The following is offered in the context of the memorial to the Christchurch Shooting at the two Mosques. Our gospel reading this week challenges us to move beyond our own understanding and comfort zones in our lent journey. The three streams in this reflection are:
* The symbolism of water.
*God who in Christ, who meets and accept us where we are.
*Living water only flows when it is shared.
A word about water:
Water is essential. Unlike first century Palestine, we are used to water being on tap whenever we need it. We have largely forgotten the 1994 drought in Auckland. We have the Waikato River plugged in. But that isn’t the case elsewhere and it may not be for us in future. In our Hebrew scripture this week, from Exodus 17, the people cry out to Moses and God in the desert of sin for water.
Water is also a powerful symbol of rebirth and renewal in John’s gospel. But the writer of John’s Gospel turns old familiar places and symbols into signs of the New Way announced by Jesus. The water of life is un-bottled: It won’t stay stagnant in old pools.
Water is a key symbol in our church life too. We enter God’s family through the waters of baptism. But are we open to being nurtured by God from unfamiliar wells? Will we even approach the spiritual wells, understandings, the places of worship of others? Or do we take the long road around them?
God in Christ meets us where we are:
In our gospel reading Jesus breaks through an even harder desert that of the desert of sin; a desert of prejudice and mistrust. The first surprise was that he was even in Samaria. Most self-respecting Jews avoided it altogether.
The Samaritan women seems more open to Christ than Nicodemus the learned teacher of Israel in last week’s gospel John often contrasts darkness and light. Nicodemus, the insider, sneaked around to see Jesus at night but missed the essence of his message.
This women, the outsider, avoided the gaze of judging villagers by going in the heat of the day. Yet she found the fullness of Christ.
Jacob’s well was located close to the ancient city of Shechem where God in Genesis 12 promised land to Abram and promised a messiah. The well was also close to Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal. Joshua built an altar on Mt Ebal. This and not Jerusalem was where the Samaritan people waited for the Messiah.
Back then Samaritans used only the five books of the Tanakh , the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the “written Torah.” They were said to have intermarried with 5 other cultures – (remember the 5 husbands in the text?). They were seen as impure.
The Jewish high priest burned the Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim. There were revenge attacks. This all sounds so sadly familiar.
A year ago a similar long history of fear and mistrust fueled the horror of the 15 March terror attack on Muslim communities in Christchurch. Unspeakable loss and pain was inflicted on so many families and their faith communities.
And yet there followed an outpouring of Aroha and mutual respect that shows a potential for great light to follow deep darkness:
• People chose connection.
• Leaders demonstrated inclusion.
• Survivors indicated forgiveness.
Still there were reservations from some conservative church leaders.
If we think we have divisions on these issues, liberal traditions within Islam also face challenges. I have been reading Ed Hussain’s Book “The House of Islam” where he challenges both the West’s oversimplification of Islam and the deathly grip of Salafi and Wahhabi fundamentalism.
Some centuries ago great Sufi teacher Dara Shikoh in India was put death for his inclusive beliefs. He was clear that he retained his Muslim identity but said:
“ My humanness is shared with any one and everyone. If we choose to love a special person does it mean they are the only person worthy to be loved? To you your faith and to me mine. There is no compulsion in religion.”
This sentiment was echoed in the gracious words of Farid Ahmed, a survivor of the Christchurch massacre who lost his wife Hushna, at the memorial service in March 2015:
“I have chosen peace, I have chosen love, and I have forgiven.”
I know that many of the bereaved families faced a battles getting here and being accepted as refugees. The hurt didn’t start for them on 15 March 2019. The work of reconciliation doesn’t and mustn’t finish at this first anniversary.
I like the example of Azam Ali and Shiraz Ali who lost friends & loved ones at the two mosques. They are starting an annual memorial football tournament to mark each anniversary of the shooting and to raise money for St Johns Ambulance who saved so many lives. 16 inter-faith teams will compete. This interfaith initiative is all the more interesting when we consider the crusader backdrop to the origins of the Order of St John.
Azam, said “The coming together of Muslims and non-Muslims that characterised the days and weeks after the shootings should not be forgotten, I think it’s slowly fading away. So I think it needs a bit of a jumpstart again.”
The comment about “fading away” seems very apt. Right now we are in middle of a
pandemic threat which pushes 15/3/19 off the front page. Understandably we’re not actually reaching out to anybody. At some point we will come out of crisis mode and we will still have long term relationships to address. I think this passage from John provide an inspiration to keep building bridges, not walls, and to stay open in gracious dialogue with our own whanau who feel torn between those two things.
We may say we are just too busy to risk yet another difficult relationship. First century Palestine faced occupation, famines and a bloody civil war by turns. Samaritans were “other.” A threat. Yet Jesus shared water, time and respect with them.
Living water only flows when it is shared.
In sharing water Jesus indeed broke the rules:
• Jews would not drink out of a Samaritan cup.
• It was improper for a man to talk to a woman in public.
Today we reflect on a woman who was a social nobody. Who are our nobodies; those we struggle to acknowledge in any real way?
Our “nobodies” are all “somebodies” to God. Are we being called to engage with them afresh? It’s often said that this was a “sinful” woman. Jesus comments on her past, but does call her a sinner. Was she widowed or abandoned five times, or was the reference to 5 husbands symbolic? We just don’t know.
She like many other women in the gospels is un-named. In the Eastern orthodox tradition she is given a name, Photini and she is venerated as a saint.
Jesus refused to be defined by the divisions of his day. Jesus , the “Logos ” the Word made flesh, according to the writer of John, first revealed himself as such in Samaria, not Jerusalem.
We are told that Jesus stays with this Samaritan community for two days. He
abides with them where they are at. For me that small reference further on in the text is as much of a statement as the revelation at the well. He stayed with and identified with that community. Put in very current terms, he had more than casual contact with the
No social distancing here.
What does an abiding relationship look like? How do turn one journey out of our comfort zone to lay flowers at a mosque into an ongoing mutual relationship? How do we make inclusion the default position? How do we also work together with differences within our own congregations?
As we journey together in lent are the new wells we can draw on together? Jesus
started at the end of the queue to the well.
I think there are still excluded people,
forced to wait at the end of the “queue to the well” and to be invisible, even in bright daylight, when they come to it:
That well could be a well of:
• immigration, the dignity of being united with one’s family.
What more can we do to see and to give and receive gifts with those at the end of the queue?
This passage shows that something a simple befriending and sharing water can be
life changing. Could it be that the way we receive living water is by giving it away? Water that we try to keep is no longer living water. It becomes like still and stale water in a cistern. Only water that is flowing out is “living water“. Do we trust God, the Source, to renew our supply?
In the words of Joy Cowley’s psalm “Drought” from Aotearoa Psalms
He came to me for water ; and my well was empty.
I said, “It’s not my fault.
It seems that everyone is thirsty, and I’m only me,
one small well.
When I’m down to the last drop, that’s it.
What do you expect? Miracles?
I’m sorry, but that’s your department
“Everything- is miracle,” he said.
The greatest miracle here is that you’re not only you.
One small well, yes, but connected to a great underground river
which will never run dry.
Know where the water comes from
and take time to fill.
It’s as simple as that.”
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