Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13; Luke 4:21-30
Narrative Lectionary: The Woman at the Well, John 4:1-42 (Psalm 42:1-3)
Jeremiah described God’s call for him to prophesy when he was only a boy in 1:4-10. God told Jeremiah that God knew him from the time he was conceived to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah, similar to Moses, told God he didn’t know how to speak. In this case, Jeremiah was still young. God, however, told Jeremiah not to be afraid, not to say he was just a boy—he was God’s prophet. God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and told him he would give him the words to speak and gave him authority over the nations—words that would tear down and destroy as well as plant and grow.
Psalm 71:1-6 is a psalm of deliverance, a plea for God to rescue the psalmist from their current distress. They know that God has been their foundation since before they were born, and will continue to be their rock. They trust in God and believe in the assurance of God’s presence with them.
The Epistle reading continues in 1 Corinthians, with perhaps one of the most well-known passages of Christian Scriptures due to its use in weddings. Paul, however, was speaking of spiritual gifts and addressing the conflict within the church in Corinth, where some believed certain gifts were greater than others along with certain teachings. This chapter is the penultimate section on spiritual gifts—without love, we are nothing. Love is the greatest, and what we should be striving for above all things, for God is love.
The Gospel lesson continues from last week in Luke 4:21-30. Jesus, coming out of the wilderness, began his preaching ministry and returned to his hometown of Nazareth, where he read from the scroll of Isaiah and declared that day the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. The scroll, from Isaiah 61:1-2, stated that the Spirit of the Lord was upon the prophet, to bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, release to the prisoners, and other good news to all who are marginalized. At first, Jesus’ neighbors in his hometown liked what he said. They knew him, he was Joseph’s son, and he said good news to them. However, when Jesus responded that no prophet is truly accepted in their hometown, and how Elijah and Elisha were sent to foreigners instead of the people of Israel during difficult times, Jesus’ neighbors grew angry and wanted to throw him off the cliff. They didn’t like that Jesus suggested the good news fulfilled in their hearing wasn’t necessarily for them, but for others. This wasn’t the sort of message they wanted in their synagogue. They wanted to hear words of comfort, not words of challenge. They wanted good news for themselves, not to be told that at times, good news is for other people, too.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Woman at the Well in John 4:1-42. Jesus crossed a number of societal and cultural barriers by staying at the well of Jacob in a Samaritan area, where he encountered a Samaritan woman, alone, and asked her for a drink of water. This was scandalous. Samaritans were the descendants of Israelites who had worshiped in Samaria and never reunited with the people of Judah after the exile. However, Jesus told her that if she knew who he was, she would ask him for his living water, the water of eternal life. When she asked to have that water so she may never be thirsty again, Jesus told her to go call for her husband and come back—which would have been appropriate culturally. She responded that she had no husband, and Jesus comments that she didn’t lie—she’s been married five times before, and she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Even more scandalous! However, Jesus didn’t judge her. Instead, she questioned him further about worship, and while Jesus upheld the worship by his own cultural group, he also told her that the day would come when true worshippers would know God in spirit and in truth. She finally seemed to understand that the water she was thirsty for was not the water of everyday life, but the water of eternal life. She told everyone in her hometown about this man who knew everything about her, and wondered if he might be the Messiah. The disciples were alarmed that Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman alone, but then they questioned Jesus about food in a similar way that Jesus and the Samaritan woman discussed water. Jesus taught them that his food was doing the will of God. The Samaritans of that town came to believe in Jesus and that he was the Messiah, first from the woman’s testimony, and then from their own encounter with him.
Psalm 42:1-3 poetically uses the metaphor of a deer longing for flowing streams—this is how our soul longs, thirsts for the living God. For the psalmist, their tears have been their food day and night, while they are taunted by others wondering where God is. Their yearning for God’s presence and deliverance is like thirst and hunger—we need God, for without God we are nothing.
Prophets had a terrible job of delivering news to people who usually didn’t want to hear it. The only truly successful prophet was Jonah, who delivered his news and the people repented and turned to God. One of the few times that people actually listened before it was too late. Sometimes the people were faithful for a while, like with Moses, but kept turning away from God because they didn’t like what God said to them through Moses. Poor Jeremiah started out his career as a boy, and later ended up in the stocks and was almost killed. In the Disney movie Encanto, Bruno could see the future, but it wasn’t what his mother wanted to hear because it didn’t sound like everything would be perfect. She tore her family apart, believing she was the one who could keep it together if everything turned out how she thought it should. If we don’t hear exactly what we want to, often we human beings get finicky with God and decide it must be the prophet or the teacher who is wrong, instead of listening and discerning to change our ways.
Sometimes, instead, it’s the outsiders, the outcasts, the people different from us who show us the way of God. Jesus referred to the widow at Zarephath, who was so desperate and ready to die that Elijah’s words, even though they seem foolish, are enough that she is willing to try. However, Naaman the Syrian didn’t believe the prophet Elisha at first, because it wasn’t a flashy miracle. Elisha told Naaman to just bathe in the Jordan seven times and he’d be healed of his leprosy. Naaman finally did it after his servant urged him to. In John’s account, it is the Samaritan Woman at the well, an outsider, an outcast, who isn’t judged but is searching for something greater in life. She is seen by Jesus for who she is—someone who has been put down by society—and Jesus offers her something more meaningful. And we remember that we began this season with the Magi from the east, pointing the way to something greater than the worldly kingdoms people knew.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 46)
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in time of trouble.
Though the earth should change,
We will not fear.
Though mountains tremble and waters foam,
God is in our midst.
We shall not be moved;
God is with us as the morning dawns.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Past, Present, and Future, You sent us prophets throughout the years to speak the truth to us, but we have conveniently ignored what we didn’t want to hear. We turn to anger when confronted with changing our ways, and violence when we are challenged. Forgive us, O God, for our stubbornness and short-sightedness. We give You thanks, O God, for the prophets You have sent and continue to send us: prophets who speak to us about the reality of climate change, prophets who cry out against the continued injustice of Jim Crow and restricted voting, prophets who clamor for change against a police and prison system that perpetuates violence and racism. Call upon us to listen, O God, to repent, and to change our ways. In the name of Christ, the one who laid down his life for us, we pray. Amen.
Every day, every hour, every moment is a chance for renewal, for this is a new time for us. Every moment is an opportunity to turn to God and follow God’s ways. Take this moment now to change one thing about your life. Take this moment now to forgive one person whom you have held a grudge, and may you know God’s forgiveness in this moment for you when you have done wrong. Take this moment to feel God’s love in your very breath. Breathe in God’s spirit, and breathe out God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. Amen.
Living Water, fill us with Your Loving Spirit. May we not be overwhelmed by the world, but press forward, steady on, knowing that Your Living Water will never stop flowing. As the river of life is endless, so we are endless. Death has no hold on us, for the Living Water has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life Eternal. Buoy us when the world seeks to consume us, O God, and may we experience Your ever-flowing love in You, Wellspring of Life. Amen.