For all of you in our Coffee Talk Bible Study … here’s the “spoiler alert” (plug your ears!) … Pharaoh lets the Israelites go. OK … you can take your fingers out of your ears now. Today’s reading from Exodus is another “whine and geez” party thrown by the Israelites in the desert. In the prior chapter, the people were whining about having no food and God provided Manna in the wilderness. This week, we hear they are at a desert place encamped and there is no water. So round 2 of the “whine and geez” party starts as the people quarrel with Moses. A big part of this whining has to do with how people deal with freedom.
The Israelites had been in slavery under the Egyptians for 400 years and suddenly they were free from that bondage. But freedom exacts a high price! The first stage in this freedom process is that the people have to grow up. You don’t get the luxury of having your overlords decide everything about your life anymore. You have to grow up and make your own decisions. This is no simple task!! The whole wilderness experience of the Israelites is about their growing up, making decision, and taking the radical risk that God really is in the midst of them. This is spiritual adulthood … and they aren’t sure they want it. And we are not unlike them at all, are we? I don’t know about you, but there are times I really don’t want to be the adult in the room! I’d rather have somebody else tell me what to do and then I get the luxury of blaming them when things don’t work out … who wouldn’t want that?
Slavery isn’t something we think applies to us, but it does. In his book Addiction and Grace, Dr. Gerry May talks about addictions and attachments which steal our freedom. Addiction is the absolute enemy of freedom and addiction isn’t just limited to drugs or alcohol. Think about it … there are many things to which we are addicted. In our culture, the most common addiction is money. Doesn’t matter how much money you have, does it? You always want more, right? These addictions and attachments are forms of slavery – they are the absolute enemy of the freedom God created us to live in. But giving up these addictions and attachments means we have to work … we have to think … we have to make decisions … and we have to place our trust in God’s presence even when things appear to be falling apart. We have to trust that there will be living water in our own wilderness instead of griping and falling back into our old ways. Admittedly, the Israelites are ambivalent about this freedom thing and it takes them a long time of wandering and trusting God before they forget the bondage of Egypt and trust in God’s freedom
In our gospel reading, we hear of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and this too is a story about freedom and liberation. Too often, much is made of her domestic situation: she’s been married five times and now living with a man who is not her husband. I have seen way too many Biblical literalists classify this woman as a “whore” when Jesus uses no such word. Let’s be clear – there is NOTHING in this reading which indicates that the woman is engaged in immoral practices nor is there anything which condemns her sex life. There are all kinds of reasons she may have been in this situation. In a culture where women had no rights, a husband could toss his wife out on her ear for no reason by giving her a writ of divorce, and where life expectancies were shorter than today (Who knows? She may have outlived 5 men!), not to mention the requirement of the Levirate marriage which would have caused her to be married to the brother of her deceased husband to raise up children for the dead brother … well, let’s just say there are any number of reasons she was in this condition. Jesus never tells her to “go and sin no more” – in fact, sin isn’t even mentioned. So let’s get off the morality train right now and let that go! Her plight is likely one that is marked more by tragedy than immorality.
When Jesus tells her to call her husband and then tells her the truth of her life, her response is quite surprising – she doesn’t get defensive or argue. Did you notice that? Jesus puts the finger right on her place of greatest brokenness and she doesn’t get angry. That’s quite remarkable because most of us would get angry or lash out. I know how I am. When my spiritual director or therapist puts their finger on something broken in me, my first reaction is defensive. It hurts when somebody looks through us and tells us the unvarnished truth. But that’s when I have to take a deep breath and trust these people aren’t trying to hurt me – they are trying to help heal me. I think Jesus’ words are received by this woman as a non-judgmental statement of fact … meant for her liberation. Instead of responding in anger, she makes a confession of faith: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” In John’s gospel, the concept of “seeing” is strongly linked with believing. She believes that Jesus has really seen her too – she is a whole person to him, not just an object or a victim. She has worth in Jesus’ eyes.
Her next question may seem like a non sequitur: On which mountain will we worship God? This question continues to divide Jews and Samaritans. She is testing whether or not Jesus will separate himself from her because of the things which have kept her in captivity: her gender, her ethnicity, her dependence on other men. All of these have enslaved her ... will Jesus be just another Jewish man who will keep her in shackles?
Instead of the either/or response she expects, Jesus’ answer opens a third way for her – not a black and white answer which chooses sides. This third way opens a path of liberation for her where she can chart a new course to believe in God in a whole new way. And it is so exciting that she drops her water jars and races off to tell her friends. She leaves behind the very thing that had been so important to her – the water she drew which symbolically could be the chores and expectations placed upon her. In dropping everything, she was freed to share this news of a new and transformed life with her friends.
We, like this woman, are burdened with many struggles, temptations and challenges in life which can enslave us and hold us back from being the people God calls us to be. Take a moment and think … what are you facing right now? What are the past tragedies of your life that you need to drop and leave behind? A dead-end job? A death dealing relationship? An addiction or attachment which is killing you physically or spiritually? Anxiety, guilt, sadness? What holds you back from living into your freedom in Christ? Offer it to Christ right now and ask for the courage to drop your water jars, to seek God’s freedom and to give us the grace to tell our friends what God has done for us! What do you need to drop this day … on a broken altar … at the foot of a broken Christ on the cross?