoint.” But the reason hope doesn’t disappoint isn’t because we can prove or disprove some miracle in the past, and it isn’t because we can prove or disprove some particular property of the Eucharist. We don’t have to make our stand on such things, one way or the other, to doubt or believe. No, the reason that hope doesn’t disappoint, Paul tells us, is ‘because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
In our hearts.
“God is Spirit,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.” It doesn’t matter where: on a mountain, in a temple. It doesn’t matter. All that is irrelevant.
“I tell you,” Jesus says, “look up.” “Look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.”
There’s this sense we all have, if we just take a minute, there’s this awareness, of something deep inside us. We can feel it: that we have a heart, a living, beating heart, and we have breath, we have lungs, and even deeper, that there’s a life force inside of us, a miraculous life force, in all of us, a kind of energy, and it’s always welling up in us, it’s always there, even when we ignore it and get caught up in all the busyness of things. It’s always there when we come back to it.
And deeper than that, still deeper: just this mystery that we are, that we exist. The mystery of awareness itself.
It is like a stream. A living stream, always flowing, inside of us, at the center.
“We no longer believe because of your word,” the people of the town tell the Samaritan woman, “for we have heard for ourselves.” This is where we should try to go. This is what we have to keep reminding ourselves in prayer, whenever we get hung up on abstractions—as we do, as we always do. It’s our greatest temptation. It’s the way doubt does its work on us. But whenever that happens, we have to remember these words of Jesus. Look up. We have to remember his gentle urging to look deeper, to look beyond.
To look around: at the coming of spring. At the trees and the rain. At the faces of the people we love, and the faces of the people we don’t.
“Oh that today we would hear his voice,” the Psalmist says. Oh that today.
Because it’s true, it’s all true. We are in this conversation, too, this conversation that Jesus is having at the well. It’s a conversation that has been going on from the beginning of time, and it will always be going on, always and everywhere. All we have to do is enter in.