A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:31-38
This is one of those scripture lessons where you have to read between the lines a bit and know something of the context in order to appreciate the fullness of the message. Our reading takes place during the woman at the well story – but where’s the well, and who’s the woman, and what time is it, and where are the disciples? All of that is needed. It’s a long story, and I only selected a few verses this morning, so let me bring you up to speed.
The well is in Samaria. That matters because the Samaritans and the Jews used to be kin, but over time there were conquerings, and intermarrying, and the Samaritans came to be seen as unclean, unwelcome, and enemies of the Jewish people. In fact, Jews would take the extra time to travel around that region to avoid associating with the Samaritans and risking becoming unclean. But not Jesus. He takes the shortcut, right through the heart of it, and midway takes a breather at a famous well named after Jacob.
He’s greeted by a woman, obviously a Samaritan. So they are supposed to be enemies, and on top of that Jesus as a male should not be talking to an unaccompanied woman – and she shouldn’t dare to speak to him either. So more taboos are being broken. To make matters even worse, she has quite an, ahem, colourful history with men apparently, and is something of an outcast in her community because of that. There’s a very subtle reason why we know that.
Why does that matter? Because the women of the town would have regularly gone to the well early in the morning to get their water for the day – and it would have been a key social and bonding time for them. But our heroine here comes to the well at noon – alone. It indicates that she wasn’t welcome among the upstanding women of the community. She’s an outcast among them. It’s no wonder she’s feisty when she encounters Jesus – she’s got nothing to lose! So she gets right in his face and challenges him. They spar, he teaches, she snarks, he loves, she’s moved, he wins, she wins!
John 4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.
That’s another one of those deeply theological nuances. She came looking for water, but was filled instead with what Jesus calls ‘living water’, so she didn’t need her jar anymore! I did a whole sermon about that a few years ago. You can look it up!
So, by the end of their encounter she is so filled with the spirit, that she goes running off to tell everyone in her community about Jesus and bring them back to meet him. Did you catch that? The woman who was ostracized by her community had her heart touched so deeply that she rushed off to share her newfound spiritual blessing with the very people who made her an outcast. It’s an incredible story!
Cue the duh-sciples!
Just before she goes running back to town the disciples return from a grocery run (lots of toilet paper, I’m sure!) and see the scene and instantly fall into judgment – of the woman, and of Jesus. They don’t say anything, of course – but they’re judging them left, right and centre! They are astonished that Jesus would do such a thing as talk to a Samaritan, and a woman at that.
It was shocking.
Yeah, it was shocking alright. It was shocking how they stood there in the presence of Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his compassion, sensing his holiness, and they just don’t get it.
They are, in a word – bewildered! So Jesus tries to explain it to them. It didn’t help. I can only hope that in the end, as they saw this fallen, foreign woman come back with all those townspeople, who begged Jesus to stay with them for a few days so they could learn and see for themselves that Jesus really was the Messiah, I can only hope they had an aha moment and they understood. Because if not, well, let’s just say that’s why I like to call them duh-sciples!
So now let’s look at what Jesus was trying to teach them. It kind of echoes last week’s story about how Jesus was laying down his brilliant theological insights but the person listening just wasn’t getting it.
The woman at the well got it – the outcast, the outsider – but insiders like Nicodemus last week and the disciples here – nope. They don’t understand. They are bewildered by it all.
Jesus said, John 4:35-38
“You know the saying, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest.’ But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.”
Ok, so maybe they have a point. That is kinda cryptic. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.
Four months to the harvest – maybe that’s just a way of describing those who think faith is about some far off reward that you get if you’re good enough. Behave now – reward later.
But Jesus never teaches that!
He always teaches that the kingdom of God, the blessing of eternal life, starts right now – because eternal life isn’t about the time after you die it’s about a quality of life right now that is spiritually filled and blessed.
Look, the fields are ripe for harvesting – I think Jesus is probably pointing at the woman walking down the hill.
And she brings back a crowd – ripe for harvesting.
Ok, that’s a bit of a weird image. How do we harvest people? Do I really want to be harvested?
