Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday 19 March 2017 - Lent 3

Theme(s): God's gracious love / Living water / Jesus Saviour of the World

Sentence: But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)


Give us courage to hope, and to risk disappointment.
Teach us to pray expectantly,
and when our prayers seem to fail,
bring us to pray again and again;
for you are our God,
who acts and will act again
through Christ in the power of the Spirit. Amen.


Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42


Exodus 17:1-7

Water is a recurring theme in Scripture and rightly so as water is necessary for life. In the gospel reading Jesus offers 'living water' meaning the possibility of eternal life (i.e. life undefeated by any opposing force, including death). Here Israel in its journey from Egypt to the promised land is in desperate straits. The 'wilderness' in the Middle East is no place to be short of water.

Understandably the Israelites complained and Moses forwarded the complaint to the Lord. Moses is reluctant to do this as he sees Israel 'testing' the Lord which is a role reversal. The Lord is the Lord and thus able to impose a test on Israel; Israel ought not to be taking the role of the Lord and imposing a test on the Lord.

The provision of water at Rephidim is an act of kindness on the Lord's part while also offering supply and sustenance for Israel on its journey to the promised land which is the Lord's plan for Israel. In a sense the Lord has no choice but to provide the water but Israel has exercised a poor choice: it could have trusted the Lord to provide for their needs without putting him to the test. This kind of poor choice is exercised both through the wilderness years and later in the history of Israel when living in its promised land.

We are reminded in the psalm for today that this testing had consequences for Israel. (See also Numbers 20:2-13).

Psalm 95

This psalm is a joyful expression of thanks to God for God's goodness but it has a kick in its tail which relates to our Old Testament reading: Israel the beneficiary of God's grace must 'listen to his voice' and (by implication) trust that voice. The alternative, testing God as an expression of lack of faith, has consequences for future blessings, as lack of trust in the wilderness had consequences for the length of the journey to the promised land.

Romans 5:1-11

If we graph the Epistle to the Romans in such a way that peaks on the line represent gathering up points or provisional conclusions along the way to the grand conclusion, then chapter 5 would be one of those peaks. The clue is to look for the word 'Therefore' (and, as an old saying goes, ask 'What are the 'therefores' there for?').

After four chapters expounding the history of faith in Israel in relation to the crisis in Rome over the fate of Judaism and the future of nascent Christianity, an exposition which sets out the nature of justification (that is, what it takes to make us just or righteous in God's sight), Paul writes in 5:1,

'Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ ...'. 

In the next ten or so verses Paul plumbs the depths of this conclusion before restating it in 5:11,

'But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.'
 (Incidentally, 'reconciliation' and 'justification' are theological synonyms: to be justified by God is to be reconciled with God).

Space does not permit anything like a full commentary on these wonderful verses which assure us of the generous grace of God but note these aspects:
- grace (5:2) and expansion of this theme through 5:6-10
- reflection on the role of suffering in the life of the believer (5:3-5)
- hope (5:2,4,5) and talk of 'hope' as an assurance of God being for us (rather than 'hope' as a vague anticipation of the future), signalled for the believer through the experience of 'God's love ... poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us' (5:5)
- God's love for us (5:5,8)

Perhaps the most vital message here in respect of salvation is in 5:9, 'Much more surely then ...'.

There is no need for any believer in Jesus Christ to be anxious about whether we are saved or not.

John 4:5-42

This is a long reading but it does tell a complete story of a unique-to-John's Gospel encounter with a Samaritan woman.

Much can be taken out of this reading. Possible major themes to consider are: mission, women in ministry, women in the particular ministry of apostle (here, Apostle to the Samaritans, 4:28-30, 39-42), living water, life in the Spirit, the nature of Christian worship, christology: Jesus as prophet, Messiah, Saviour of the World and, significantly, one of the 'I am' statements (4:26).

There is some controversy in scholarship concerning this story: does it 'promote' women because it shows Jesus honouring a woman with dignified and intelligent conversation (i.e. counter to cultural 'male to male' norms for those days in Palestine/Samaria) as well as (effectively) commissioning her to be an apostle of the gospel?

Or, does this story reflect poorly on Jesus who places her in a position of shame re the conversation drawing out from her the admission of her much married and now unmarried sexual relationship status (4:16-18)? (On that possibility note that the woman's own response is not to protest but to acknowledge Jesus' status as a 'prophet'. However, is that a respectful recognition or her own mocking riposte to Jesus' frank declaration of her personal history?)

Further, note that John's own telling of the story invites criticism: the woman is not given a name.

In our journey through Lent, this story is about journeying: Jesus is on the move and needs to stop for a rest and for food and drink. As we look ahead to the cross we look to the event in which Jesus dies to save us - in this story we meet the Saviour and are invited to understand the global scope of salvation, 'we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world' (4:42).

But our own 'food and drink' for our journey is at hand: through Jesus we drink the living water and eat the living bread of God's life (especially explained in John 6). In this perspective the Samaritan woman at the well is each of us: battered and bruised by life we go about our ordinary lives only to unexpectedly meet the extraordinary Jesus Christ who offers us an extraordinary life.

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