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Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
12 March 2023

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42


Our economy is based on growth. This means that at the beginning of the day we start with a certain amount of capital and if all things go well we end the day with more than we had at the beginning. Because this is the model for the society we live in, we have long imposed this understanding on the parable of the talents, in which the owner of a vineyard entrusts various sums of money to his servants and after “a long time” he calls them each to account for what they did. (Matthew 25) I have never felt comfortable with this reading because it equates God with a landowner who has no mercy for peasants. There is also no room for people with disabilities, for example. Besides, any time we transfer our own ideas onto the scriptures, we interpret the scriptures instead of allowing the scriptures to interpret us.
But let me stay with capitalism. Capitalism is the system that has provided for us, and has provided well for many. I believe that it was the inability of Warsaw Pact economies to provide for their citizens that led to the demise of East Bloc regimes. But capitalism is not perfect, nor is it natural.1
Because capitalism is not natural, we know that we cannot leave everything to the markets but need to set boundaries in accordance with the values we hold. We do this because we neither believe that everything should be commodified, nor that the markets always act responsibly, or distribute wealth equitably. Oligarchs do not exist only in Russia. It is also worth noting that the goal to always grow our economy is justification for resisting calls for a redistribution of wealth. Most often this means, even in wealthy countries like ours, that the poor will remain poor, just not as poor as elsewhere.
But we also know that there are clear limits to growth. As an economist once said, “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad or an economist.”2 And we cannot help but draw a line from the dogma of unlimited growth to the ecological crisis that is upon us. I mean, how much of what we have do we actually need, why do cars get bigger very year, and for how long will your child play with the Happy Meal toy?
And finally, without claiming to be an economist, economic growth is running out of steam where it comes to productivity. Increasingly growth happens through asset acquisition, which raises the value of assets, it creates bubbles, housing being one of them.

In our Gospel reading Jesus comes to Jacob’s well. It is in Samaritan territory, which tells us that the encounter was most unusual, but it is at the well where Jacob, Israel’s ancestor had met Laban’s daughter Rachel. The encounter takes place in the heat of the day while the disciples had gone to buy something to eat. They and Jesus are on their way from Judea back to Galilee. Travel in pre-industrial times must have been different. I remember when we lived in Winnipeg and came to the coast to visit. There were a few well planned stops to stretch our legs, the Souris Suspension Bridge, the Frank Slide, Osoyoos Lake, but we did the trip in two days, not terribly interested in anything along the way, just wanting to get here. But for much of history travel was slower which meant that you would take in the landscape, interact with the people, and become part of the local economy. And yet, Samaria is very much a place to travel through, not to stay, for the religious differences were too great. Yet Jesus stays for two days.

It is Jesus who approaches the woman whose name we do not know, yet who has been remembered ever since. Part of her story is that she has had five husbands and that the man she is living with now is not her husband. Based on this, some have assumed the worst about her, but that is unreasonable and unwise for a culture in which men could dismiss their wives but not the other way around.
It has been suggested that what is at play in this story is number symbolism. There were seven days of creation, Jacob served seven years for Rachel, Pharaoh’s dream had seven fat and seven thin cows, and the Israelites marched around Jericho seven times. Seven symbolizes completeness. If we take this as an interpretive key, mindful that Jesus and the woman are meeting at Jacob’s well, then this means that Jesus is the bridegroom, that Jesus is number seven, Jesus is the One, only not in the sense of marriage but in the sense of fulfillment.
There is a passage from Jeremiah that lies behind the exchange about water. “Thus says the Lord: ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? … My people (…) have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.’” (Jeremiah 2)
The woman represents God’s people as the dividing wall has been removed (Ephesians 2:14) It is no longer about where to worship as Jesus reveals himself as the One who is the Hope of Israel. (4:21)

The woman’s experience is more than having met a good psychologist who can read her, but she finds herself standing in the presence of God.
And this is key. She finds herself in the presence of God, her longing is fulfilled, Jesus is the One through whom the world is made right, which means that we no longer have to go looking.
Remember the word from Jeremiah. “My people (…) have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
Jesus offers living water. We no longer have to go to the well.

It is not easy to speak about our society’s materialism, for as soon as you mention it it sounds cliché, and at least I have difficulty taking clichés seriously. I suppose the same is true for capitalism. But let’s try for a moment.
I haven’t quoted The Simpson’s for a while but someone I know recently sat in a massage chair and that made me think of an early episode. I used to love the show because the early writing provided astute commentary on our culture. Homer, the impulsive father of the family, desperately wants a massage chair, and to his wife he pleads his case like this, “Marge, there’s an empty spot I’ve always had inside me, I tried to fill it with family, religion, community service, but those were dead ends, I think this chair is the answer.”3

We live in a society that is restless, and in which more is better, beauty is found in far away places, and the solution to our problems always lies in the future.
This stands in stark contrast to the scriptures where Jesus says to Zacchaeus that, today salvation has come to his house (Luke 19), where Paul says that salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers (Rom 13), and where Jesus says to us, “raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. “(Luke 21).
The notion that our salvation is here is not exclusive to the New Testament. Think of the Psalms that sing to and about God as our present help in trouble and the rock of our salvation as in today’s Psalm:

1O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

Or Psalm 73:

25Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

Psalm 121 asserts that our help comes from the Lord, and Psalm 23 says that since God is our shepherd we shall suffer no want.

Jesus fulfills us because Jesus is God. And when we are in God we need nothing else.
We see in the Psalms that prayer and worship lead to contentment because they focus our lives on God. And contentment is an act of civil disobedience in a society where we are not supposed to be content but are supposed to always want more and better.

This is not a revolution but revolutionary, because we can opt out of the growth economy of ever needing or wanting more, because we neither want nor need more, for God is all we need. This may not bring about a system change but it brings about a change in us. And that is a good place to start. It is also a gift. To the woman and to us, Jesus says, “I am he.”

Thanks be to God!



2 Kenneth Boulding

3 Season 3 episode 24, Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?

Christoph Reiners

Pastor Christoph was ordained in Vancouver in 1994 and has served congregations in Winnipeg and Abbotsford before coming to Our Saviour in the fall of 2016.