"The time is coming and is now here when you shall worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:23
Jesus goes out of his way to identify with people of ill-repute. In John 4, he engages with a Samaritan woman who has been married multiple times. He suggests she should ask for and receive Living Water – participation in the divine life that begins in the present moment and extends beyond any conceivable boundary including space and time. She asks for this water, and he responds by asking her to bring her husband. It then becomes clear that she does not want to discuss her marital history, and is surprised that Jesus knows this history. The discussion continues into the place of worship; Samaritans believed the location where worship should happen was Mount Gerizim, while Jews believed the place to be the temple in Jerusalem. The woman wants to know which location is correct, and Jesus continues to explain that real worship happens in Spirit, as is the nature of God, and truth, being faithful to our own nature.
I have been working with children who have been blamed for their circumstances – considered dirty, degenerate and less worthy than other people. As a Samaritan woman with a complicated marital history, the woman at the well must also have been considered dirty, degenerate and less worthy. She doesn't want to discuss her history, and is surprised that a Jewish man would speak to her – much less know and accept her. Like with the children, the woman is likely a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Women had lower social and economic power, and Jesus' injunction not to divorce outside of infidelity did more to protect woman from the kind of pernicious refusal that could lead them to be perceived as "wasted goods." In bringing the woman to acknowledge this history, Jesus acknowledges that this woman is more value than the pattern of rejection she's experienced suggests. Immediately in acknowledging her true self, the wounds in her life, and embracing her regardless, Jesus invokes in the woman a need to worship God. She inquires about the proper way to do so.
There is a potency in being known – having your past hardships recognized compassionately but not in a way that defines you. The potency of such intimate knowledge lies in its ability to move you from a point of shame to a point of true value. Your past afflictions are difficult, and haunt your mind with thoughts of rejection and existential insignificance. Yet Jesus comes and calls all of us – as though we are doves hidden behind the rocks of life's hardships – to be known and truly loved. Our inner selves that bleat with some hope of being worthwhile are called forth, and we know we are children of the loving Creator. We move beyond limiting definitions of ourselves and into a Spiritual dynamic that is completely boundless – beyond space, time, family history, self-doubt, fear of rejection and past wounds at the hands of callous others. We find ourselves longing to express gratitude and to pour ourselves into the divine life that created us – our true selves, beholden to no one but our everlasting God who calls and embraces us in truth and love.
To this Jesus responds – find your home in the Ground of Your Being and the Source of Your Becoming, in your heavenly Father. Know that there is no place where you cannot be firmly rooted in the loving embrace of your Maker – whether you are at a well, on a street, rejoined with family, on a farm, in the United States, in Kenya or anywhere.
As I think through the meaning of the work we are engaged in, this meeting between Jesus and the woman at the well provide great clarity. The world may reject and malign you, and people may mistreat you. Regardless, whether you are a 8 year old boy or a Samaritan woman, there is a part of you that remains eternally precious. It is this part of you – your imago Dei ("image of God") – that can never be quenched, and remains the way God sees you. Being saved is in part learning to know and see yourself as God sees you – this is our prayer for the farm today. That children who have been abused, rejected, orphaned and abandoned know that they are worth an infinite value, and they themselves can join in the divine celebration of God's goodness from now until eternity..