Jesus calls us to boldness again and again throughout the gospel stories.
He does this through his own willingness to be bold. Despite what his friends think, no matter what his enemies might say or do, and regardless of what societal repercussions there may be, Jesus was known for being bold.
He was especially daring when it came to the matter of inclusion. Jesus excluded no one from drinking in his love, mercy and grace. Further, he excluded no one in the call to follow him and minister on his behalf.
We find our proof in the gospel story for the third Sunday of Lent in John 4:5-42. In it, Jesus pushes boundaries, beginning with his crossing the literal boundary line into Samaritan territory.
Jesus also dares to speak with a Samaritan, and he pushes the boundaries even further by speaking specifically to a Samaritan woman.
This was a woman whose social position was so poor that she was forced to access this particularly distant well alone and at an unusual time of day. And if all this isn’t enough, Jesus asks to share water with her.
Jesus is willing to defy cultural, religious and political expectations through his interaction with a woman who was on the margins of her own community.
In pushing all these boundaries, Jesus is actively practicing solidarity with “the other.”
And when Jesus eventually calls out this woman’s past, he does it not to shame her, but to convey the depth of his radical inclusiveness.
Jesus is willing to be bold. As a result, he empowers a vulnerable woman to become bold as well.
Here is what she does with her newfound courage: She goes and tells everyone about Jesus. She shares what she has discovered with the very people who cast her to the margins of society.
It is important to note that when she goes, she leaves behind arguably her most valuable possession.
Her water jug, the vessel for her source of water, is of little use to her now because an even greater source has been provided. In Jesus, she has found living water.
The power of this truth compels her to share the good news with others. There was no reason for anyone to listen to this woman, and yet, they did.
The people listened to what she had to say, and her words inspire them to seek Jesus out themselves. When they do, they also believe.
The story ends with these words: “We know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The woman in today’s reading was never given a name, but she has many names in my mind.
She is “Chanda,” a Hindi name meaning “fierce.” She is “Limbani,” a South African, Chewa name for “strong.” She is “Iman,” an Arabic name for “faithful.” She is “Ari,” an Armenian name for “bold.”
We read her story and the question rises up for us: Will we be bold?
We have an opportunity to learn from today’s reading by being bold ourselves.
We can honor this unnamed woman in our own time by naming the many people in our society who continue to be oppressed because of their race, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability, social economic status and so on.
We can honor the Christ we follow by imitating his bold defiance of harmful systems, no matter the cost.
We can practice confession through this naming. We can practice repentance by our willingness to examine both ourselves and our faith communities.
Finally, we practice healing and peacemaking by taking practical steps toward radical, Christ-like inclusion.
We have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible. And Lent is a perfect place to begin.
We are halfway through this penitential season. Many of us have given up something in the form of a Lenten sacrifice. Indeed, this is a season of shedding.
But as we think about shedding, what if we did the following:
- What if we shed mediocrity: the acceptance of things in the world as they are?
- What if we shed apathy and actively began caring about the people outside of our bubbles?
- What if we shed our addiction to power and traded it in for the bold love of Jesus?
May we do the hard but necessary work of cultivating courage. May our daring be abundant in this Lenten season. May we be bold. Amen.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2020. Each week, we will have an article reflecting on the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. Previous articles in the series were:
Lenten Lectionary | Are You Angry When Your Cheese is Moved? | Terrell Carter
Lenten Lectionary | Journeying with Jesus into the Wilderness | Merianna Harrelson
Lenten Lectionary | Your Lenten Journey to the Far Country | Richard Wilson