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A story of radical inclusion (John 4)…

February 25, 2008

homosexualityissin.jpgA story on the front page of our local paper caught my attention last Saturday.  The headline annouced that Alabama judge Roy Moore (of 10 commandments in the courtroom renown) is joining the fight in a Pennsylvania case over hate crimes law.  Two local evangelists for Repent America were charged under the hate crimes law for picketing and publicly preaching that homosexuality is a sin at the Outfest street festival in Philadelphia in October of 2004. 

Yesterday I preached from the lectionary gospel text–Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar.  I am contemplating the striking contrast between the way Jesus relates to the Samaritan woman at the Sychar well and the way the Repent America evangelists related to those at the Outfest in Philadelphia.  Pondering what this contrast has to teach us about the way in which we might be the good news/share the good news like Jesus. 

christ_and_samaritan_woman_sm.jpgJesus meets a woman who couldn’t be more of an outsider and he receives her as an insider, an intimate with no cause for shame.  The approach of Repent America seems more concerned that sinners know just how shameful their behavior is.  They hold picket signs and preach at a target audience of sinners.  Jesus meets a woman at a well where she is carrying out her daily chores in isolation from the community which has by appearances stigmatized her.  They have excluded her because as they have kept score, she has been used and discarded by too many men.  She is a woman of dishonorable reputation.  A moral failure.  

Jesus initiates a conversation.  “Give me a drink.”  As is soon to become evident, Jesus knows the score and yet does not shove it in her face.  He does not take position of moral high ground and preach hell, fire and brimstone.  No, he just has a conversation with her.  He treats her with dignity.  He makes visible a gospel of radical inclusion that extends forgiveness to someone who has made a terrible mess of relationships. 

These two stories make visible a sharp contrast in the way the Gospel is made visible in the world.  A striking contrast in the way the Gospel is shared–in the way it is lived.  One approach seeks out theaters of engagement with those whose lifestyle choices or beliefs is perceived to be more antagonistic to the Gospel than our own sin.  The engagement is adversarial.  This is a colonial approach to communicating the gospel.  Evangelists going as missionaries to the heathen.  The Gospel wielded as ammunition, lobbed like hand grenades into the faces of the rebel masses. 

Jesus presents a different way.  One which does not de-humanize and villify the neighbor whom we meet in the ordinary rhthym of life.  The well is common ground.  Jesus is thirsty.  The woman has the implements to draw water.  Jesus asks for a drink–a simple, radical act subverting the dominant narrative of Judean-Samaritan enmity.  The text tells us that Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans and perhaps modern day evangelists do not share things in common with gay neighbors.

He offers her living water.  She balks.  This is a mysterious offer.  He engages her story–“go call your husband.”  He graciously engages the attempts of the woman to redirect the conversation away from the shameful realities of her story.  In the end she is transformed by the encounter and becomes an evangelist to the same people who had excluded her. 

She becomes an evangelist not by preaching a moralistic sermon.  Jesus had not done that.  Rather, she freely testifies, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  Was that what had transformed her?  The fact that Jesus looked into her life and knew her dishonorable past?  But this is the approach of the evangelists in Philadelphia–to point out the shameful behavior of the gay community. 

So what then is the difference.  Jesus does not shame the Samaritan woman into repentance.  No.  He freely accepts her, treats her with dignity as a human being created in the image of God.  He does not bombard her with words of condemnation.  He receives the Samaritan woman with such love and grace that she is profoundly transformed.  He does not humiliate her.  He receives her as one who is already forgiven. 

Two vastly different narratives guide the way the Gospel is made visible.  The way of Jesus is profoundly transformative.  The way of Jesus subverts the dominant narrative of insider/outsider.  The way of Jesus does not demand our right to publicly confront people.  The way of Jesus discretely meets the outcast in ordinary places where engagement is not adversarial, but face to face–human to human.  The way of Jesus is a disarming encounter that invites the Other to share their story, to offer us a drink.  If we have tasted the living water, there may be opportunity to share what we have experienced.  We will be sharing from a position not of superiority, but of weakness–as one sinner to another.  We will not discharge gospel words like ammunition.  Rather, we will offer a cool drink to someone who asks for something to slake their thirst. 

The story of John 4 is one of radical inclusion.  It is the Gospel of our Lord.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2008 2:28 pm

    This story of the woman at the well with Jesus has always spoken to me, very deeply, of the depth and lengths of Christ’s love — willing to associate with all people. But you point out something that brings tremendous power to this demonstration of love . . . Christ’s choice NOT to accuse and point out the obvious sin to condemn her, yes, something she has already done to herself many times, I’m sure. His choice to withhold what may seem natural to human nature is what speaks to me most right now. Showing that kind of love to my neighbors and friends can be easy, but to those in my family or even myself, whom I should easily have that kind of love for, I too often fail miserably. Thanks for this message.

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    March 3, 2008 5:39 pm

    I too fall short of the example of Christ in forgiving and accepting others where they are. Thanks for your honesty.

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