Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, 23rd March 2014Mar 19th, 2014 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Sermons
“I can see that you are a prophet”. John 4:19
Can you think of anyone now who will give a straight answer to a difficult question? Think of the interviews you have seen on the television news or heard on the radio. Time and again people will be asked for a straightforward answer, ‘yes’ or ‘no, and they will avoid the question completely. There are times when I feel like shouting at the radio in the mornings. The interviewer will ask something and the answer will go along the lines, ‘Well, I think the question we should be asking is this’ and then the person being interviewed will talk about something completely different. Even church authorities are good at answering questions they weren’t asked.
Before we become too cynical about our political leaders, it is important too realise that this tendency to avoid questions is nothing new. In Bible times the human tendency not to accept responsibility for things was every bit as strong. Look looked at what the Samaritan woman did when faced with a difficult question. Watch what happens when she is challenged by a matter that makes her feel very uncomfortable:
Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Now watch what happens:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
An evasion worthy of a Government spokesman. She is in a difficult corner, so shifts the discussion onto different ground. Jesus discusses the question of worship with her, but then we lose the thread of the conversation. The story continues, ‘Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?’
What other words passed between them? We don’t know. What we can assume is that Jesus shifted the questions back to difficult matters and didn’t give the woman a second chance to avoid the challenge because there is an immediate change in the woman. The story continues, ‘Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”’
Confronted with the truth, the Samaritan woman, like our modern politicians, sought to shift attention to other matters. I wonder how like her we are. She knew the truth about herself, and each of us knows the truth about ourselves, and yet we pretend that God doesn’t know. We pretend that we can say one thing and do another. What sort of faith do we have, if we think we can fool God?
‘I can see you are a prophet’, say the woman, and, having said that, she tries to move the discussion away from herself. Had she thought seriously about what she meant when she said Jesus was a prophet? Did she seriously think her ruse was going to work?
How often are we like her? We hear the Scripture readings Sunday by Sunday, and there are times that they make us feel uncomfortable. There are times when we would rather not hear what God is saying to us. Then we stand and say the Creed and the prayers, and I think sometimes, maybe too often, we are like that woman. She declared her belief in Jesus, we declare our belief in God, but inside we want the awkward questions to go away.
The difficult questions don’t go away. The questions about the way we live; the questions about what of our lives we give to God, if what we offer God is not something that makes us joyful, then maybe we aren’t giving enough; the questions of what we try to hide, thinking that God doesn’t know—the questions remain. We go home and we go back to our lives and we think that by avoiding questions they will go away.
The woman’s response is very different. She leaves her water jar, for a moment she sets aside the things of everyday life, and she goes off, obviously filled with joy, to tell her community about this Jesus.
Despite her evasions, despite her attempts to avoid the hard questions of Jesus, the woman faces the truth and her life is changed. Dare we allow this to happen in our own lives? Or are we like the politicians who think that avoiding questions is convincing?
At the end of the story, the woman is able to sincerely declare her faith in Jesus. When we declare our faith, can we do so with complete sincerity? If we can’t, then it’s time we started looking at the difficult questions.