Sermon for Sunday, March 15, 2020 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42
The Samaritan woman leaves her water jar behind, rushes back to the city, and says to anyone who will listen, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” That’s a pretty astounding statement given the conversation she has just had with Jesus by the well. Many biblical scholars chalk it up to her excitement – the exaggeration is forgivable because of the encounter she just had with the Messiah. Others say that, given her station, she needs to exaggerate in order to be taken seriously. I think both of those ideas miss the point of the story entirely because they start from the premise that the woman is not being a reliable witness, is not simply telling the truth.
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” What if we took this statement at face value? What if we believed the woman instead of dismissing her words as mere hysteria? Her words are astounding, not because of their presumed hyperbole, but because of their authenticity. The question is – how has the woman come to this astounding witness when her conversation with Jesus was so short and certainly did not contain her life story?
The answer is that her willingness to engage Jesus in conversation puts the Samaritan woman in the unique position to be the first person to whom Jesus reveals his divine identity. And when Jesus invites the woman into the divine dance that Jesus shares with God, when Jesus shares with her who he is, the woman discovers, at a deep and fundamental level, who she is, too.
The conversation turns on a phrase Jesus uses over and over again in the Gospel according to John. The phrase is, “I Am.” He speaks it in today’s reading when she asks him about the Messiah. The special phrase is buried a bit in the English. What I read to you was, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” But the original language could be read like this: “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.”
When Jesus says these two special words, “I Am,” he is consciously linking his existence to the identity of God as revealed to Moses in the story of the burning bush. God gives Moses the mission to free his people from enslavement in Egypt, but before Moses agrees, Moses asks God what God’s name is. We render God’s response as “I Am Who I Am.” This isn’t so much a name as a mission statement: “I Create What I Create.” The Hebrew word is a form of the verb “to be,” and has the added benefit of sounding like breath. The divine “I Am” that God reveals to Moses is God’s role as the giver of life to all creation. And Jesus uses this same formulation time and again in John’s Gospel: “I Am.”
When Jesus speaks his divine identity to the Samaritan woman, he ushers her into the reality that he shares with God. In our Christian language system, we call this reality the Holy Trinity; that is, the perfect loving relationship of God with God upon which the blueprint of creation is structured. So at the end of their conversation, the woman finds herself swept up into the true and intimate life of God. She is brought there by the One who is the Word of God made flesh, the One who is close to the Father’s heart and makes God known to us.
As Jesus speaks his divine identity to her, the woman catches a glimpse of the deeper reality of God within, before, beyond, above, and beneath all things, including herself. She sees for a brief moment her true place in God’s creation, and she knows in the depths of her heart that her own unique, precious, and unrepeatable identity is based entirely on the identity of the Giver of Life. She can say, “I am,” because God constantly and continually says, “I Am,” and thus speaks creation into being.
With all that in mind, her words to the people of the city don’t seem all that exaggerated, do they? “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” Not just everything she has ever done, but who she is at the very core of her being. When Jesus reveals his identity to her, the Samaritan woman understands herself in a way that she could never dream of before.
Everyone of us is capable of saying those two little words: “I am.” In truth, we say them all the time. “I am hungry.” “I am tired.” “I am going to the grocery store.” We say these two little words so often that we never stop to appreciate how they connect us to the life of God. These two little words make a complete sentence. “I am.” Subject. Verb. When we say this, we are saying the simplest thing our language can say. But it’s also the most profound because our assertion that we are connects us to “I Am Who I Am,” the God who is still speaking creation into being. We are part of the life of the Trinity, we are caught up in the divine dance of perfect relationship reaching out to imperfect souls.
Proclaiming that God invites us into this perfect relationship seems like a total exaggeration, like the woman’s words about Jesus telling her everything she has ever done. And it would be exaggeration if not for God’s utterly extravagant goodness and love that is calling all creation back into this relationship. The Samaritan woman leaves Jesus and her water jar behind and invites her people to “come and see” this amazing person, this One who showed her who she truly was. We have the same opportunity. In our lives, we can invite others to “come and see” the reality of God. This reality of God might seem like a dream because of how imperfectly we practice it. But the reality of God’s great “I Am” exists beneath the dream, propelling us all to a new and sublime wakefulness within God’s perfect love. We participate in this reality whenever we say, “I am.” And when we affirm the “I am” of other people, their unique, precious, and unrepeatable place in the divine dance.
So, take a page from the Samaritan woman and say, “Come and see. Come and see Jesus, who told me everything I have ever done.”
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