The Rev. Megan E. Sanders, Chaplain, Canterbury Downtown, March 15, 2020
This week in Lent we hear from the Gospel according to John about Jesus’ interaction with a person often referred to as “the Woman at the Well.”
She is a person Jesus’ disciples are surprised to see Jesus sitting and talking with when they get back to him at the well after going grocery shopping in the city. The disciples do not consider this woman a person with value. The powerful in the world as it was ordered then did not assign value to her. Much of the world as it is ordered now would also see her as worthless.
So, the disciples come back from food shopping to find Jesus with this woman at the well.
No one says anything out loud to Jesus about whatever they may have been thinking to themselves, and the woman leaves, and the disciples change the subject.
Eat something, they say to Jesus. We went shopping – we got your favorite snacks!
Jesus does not let the discomfort or confusion of his disciples throw him off – he can and will teach and preach. He can and will model the life he is calling them (and us) to live.
Jesus uses the subject of eating and nourishment to teach his followers about what really satisfies his hunger. From the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John:
“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.’”
What fills Jesus up and gives him the energy to keep taking action and doing his work day in and day out? Doing the will of God for the sake of God’s work. That’s the food he says he needs. The work is the food. Acts of service to God reignite his energy to continue to offer acts of service to God. It’s genius.
And yet – I have not yet been able to figure out how to do the will of God for God’s purposes without struggle, resistance or complaint. I am not alone in my imperfection; and if you can identify with this, you are also not alone. When I feel hungry, it’s hard for me to think about anything other than getting something to eat. The hungrier I feel, the more energy I put into only myself and my own hunger. When I am working to serve my own will, there’s no room for anything (or anyone) except for what I want. Even when I have good intentions, I need God’s help to take actions for the sake of God’s will and not my own.
So what does it look like to do the will of God?
Jesus teaches us to see each other and to care about each other with the same level of hunger that drives our bodies to eat food to stay alive. He uses an ordinary and familiar point of connection – the human need to eat – the human feeling of hunger. Using our lives to do God’s work can be very, very difficult. The way Jesus goes about doing God’s work looks amazing and satisfying and sacred. What if I’m not up to the job?
Fear not! Jesus says that God’s work has been done way before them, it’s for them to do now, and it will be done by those who come after them: “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Jesus loves his disciples with his whole heart while he was with them in those early days of ministry together. If the disciples could see and believe in their own value, they could have the honest and generous ability to see the value of everyone else, too. And once we see everyone with value, love takes over and we are propelled with God’s help to see our call to work always for God’s purpose.
If the disciples can learn to love themselves, they can see that the Woman at the Well is not someone to be ignored, overlooked, disregarded, or thrown away. This woman is also a disciple and part of the ministry team. John’s gospel continues and tells us, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…”
Spending time with Jesus outside in the sweltering heat of the noonday, the Woman at the Well experienced what sounds to me like a transformation into a new understanding of herself. She was transformed into a person who believed in her own value. She didn’t have to change anything about herself to achieve this value she felt about herself when she was with Jesus. And as soon as the disciples showed up and her value was no longer universally recognized, she left the scene with her sense of value firmly knit in to her being. She even forgot her water jar – most likely an object of value to her – as she hurried off to the city to tell everyone to come and to see Jesus. She knew she was somebody, and that made her want to share her bursting joy about Jesus with everyone she could.
With God’s help, we, too, are propelled to take our place among those who work to do the will of God for God’s purposes. Jesus shows us is best done together. And – since humans make mistakes – it is unavoidably messy. But being on this discipleship team can also be fun/exhilarating/inspiring/fulfilling. I’m pretty sure I’m telling you things you already know!
My prayer for us this week in Lent is that we can hear this gospel text with new ears. That we can see ourselves in the people we hear about in scripture. That we can believe Jesus about how important it is to him that we see and know the sacred and unchangeable value of every human being. Me and you. People we know and people we’ve never met. Everyone. Everywhere. Valued exactly the same. All of us priceless.
Jesus models for his followers that no one person is more valuable than another. As humans we do order ourselves for the purpose of, well, order. Our work together is ordered, but the order is not about value. The order is about how we are set apart (the definition of holy) in the kind of work that we do toward the same purpose: to restore all people to unity with God and each other.
Much of the Episcopal Church’s interpretations of Jesus’ teachings about how to go about doing God’s work together is in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (the red book). I read through the Catechism (especially pg. 855) while writing this reflection
Wait – so how does this reflection connect with the ministry of Canterbury Downtown?
In the very same way that every teaching from Jesus connects every person who seeks to be a disciple. Students have the same value as people of any age or vocation. A big part of my call to work for God with students is to share Jesus’ message of their value in a world that often says they aren’t worth as much as they will be once they get older/wiser/more experienced. I get to do the work of journeying alongside them on God’s behalf to honor their lives just as they are now. Since I’ve been transformed into a person who believes in my own value, I can do my part to work for God with students in the same way that the Woman at the Well did her work for God with the people who lived in her city and neighborhood. You all – the people of Grace Church – make possible so much of God’s work with students through your faithful belonging to this community of Christian Episcopalians. You welcome the students and see them not as strangers or novices of humanity, but as whole people of equal value. You invite them, semester after semester, to join with you in calling Grace Church a spiritual home.
With gratitude to Grace Episcopal Church as host for this ministry through giving students:
- Shared worship with the community at Grace
- Office space and awesome colleagues for the chaplain
- A sacred place that serves as an anchor and spiritual home for the countless students that have found rest, refreshment, joy, comfort, nourishment, renewal, community, a call to see and feel the value of one’s self and of all people, a call to mission, ministry, action
- Gifts of the Spirit known to God alone.