So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:5-10, NRSV)
Early in the week a coffee maker broke. I set it up to make a pot, and nothing happened: it didn’t gurgle; it didn’t steam up; it didn’t even get warm. Nothing. Now before you get worried about me, please note that we have several coffee pots at the church. I survived just fine.
But I didn’t want to be overly rash and just throw it out. I’ve made the mistake of throwing things away prematurely before (see “Moving Part 2”) so, although I’m far from being a packrat, I now pause for a bit before heading for the trash. So I left it on the counter in the hope that there might be some simple fix that someone handier than I might find. But, because I just left it on the counter and didn’t want anyone trying to make coffee with a broken coffee maker, I labeled it: “Broken.”
I immediately felt guilty for the label. I know that the coffee maker doesn’t care and would be just as happy if I threw it in the trash. But I’ve been labeled “broken” before. I know what happens with these labels: we may disregard them for a while, but they do eventually change the ways we see ourselves. Even beyond what might actually be true about a person, I think if you call them “broken” long enough they will begin to believe it at some point. Soon, we will wear these labels like nametags.
There are a lot of labels flying around in the Gospel lesson for the 3rd Sunday of Lent. Some of them are spoken: labels like “Jew,” “Samaritan,” “Messiah,” and “Living Water.” Some of them are not spoken because they’re not appropriate for polite company. The woman Jesus meets knows these labels. They define her. She presumably comes to draw water in the heat of the day because her presence would cause offence at a more common hour. Her labels shape who she is and even how she lives.
But Jesus doesn’t seem to notice her labels. He doesn’t seem to see what others see. He talks to her like he is supposed to be talking to her and not as someone labeled with “Samaritan,” “woman,” or “sinner.” And it strikes me that there is a labeling in this act as well, although I’m not sure what that new label might say. Perhaps it would say “child of God,” or “forgiven,” or maybe this conversation is Jesus’ way of offering her the label of “true worshiper.”
Whatever you’d call this new label it’s wonderful. It is wonderful because it is truer than all those other labels. It’s wonderful because it is the Maker’s label that was meant to be on us since the day we were born and will remain with us forever. The labels Jesus puts on us aren’t just some hopeful description of who we are meant to be, but who we truly are in him: labels like “redeemed,” “beloved,” and “called.”
As we continue through this Lenten journey, let us seek to remove those other labels from ourselves and one another. Let us be named by Jesus alone and let us live into the wonderful labels he gives us.