The Third Sunday in Lent
May the wells of God’s grace be found beside our path, may Jesus meet us in unexpected places and the Spirit be with us wherever we walk. Amen.
Shame, shame, shame on you
If you can’t dance too.
Can’t stop me now
hear what I say
my feet wanna move so get out my way
I say shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame on you
If you can’t dance too.
Some of us remember that 1974 number one hit performed by Shirley & Company part of the era of great disco. It’s funny how dancing can be both a lot of fun and yet for some people conjure up the kind of shame of which the song speaks. We can be so very self-conscious about the simplest of things like how others will rate our moves when we are on the dance floor. What will they think of us? Are they staring at me? How lame must I look?
Shame is a killer of one’s healthy sense of self. Shame is a feeling of being unworthy, bad or wrong. Shame doesn’t tell us we’re making a mistake. Shame tells us we are a mistake. Shame is different from guilt—the responsible recognition that we have somehow messed us. Shame is wedged deep down in our gut and says we are messed us—somehow disordered. Conversion Therapy uses it as the tool to debase and do often irreparable harm to LGBTQ folk. Chronic shame originates in childhood and teen years and often brings people into long term therapy.
The Gospel we just heard introduces us to a nameless woman from Samaria who went to Jacob’s Well. She comes round every few years in Lent to tell us her story. She knew well what it meant to be a pariah, to want to hide. She was a Samaritan, a half-breed and a pagan, and shunned by Jews and even some of her peers. In her day, women were not even permitted to worship with men. They had no place in public life. They were to be seen and not heard and men did not speak to their own wives in public.
Today’s story of the woman at the well is not about immorality. It is about identity and shame. And this is a story about God’s grace and unconditional love. It speaks to fear of the other, the alien, and the evil of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Misogynists should take notice that this passage represents the longest conversation Jesus had that is recorded in the New Testament and it was with a woman, whom the Eastern Orthodox Church named Photina (meaning “the Enlightened One) and canonized her a saint. She is the very first evangelist to tell the Good News to her peers.
It’s difficult for us to get the full impact of what this story meant for the earliest Christians who heard it. If we could get inside the head of a thirty-something, successful, religious Jewish male who is hearing it for the first time I am sure we would be surprised at his reaction to what happened in this chapter of the Gospel of John.
Jesus approached this woman in spite of the cultural prohibition against a single Jewish man engaging in a private conversation with a woman—at Samaritan woman no less—not just because of his human thirst for a drink of refreshing water but because of his divine yearning to confront her sense of shame and restore her to wholeness as one of God’s beloved children. Jesus knew every detail of her life and still loved her and treated her with dignity.
We may not have the sordid past of this Samaritan woman stashed away in our closet,
but we all are familiar with the obsession of rating ourselves for better or worse in relation to others—whether or not we’re on the dance floor. If we are honest, we will admit that our minds are busy making those comparisons much of the time. Those nasty tapes that play in our heads may tell us that we’re not smart enough, fashionable enough, attractive enough, successful enough, socially connected enough, not young
enough, or have the wrong body type.
So here is the Good News: Samaritans, saints, schlemiels, shlemazels, klutzes, putzes, and shmoes—they’re all welcomed at God’s well. We are all welcomed. God’s love is as underserved as the sunrise, but it is freely given for everyone—without exception. And there is more Good News: Jesus does not just offer restoration and redemption to the well-behaved but to those who have given up all pretense of personal virtue. That emancipating living water he has can bubble up where we least expect it.
Restoring the woman at the well to wholeness and recognizing her as the wonderful creation of God that she was—that was the first big sip of the living water Jesus had to offer her. He offers it to us today. It is new life in God. It is the gift of seeing oneself as God sees us—a unique person made in God’s image. This wonderful story is evidence of that transforming power called grace. It’s not just a story about a nameless Samaritan woman whom Jesus met two thousand years ago. It’s a story about us.
So, step out and dance— dance without shame. Celebrate the embrace of the God who loves you. Take a long, refreshing drink of the living water—inhale the sweet recognition that you are—like the Samaritan woman—precious in God’s sight.