Sunday, March 27, 2011

No Secrets are Hid

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
March 27, 2011

Year A: The Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

No Secrets are Hid

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is found only in the Gospel of John.

Most scholars believe that the fourth gospel was the last to be written, sometime around the end of the First Century – decades after the earthly lifetime of Jesus.

This means that the Gospel of John is the product of divine inspiration working through a couple of generations of Christian reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

So, no surprise, the Gospel of John is the most polished and the most complex of the four.

We hear some of the gospel’s richness and complexity in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

Jesus smashes cultural and religious boundaries just by speaking with this woman.

First, she’s a woman and no rabbi should be speaking to a female stranger.

Second, she’s a Samaritan. We don’t know as much about the Samaritans as we’d like, but we do know that they were viewed themselves as faithful descendants of ancient Israel who rejected the importance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Relations between the Samaritans and the Jews were very poor.

Thanks to the famous parable in Luke we think of Samaritans as “good” but Jews in the First Century would have avoided Samaria and Samaritans as much as possible.

So, against that backdrop a tired Jesus has this remarkable encounter with the unnamed woman.

At first, typically for the Gospel of John, they seem to speak past each other. She almost comically misunderstands Jesus.

Jesus tells her he has living water and the woman notes that he doesn’t even have a bucket.

Jesus tells her that anyone who drinks this water will never thirst again. She says give me this water so I don’t have to do the hard work of drawing water from the well.

And then we get to the part of the story that I’d like to focus on today.

Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The woman says, “I have no husband.”

And Jesus replies, “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

Often people assume that here Jesus is criticizing the woman’s sinfulness. But, there’s no criticism in the text and her multiple marriages are not necessarily a sign of sinfulness. Jesus simply acknowledges the fact of the woman’s marriages and acknowledges that she has told him the truth.

But, maybe out of discomfort with Jesus’ insight and knowledge, at this point the woman tries to change the subject to talk about one of the major disagreements between Jews and Samaritans – their disagreement about where they are supposed to worship God.

But, then, at the end of their conversation, the woman does something unexpected. She leaves her valuable water jar and heads to the city, telling people about Jesus: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Thinking about this, I’m not so sure we’d be too excited to meet Jesus, let’s say while buying some bottled water in Publix, and to realize that he knows everything we’ve ever done.

It’s one of those things that we just take for granted, but probably don’t like to dwell on too much: God knows everything that there is to know about us – everything we’ve ever done, everything we’ve ever thought – the good stuff and, of course, the stuff that we’d rather forget – the embarrassing and shameful stuff we hide even from the people closest to us – the stuff that maybe we even try to hide from ourselves.

Just like for the woman at the well, God knows everything about us.

During most of the year, we begin our services with what’s called the Collect for Purity, which in earlier times was a prayer said privately by a priest as he prepared for Mass.

The words are familiar for Episcopalians, but now that we haven’t said it in a couple of weeks maybe we can really hear the words:

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”

Whether we like it or not, God can tell us everything we’ve ever done. No secrets are hid from God.

And God’s all-encompassing knowledge would be terrifying except we know that the God who knows all our secrets is also the same God who loves us with an unconditional love beyond our understanding or imagining.

The same God who knows all our secrets is the same God whose unconditional love for us we see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

After the Samaritan woman has her encounter with Jesus at the well, she excitedly leaves behind her valuable water jar because she can’t wait to tell her friends and neighbors the great news:

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

And I have to believe that the reason she’s excited to have met this man who knows everything about her is because he’s made it clear that it doesn’t matter what she’s done or hasn’t done. It doesn’t matter that she’s a Samaritan. It doesn’t matter that she’s had five husbands – no matter what the story behind that is.

The only thing that matters is that she is loved.

God knows all her secrets and still loves her unconditionally.

And she responds to that amazing truth, to that unconditional love, with the only response that makes any sense. Drop everything and tell everyone you can find this wonderful news.

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

We don’t meet Jesus in quite the same way as the woman at the well. But, we do encounter Jesus in the words of Scripture and in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We meet Jesus in our fellowship. We meet Jesus in the people we encounter in our everyday lives. We meet Jesus in our prayers and in our hearts.

And if we’re listening and paying attention, we receive the same good news as the woman at the well.

God knows all our secrets and still loves us unconditionally.

The only question left is - how do we respond?

Do we still somehow think that we can hide parts of ourselves from God the way we can hide from other people?

Do we just keep the news to ourselves – enjoying privately the comfort of God’s love?

Or, do we respond like the Samaritan woman?

In our own way, right here in Gainesville, do we drop everything and excitedly tell people the Good News:

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”

And, still, you love us unconditionally.

Thanks be to God.