Last Friday I visited the P2/3 pupils at St Peter’s Primary School. First of all, we had a Q&A session (with wide-ranging questions), and then I read them a simple story about Charlie the Easter Bunny and his friend Red the Squirrel. It took about 10 minutes to read out. The children were fairly attentive, although some of them were fidgeting a bit or yawning. That didn’t bother me: that’s what children do in their innocent and as-yet-unbridled frankness. They all liked the story, and each pupil picked up something different from it.
Unlike the children, you have bravely remained standing for the reading of the rather long passage from the gospel without fidgeting or yawning much (at least openly!). Certainly, the story we listened to was much weightier – and significantly more serious – than that of the Easter Bunny and Red the Squirrel. Yet what we do have in common with the pupils is that each one of us can pick up something different from it for him- or herself. This long story of a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman has so many aspects and dimensions that it’s virtually impossible to touch base with all of them in just one sermon. So, I’m not going to attempt to do so. Instead, at the end of this sermon I’m going to give you some homework to do.
Generally speaking, the Word of God can be described as – or compared to – a few ordinary things. Sometimes it’s like a mirror, which we look into to check if everything looks right with us; and, if not, to amend what needs to be improved or corrected. Sometimes the Word of God is like a lamp, casting light into the dark, deep crevasses of our lives, with their decisions and doubts. Sometimes it’s like a distant light at the end of the tunnel, or maybe a lighthouse, giving hope and a sense of direction when we are feeling downtrodden or lost. You get the idea – generally speaking, the Word of God is something alive and active, when we let it be so in our lives.
So, back to the aforementioned homework. I’d like to encourage you to read this whole passage of the gospel again when you are back home, sitting down comfortably, so you don’t have to bother with the creaks and niggles in your knees or your back. Try to pick up something from the reading that resonates in your own life, and give some time to thinking about that. This process is called meditation. Take your time to do it, without rushing to come to hasty conclusions or to make quick judgments. It’s about allowing the Word of God to sink in, to go deep into your soul. In this way, at the end of the meditation, you may find consolation and peace; or you may see the roots of problems you have experienced; or you may be prompted to take action to deal with specific problems. There are many possible outcomes of a meditation. Regardless of the particulars, the main benefits of such a spiritual exercise are the inner peace and integrity you can acquire.
In common with every good teacher (and I do not pretend to be one), I’d like to offer you a few clues regarding this particular passage of the Gospel, although of course this is not a comprehensive list. There’s a rift between two nations (Jews and Samaritans), a rift between genders, a rift between religions and their practices. There’s the complicated personal life of the woman who has had five husbands, and her current partner isn’t her husband. There’s the matter of what the genuine religion is (‘the kind of worshipper [God] the Father wants’); there’s the matter of personal testimony; there’s the matter of involvement in missionary work… There are many ways you can look at this passage and find one or more aspects that resonate with your own life. So, please try to do your homework. The good news is that I’m not going to check whether or not you’ve done it. Life will check that out for you.