Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Our preacher today is Adriana Rivera, Minister of Youth and Household.
Greetings, friends, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you on this third Sunday of Lent and during Women’s History Month. I’m happy to be here with you this Sunday to reflect on one of my favorite Gospel texts before we go on to share at the table and continue on with the rest of our Sunday routines. One Sunday ritual that I have developed with some of my friends over at Garrett Seminary is Sunday grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. If you haven’t yet, you should try the frozen pork and ginger soup dumplings, they are DIVINE! If I go right after church, I still have my nice clothes on but there have definitely been days where I go to the grocery store or Walmart for something quick and I have not been dressed to the best of my ability. And of course it’s on those days that you see everybody! When I was living and working in NW Indiana, about 8 times out of 10 that I would step out into one of the local shops I would hear a “MISS RIVERA!!” from down the aisle. If you’re like me, you don’t anticipate being recognized in those mundane moments. They would always catch me by surprise. But sometimes they turned out to be really great conversations. Catching up with an old classmate, getting health updates on neighbors, celebrating new births and beginnings. Oftentimes, when we least expect to be seen is the precise moment when community comes to find us.
The woman at the well in today’s text probably thought her day was going to pass by like usual. She would go fetch water as part of her daily routine and move on. But on this particular day, something strange yet wonderful happens. Jesus sees her. When he addresses her, she is understandably confused, given their gender, class, and cultural differences. But Jesus insists and even invites her to drink from the living waters that he offers. She is intrigued by the invitation, even though, at this point, she seems to be taking his words literally. Then Jesus asks about her husband??? Now, I’ve seen this text interpreted, or misinterpreted I should say, in ways that frame the woman as promiscuous or sinful but I don’t think Jesus sees her that way. He does not do this to shame her or spite her but to show that even in her situation, despite the things that should separate them, he sees her. In the ancient mediterranean context, women had no control over their marital conditions. Her husbands could have died or divorced her, which would have been much easier for them to do than her. She was vulnerable to the social structures of her time and yet Jesus sees her. And in seeing her, Jesus does not pity her or berate her or reject her, rather he engages with her in a theological conversation. And in this discourse, he reveals himself to her as the Messiah, allowing her to see him in return. And once she sees him too, she is eager to share this revelation. This conversation stands in stark contrast to the ones we’ve seen Jesus have these last few weeks. Jesus’ transfiguration and affirmation as God’s beloved son was witnessed by only three people who were commanded to keep the revelation to themselves. Jesus dialogues with the woman at the well in broad daylight, compared to his clandestine conversation with Nicodemus in the dark of night. And because of this openness, there is no shame or fear hindering her testimony. This is the Good News of this text that we can see and be seen, even by those who are different from us, even from those who we would least expect. Because Jesus saw the Samaritan woman at the well, she was emboldened and empowered to share her witness with her community. And the community came to see for themselves. They could see and be seen by Jesus, and it changed their lives, just as the witness of seeing and being seen by God is still changing lives today.
This narrative reminds me of this idea of “seeing into being” reflected in the Zulu greeting, “Sawubona,” which translates to “I see you.” The response, “Sikhona,” means, “I am here.” This also connects to the concept of ubuntu, which means, “I am because we are.” And this is the invitation of the gospel, to become a Beloved Community that sees each other in our success and struggle or whatever situation we might find ourselves in. We are invited to a collectivist, rather than individualistic, approach to life. Instead of going about my business, keeping my head down like I try to do in the grocery store, this way of greeting and being invites me to engage with my neighbor, see how they are in this world so full of pain and strife. I carry my own burdens too but when we see each other, we can share some of that weight. I invite you to consider ways in which you can slow down from the rat race, look around you and truly see someone. It could be a coworker or classmate, maybe a neighbor or even a stranger on the street. It might very well be one of your own family members. We all deserve to be seen, regardless of our marital status or financial situation, not surveilled and monitored with a desire to control, but seen in a way that calls us to life.
I would also invite you to intentionally see the work of those on the margins. It’s like what Jesus told the disciples, we benefit from the unseen labor of others. See how our worship space and facilities are so well maintained and cared for by the folks who clean at night. See the parents who sacrifice sleep to care for their sick children throughout the night. See how the food we buy on our Sunday shopping days are produced by laborers in the fields and factories. See the need for housing stability for queer youth. See the need for accessibility and safety for our disabled siblings as the pandemic persists. See the need for clean water for our neighbors in the south suburb of University Park. Their community, like the Israelites in the Exodus text, cry out. See and be seen as part of the solution. See and be seen as part of the Beloved Community. May we be refreshed and renewed by the living waters Jesus offers. May we see his reflection in us, Amen.