Helpers not Heroes

Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi
Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi

The Gospel of John is unique in many ways compared to the other Gospels. It was written many years after Mark, Matthew and Luke. And many scholars believe it was written independently of the other three Gospels.

One of the ways we know this is that there are several stories in the Gospel of John that are not found in any of the other Gospels: The Wedding at Cana in chapter 2, the Nicodemus story we heard last Sunday in chapter 3, and today’s story of the Samaritan woman at the well, just to name a few.

Another way we mark John’s Gospel as unique is in how the character of Jesus is portrayed in this Gospel. The Jesus of John is otherworldly, transcendent, mystical, heavenly. In the beginning of John’s Gospel we hear that Jesus was Word made flesh, that Jesus existed at the beginning of time with God and came down to dwell among us, mere mortals.

In John, Jesus is this heavenly being who puts on the skin of humans and ventures down to earth in order to be with us, to bring us to God, to show us the way to salvation.

Let’s put it this way: Jesus in John’s Gospel is kinda like an ancient superhero. In fact, if you know your DC Comics (or have seen the recent revival of superhero movies that have been so prolific lately), then you’re familiar with the famous Superman.

Superman came from a heavenly planet, was sent to earth, was adopted by a man and a woman who loved, cared and protected Superman until he was old enough to reveal his superpowers and start saving the world. Superman’s story is arguably borrowed from John’s Gospel account of Jesus. According to John, Jesus was the original Superman.

Superman has three main powers: x-ray vision, the ability to heal, and something called “Speed Force” which, from my research, is described as the way in which Superman charges his superpower. It’s the ability to tap into the higher power of a dimension that exists outside of our world, in order to power Superman’s abilities.

Maybe you’re seeing some parallels here? Jesus is a healer, Jesus is sent by and obtains his power to heal, love and teach from God.

And, while it’s not always stated in this way, when we look at John’s account of Jesus, I think we can make the case that Jesus has the power of x-ray vision.  

Take, for example, our Gospel story today of the Samaritan Woman at the well. Now, often this story is seen as a morality story where the Samaritan Woman is viewed as an outsider that needs correcting and saving. Often this Woman at the well has been viewed as a prostitute, or at the very least, a lowly woman with low moral fiber, who makes poor life choices.

But when I read the Gospel story of the Samaritan Woman at the well, I don’t see Jesus encountering a lowly person who he then corrects and saves; rather, I see Superman-Jesus using his powers of x-ray vision to help someone become who they truly are.

Here me out. Let’s look at the story:

Jesus came to this well in order to take a break from his journey through the outsider territory of Samaria. Jesus insisted on going through this region, a region that Jews avoided at all costs. The Jews and the Samaritans did not mix, the Samaritans were the lowliest of low, and simply put, you just didn’t go there.

But Jesus insisted on this route through Samaria and when Jesus and his followers stop to take a break at a well, it seems almost inevitable that they might run into, and possibly be forced to talk with, a Samaritan.

And who shows up? Not just a Samaritan, but a Samaritan woman, and not just any Samaritan woman but a five-times-married Samaritan woman, who, at that time, even the other Samaritans avoided.

What does Jesus do? He asks her for help. He asks for a drink. He, a man, a Jew, a rabbi asks for help from a woman, a Samaritan woman; the lowest person in the social structure of the time.

And the Woman sees the absurdity of his talking to her and she calls him out on it: “Who are you- a Jew- to ask me- a Samaritan Woman- for help?”

“If only you knew,” He says, “If only you could see as I do. You could have living water and never grow thirsty.”

The Woman is curious now, “Tell me more, what is this living water?”

Jesus explains, “This living water is not like any other. It will quench, not just your thirst, but your deepest longings and desires. It will make you whole. This living water flows in abundance for you, if you want it.”

“I do,” says the Woman, “give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty again.”

That’s when Jesus reveals his superpower of x-ray vision.

Jesus sees into the life of this woman, and he sees all of her. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “You are unmarried now and living with a man.”

When I imagine how this must have felt for the Woman, I imagine she felt completely naked and vulnerable in that moment.

