Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Morning Prayer Homily
One of the gifts of a seminary education is learning things you never would have considered. One of the things I have learned, to my great amusement, is the betrothal type scene. It is amusing to me because, in my imagination, I have built an entire drama around the betrothal type scene including scandalous gasps from the audience.
Betrothal type scenes take place at wells which symbolize fertility. They typically include these elements:
- A meeting occurs at a well
- Usually the future husband is present at the event and is the dominant figure in the scene
- It is an encounter with a “girl” or maiden
- The man draws water from the well to “water” the woman’s flock
- They rush home to tell their family
- And then a feast comes that can be considered a celebration of the betrothal
In the story with Jacob and Rachel, we have all of these elements with an added complication: the “well” is blocked
I want you to imagine being an Israelite hearing this story, being familiar with this type of story, and hearing that the well is blocked. I think there would be a big mental “uh-oh” or even a groan or gasp. The well is blocked! How is this going to proceed? There can’t be a proper betrothal with a blocked well! And since we know the rest of the story…Jacob is forced to marry Rachel’s sister before he can marry her and they have trouble having children, we can see that the blocked well foreshadows perfectly the difficulties that arise in pursuit of their relationship.
This last Sunday, our gospel text gave us the story of another meeting at the well…Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Nearly all the elements of the betrothal scene are there:
- They meet at a well
- The future husband, Jesus, is the dominant figure
- There is an encounter with a woman, but not a maiden
- No water drawing occurs, but the woman leaves her water pot with Jesus
- The woman rushes out to tell her family, the Samaritans
- The disciples come back with food, urging Jesus to eat, but he says “I have food that you do not know about!”
Hmm. There are one or two twists on the old well story!
- We have a woman of experience,
- The woman gives her water pot to Jesus,
- The woman tells her family without her betrothed, Jesus
- There is no feast but there is some other kind of sustenance taking place.
Imagine the early Jewish / Christian community sitting and hearing this story for the first time. They know the betrothal type scene because it is in Hebrew scripture: Jacob and Rachel, Isaac and Rebekah, and Moses and Zipporah. When Jesus encounters a woman of experience at the well, what could have been running through their minds? Scandal! How could Jesus get betrothed to anything other than a maiden of Israel? Then comes Jesus’ obscure response to the betrothal feast…he answers the disciples:
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” Or put another way, “what gives me sustenance is to do the will of God.”
Can you imagine the question marks that would be floating in the minds of those hearing this response? What kind of betrothal feast ends with no food? What is he talking about?
For myself, this begs the question of what gives us sustenance. How are we fed? Is there different kind of feeding? Of course, we know that we need to feed the body with food, the mind with learning, and the soul with…what? Here, Jesus clearly tells us that DOING the will of God is what feeds his soul. What are we DOING? Jesus tells the disciples to look around right where they are in Samaria to see and do the will of God. The answer for us is no different. Look around where you are planted. What could you be DOING that furthers the will of God?
Of course, that leads to another question, what is the will of God?
Any answers pop up?
Love. Whatever leads to a greater understanding and living out of the love of God, neighbor, and self. That is the will of God. But it requires a doing—an action. To recap:
- Jacob rolled the stone away from the well starting a series of events that led to the Israelites living in Egypt and setting up the entire Exodus to the Promised Land
- Jesus figuratively rolled the stone away that was blocking relationship with the Samaritans and this leads to a mass conversion and entry into the realized Kingdom of God, the promised land
- What can we do? What action can we take?
Recently, I was working as a Spiritual Director at a spiritual renewal retreat within a prison setting. I have to tell you, there is not a lot that these women can “do” within prison walls to further the will of God. Someone did a study comparing the decisions inmates make versus the amount of decisions someone on the outside makes. It is an astounding 25 decisions vs. 225 decisions. Inmates have 25 decision points daily to do the will of God. We teach the women in prison that having a relationship with God requires three disciplines: Spiritual practices like prayer and worship, Study of the Bible and other writers, and Christian Action. It can be boiled down to worship, study, service. These are three ways that we can DO or LIVE into our relationship with God. They don’t sound nearly as dramatic as setting up the Exodus or creating a new faith community, but they are the foundation to a relationship with God. We must DO worship, DO study, and DO service. Actively.
Most of us are better at one or the other. Some naturally gravitate towards study others towards service. My understanding is that we need all three practices to have a balanced relationship with God. It is like a three-legged stepstool. If one leg is shorter or longer than the other, you have an awkward stool. Worship, study, service.
I’m going to leave you with some questions that I’m mostly borrowing from a children’s curriculum called Godly Play by Jerome Berryman…
- I wonder what part of the story is about you?
- I wonder what part of the story is the most important part?
- I wonder if there is any part we could leave out and still have the same story?
- But most of all, I wonder what you can do today to further the will of God?
Shalom & Amen.