Putting Down the Bucket (Third Sunday in Lent)

Sermons on YouTube…

For the next several weekends, we have some very long Gospel readings! They’re long stories about Jesus’ encounters with people at different points in their journeys of faith. We read them in their entirety, because they’re great stories and there’s a lot to consider in them. All of them are remarkable in their own ways.

The story we just read about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is also a remarkable story for many reasons. It’s remarkable because:

  • Jesus and the disciples are actually traveling through Samaria (this is the first and only time in John’s Gospel …)
  • Jesus engages in a private discussion with a woman (at a time in which unrelated men and women usually didn’t do that …)
  • Jesus, for the very first time, says, “I am the Messiah”, and it’s to a Samaritan, not a Jew …

But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all about this story is that this unnamed Samaritan woman at the well recognizes that, in Jesus, God is presenting her with a unique opportunity to be part of a new thing that God is doing, and she responds to it!

It would have been pretty easy for her to dismiss Jesus and walk away from the conversation. Clearly, she’s gutsy enough to do that …

And in fact, many people in the Gospel accounts have the same kinds of opportunities that this woman has, and they walk away. Jesus is always saying things that tell people about God’s new thing in their lives, but they don’t believe.  Jesus is always calling people to live in new ways, but they just can’t do it. And Jesus is always showing up in people’s lives – giving them a unique opportunity to experience God’s love and presence – but they just don’t care.

Yet the Samaritan woman is different. Somehow, she recognized the new opportunity that God was placing in her life – even if it happened at a moment she didn’t expect, at a regular place she probably came to every day, and through someone she didn’t expect to have a conversation with.  But she took God up on the offer, anyway!

What was different about her? What made it possible for her to respond to the opportunity when God gave it to her? Well, at least as John tells the story, it seems that this woman:

  • expected God to act in her future, and she expected to be part of it … (“we know that Messiah is coming…”; not just for others, but for “us”, and so she herself expected to be included in that …)
  • was willing to drop what she was doing when God gave her something more important … (she left her water jar, and did something else …)
  • understood that whatever God was doing in her life meant involving others, not just herself … (she didn’t go home and feel spiritually satisfied – she told others and engaged in conversation with them about what Jesus had done in her life …)

In fact, the Samaritan woman does the very things that Jesus hopes all of his disciples will do. Jesus hopes that they, too, will recognize that Jesus has called them to be part of a new opportunity, not just a road trip. He hopes that they, too, can forget about the grocery list and focus on what’s really important. And he hopes that they, too, will recognize that “the fields are ripe for harvesting” and that what God calls them to do will involve reaching out and including others.

And perhaps this is why John includes this very long story!  It’s John’s way of pointing out that what this woman at the well is doing is also what Jesus calls all of us to be about as his disciples.

And often for us, being open to Jesus’ call and presence in our lives, like the woman at the well, is about:

  • expecting God to do something new in our lives, not just “out there” or “someday in somebody else’s life” …; so often, people are willing to entertain the idea that God might act “someday” or “someplace” or with “somebody”, but don’t see God in their own lives because it just doesn’t seem like God’s real presence would happen to them…; part of the reason the woman could experience Jesus was that she really expected God to be part of her life, even when there didn’t seem to be much evidence to suggest it; and when that’s how we approach life, it changes us and how we see and experience what’s going on in the world around us…
  • being willing to put the bucket down … the woman was engaged in “important” things – but she needed to put even those things down for a more essential opportunity; I don’t know how it is for you, but this is often the biggest challenge for me – I can’t put down the bucket right now, but maybe later when I’m done, I could be open to something else…! In some ways, this passage calls us to consider how often we get so caught up in our day to day important things – or our unwillingness to put down things that are no longer working in our lives – that we can’t engage the new opportunities God gives us …
  • understanding that the new opportunities God give us almost always involve connecting more fully with others … (the disciples and the woman at the well were all called to connect their own experience of God with others …; how often have we missed God’s opportunities in our lives because we’re envisioning private, spiritual experiences instead of experiences that connect us more fully with God’s people…)

As with the woman at the well, God is always placing new opportunities before us, whether we’re expecting God to act or not. And today’s Gospel story reminds us to be more attentive to the ways in which God is acting in our lives each day.

And so this season of Lent with its long stories is a great time to practice hopeful expectation of God’s action in our lives. It’s a great time to practice putting down our buckets for the new things God is calling us to do. And it’s a great time to practice sharing the experience of God in our lives with others in the world around us.