I mean, if I’m a tomato what happens if I’m harvested? I get picked, washed, sliced, diced, and eaten.
Now, maybe that sounds bad to you – but think of it this way. If you’re a tomato then isn’t that exactly your purpose?
Doesn’t being harvested mean you get to fulfill your purpose?
And what happens if you don’t get harvested and you get left on the vine? Right, you rot! Now, it’s dangerous to push a metaphor too far, but that’s a pretty visceral image.
Be harvested and be fulfilled by living into your purpose – or turn away from the harvest and whither on the vine.
Then there’s a truly weird thing about reaping and wages that frankly would take a long time to wade into for not very much gain. So we’ll skip it.
Then Jesus says this beauty: he says the purpose of all this, “so that” – is so that the sower and the reaper can rejoice together.
Don’t get too caught up in who’s who. Just go with the imagery. The one who sows and the one who reaps get to rejoice together when the sowing and reaping is done in God’s kingdom.
Jesus says there’s an old saying, “One sows and another reaps.”
Most of us are probably more familiar with the saying, “You reap what you sow.” But Jesus says “One sows and another reaps.” Is that true? Absolutely. And you’re gonna love what that looks like.
There are all sorts of ways I could make this point, all sorts of examples that I could draw on, but let me use one that’s really close to all our hearts: Faith United.
Just take a moment and think about all the sowing, all the seed planting, all the incredibly hard work, and toil, and labour that people have poured into this church over her 23 years. It may be a labour of love, but it’s still a labour! Church work is often hard work, but look at the benefits.
Look at what your sowing has reaped!
One sows, another reaps.
Take the amalgamation, for example. It started back in the 1990s. All those years of talking, finding partners, building relationships, making plans, worshipping in the school, designing the new church, building the new church, growing the new church, building more relationships with other churches who became part of this church.
Raise your hand if you were part of Faith United during either of the amalgamations. These are those who sowed.
Now raise your hand if you weren’t part of those amalgamations but have got to enjoy this place and have reaped the reward.
Hey all you sowers, are you happy about this?
Hey all you reapers, are you happy?
One sows and another reaps, and the sower and reaper rejoice together!
A while ago there was a conflict in this place and it took a lot of hard and faithful work to get through it and come to a deeper place on the other side. I had nothing to do with that at all. Then you called me here when you were ready. You sowed. And I get to reap the reward of a vibrant, vital, healthy, dynamic, awesome church! I hope you’re happy with the way it turned out too!
One sows and another reaps, and the sower and reaper rejoice together!
The disciples were looking at Jesus and they couldn’t figure out why he would associate with or help that woman. They couldn’t see that it was a living example of what Jesus was all about – encountering brokenness and loving it into wholeness and blessing. They could see the brokenness part, but couldn’t understand the blessing part – the grace.
But that’s Jesus’ thing. Encountering brokenness and loving it into wholeness and blessing.
Isn’t that what amalgamation was? A brokenness of the previous way, the previous dream of church, the loss of what ‘was’ that needed rebirth, new life?
And Jesus loved it into wholeness – through faith, through worship, through prayer, through openness to spirit you turned the brokenness of (dare I say it) floundering churches and joined together to build a flourishing one.
Brokenness into blessedness.
Isn’t that what conflict was? A brokenness of relationship, and identity, and purpose, and mission?
And Jesus loved it into wholeness – through dialog, through prayer, through trust, through willingness to heal you turned the brokenness of (dare I say it) a floundering church and laboured together to build a flourishing one.
Brokenness into blessedness.
It bewilders me that the disciples couldn’t grasp that deep message when it was being played out right before their eyes. Perhaps that’s because they hadn’t yet figured out that they were among the broken, that they needed healing, that they needed to let Jesus love them into wholeness and blessing, even though they were already his followers. They needed to trust their time in the wilderness.
The sower and the reaper will rejoice together as brokenness is loved into blessedness.
If Jesus would’ve said it like that maybe his followers wouldn’t have been so bewildered for so long.
Or maybe they would.
Spiritual wisdom never makes sense until you’ve allowed yourself to be-wildered!