“How can he know this?” She wonders, “How can he see into my past, my present? He knows my most intimate secrets. He knows me. He sees me.”

Yet, Jesus does not ridicule or correct her. And the Woman is not afraid. She asks for more information, she even pushes him to explain himself. And once they have finished their conversation she has found that living water.

You see, this is how Jesus’ superpower works. He doesn’t just reveal what he knows about a person, like some fortune-teller. He reveals their deepest nature, their truest selves. Jesus’ power of x-ray vision isn’t just seeing secrets, it works in such a way as to reveal the beauty and the power that lies at the heart of every person.

Jesus’ superpower of x-ray vision reveals that Divine power we already have within us, that power which God placed within us when we were wondrously and miraculously made.

Jesus doesn’t just speak to this Woman because he’s a nice guy and feels sorry for her, an outsider. He is not speaking to her as someone who needs edifying or correcting.

He’s speaking to her as someone who has value, God-given value. Someone who has the living water of God already within them.

Jesus uses his powers to reveal and empower The Other. He does this first by daring to go where no one would go. He dares to speak to one that no one would speak. And he sees in this person someone who is made of God, who is called by God, no matter what society has to say about them.

And he helps her realize this. He helps her see who she already is: one of God’s Holy created, who has the power within her being to answer God’s call for her.  

In doing this, Jesus shows us that the Samaritan Woman is not the object of a moral story, she is the hero of it.

She is able to accept Jesus’ superpowers and recognize Jesus for what he truly is. She is able to believe in him and tap into that piece of God that exists at her center, where the well of living water springs forth in all of us.

Not only does the Woman see what Jesus is and accept what he has revealed to her about her power and potential, she takes up the call to help him as well. She is a hero because she helps him.

She drops everything. This lowly dessert woman leaves her water jar at the well in the highest heat of the day without taking a drink, and she goes to proclaim the Good News.

There’s a mutuality in what happens in this story. Jesus helps her see and she helps Jesus by bringing people to him.

Now, there are lots of ways in which thinking of Jesus as Superman is not helpful.

There’s a quote from Episcopal Priest and author Carter Heyward who says this: “Heroes, in the traditional sense, show us who we are not. Helpers show us who we are…” (Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as the Power and Love of God).

Today, with all that the world is suffering, with all the pain and hate and anger being thrown around it’s tempting to wish and hope for a Superhero to come and save us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if The Avengers were a real thing? It would take us off the hook right? It would be so much easier if there was one person who would come and take on the responsibility of cleaning up this mess.

But that’s not how Superman-Jesus works.  Superman-Jesus is different from Superman in a major way because he uses his powers to empower others.

Like we see with Jesus’ use of x-ray vision with the Woman at the well; he was working to help her see that she has value and that she is called and that she has the power to help bring about salvation.

Jesus isn’t single-handedly saving the world. Jesus is using his powers to build relationships and get people to help him save the world.

Jesus is not demonstrating that he has come to rescue everyone in John’s Gospel, rather Jesus is demonstrating that he has come to empower us, to help us see God within ourselves and within others.

The Jesus we see at the well is using his superpowers to help us see the living water, be the living water and share it with the world.

And in the Woman at the well? We see what is possible for all of us. 

How can we be more like her?

How can we be daring, courageous and faithful as she was? How can we be open, curious and humble like the Samaritan Woman? This woman who could receive the living water of God despite her station, reputation and circumstances.

How has Jesus used his x-ray vision to show you how perfect and precious you are? How has Jesus come to you and said,

“Hey…you are beautiful and you are valuable, no matter what. There is that of God within you. You have the power to drink from the well of this living water. You have the power to help others and save this world. I need you to proclaim this truth and share your faith, because this work of salvation, it can’t be done alone…and I need your help.”

How will we respond to Jesus when he meets us at the well and uses his x-ray vision? Will we roll our eyes, laugh, scoff, grab our water and walk on? Or will we be more like her and allow ourselves to be seen and transformed?

How will we be that living water and take up the call to help save this world?

[This sermon was given at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Brownsburg, Indiana on March 19th, 2017. The Gospel According to John 4:5-42.]



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