Interruptions (Third Sunday in Lent)

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I hate interruptions!  I hate being distracted from what I’m thinking about at the moment.  I hate having to stop doing what I’m in the middle of doing.  And I hate having to focus on something else that I wasn’t planning on having to deal with.

I hate interruptions.  Probably, many of you do as well.

And the corona virus is interrupting my life lately.  In fact, it’s interrupting all of our lives.  Suddenly, whether we like it or not, we’re being distracted from everything else by the latest news about where the virus has spread.  We have to stop what we’re doing, even worshipping live together.  And we have to consider whether the very basic things we’ve done every day of our lives might pose a risk to ourselves or to others. 

I hate interruptions.  And today’s Gospel reading begins with a massive interruption.  Jesus and his disciples are traveling north from Judea back to Galilee, when they stop at this little well outside of a town in Samaria.  Jesus’ disciples go into town to buy food for lunch, but Jesus is tired so he hangs out by the well.

While he’s waiting, a woman from town comes by to draw water.  That’s a perfectly routine thing to be doing, and she probably needs to get the water back to town and continue with whatever task she was going about.

But Jesus totally interrupts her!  He starts having this conversation with her, and it’s apparently so distracting that in the end, the woman doesn’t even seem to have drawn water from the well.  She leaves the jar behind.  And as far as we can tell, Jesus never even gets a drink of water!

It’s a total interruption of the woman’s life and routine.  Did Jesus intend to do that?  Or was he just thirsty and then he and the woman got going on a totally different subject?

It’s not entirely clear from the story.  What is clear, however, is that this interruption actually changed the woman’s life, and the lives of others in her town.  And that’s because this interruption, like many interruptions in life, became the occasion for this woman to:

  • Stop the routine in her life, and engage in something different (maybe having a conversation with this odd guy at the well was actually more important than the daily auto-pilot task she had been doing …)
  • Consider the meaning of what God was actually doing in her life right now (this had been an abstract debate or theory before – “so you guys say the right place to worship is” …; or “I know that Messiah is coming sometime far in the future” …)
  • Focus on others – I mean, she could have just gone home and told her boyfriend that she had found the Messiah, and sat back and felt pretty special; but instead, she focused on others in her town and how she could bring others into God’s story…

And frequently, in the Bible, God uses interruptions to do new things, and to make his presence know.  And it’s not necessarily the case that God causes the interruptions.  It’s just that sometimes, the interruptions present an important opportunity … (which is what happened to Jacob at a well – and remember, this story is set at Jacob’s well…)

Now, I still hate interruptions.  And I do NOT think that the corona virus is an interruption sent by God.  But maybe it’s still the case that God can use this interruption to call us to see something new, to re-focus us on what’s important, and to actually live differently.  After all, God has often used interruptions in the past to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

So maybe this interruption, which may go on for several more weeks or months, can be an opportunity for us to:

  • Consider whether our “routine” activities are really what our lives are all about; when we have to change what we do, and it upsets us, it’s good to ask why what we did was all that important in the first place.  As simple a thing as “passing the peace” gets changed when we don’t just turn and shake hands.  But what’s “passing the peace” all about?  Is it really just about handshakes?  Is it just intermission in the service?  What does it mean to actually wish the peace of Christ to someone else?  How can we still do that when we’re not physically together? And how else could we do that, both inside and outside of worship? It’s not really about the routine of the handshake …
  • Focus on others – usually, the normal first reaction of people to a threat is to wonder “how can I keep this away from me?”  But much of what we need to do in the next days and weeks is to think about the ways we don’t contribute to spreading stuff to others.  And how do we help others who are at more risk than we ourselves?  What we’re doing by not gathering together isn’t really about keeping ourselves from getting the virus – it’s about joining with everybody else in our community to flatten the curve of spread so that our whole health system doesn’t get overwhelmed … And often paradoxically, focusing on others can actually help us not to panic ourselves…
  • Practice “leaving our water jug” – the woman in the story was able to actually put down what she was doing when the situation called for it.  And sometimes, having to put down what we think is so important helps us adapt and change for the next interruption that is bound to come along sooner or later…

Interruptions are a pain.  But sometimes, God uses them to call us to ask questions about what’s really important in life.  Sometimes, God uses interruptions to re-focus us on what’s most essential.  And often, God uses interruptions to call us to focus on others, so that even in the midst of interruptions, God’s love becomes real and visible in the life of the interrupted world around us.