I’d like to say that my mother taught me to cook. She didn’t really, I learned by watching her in the kitchen. Later, when I was living on my own in the days before Google, I would call her and ask how to make one dish or another. By the time I was in my late twenties, I had collected most of my favorite recipes from my mother. I cooked them the way she did, often without questioning her methods because I liked the results.
One day I made her red sauce with the only change being that I exchanged beef products for poultry products. I made meatballs, added in sweat and spicy sausage and chicken thighs. I also made braciolle (with chicken breast instead of steak). All this effort was for a man I was dating who happened to be Italian. I was confident in my choice because the sauce recipe had come from my mother’s best friend who was also Italian.
Everything was great when my date arrived. He commented on the wonderful smell and followed me into the kitchen. When the water for the spaghetti reached boiling, I grabbed a handful of the pasta and proceeded to break it in half and drop it into the water. My date was horrified. Why would anyone break spaghetti? Where had I learned such sacrilege? He acted like I had ruined the meal by breaking the noodles.
As you might guess, the next day I call my mother and asked her if she realized that spaghetti noodles didn’t have to be broken in half before cooking. Of course she knew that. She broke them because she seldom had the patience to let the larger pot of water boil. She used the smaller pot and just broke the noodles to hasten the cooking process. That, and with younger children, shorter spaghetti was a plus. I remember being irritated. Why hadn’t she told me this thing about the pasta?
Of course, by this time I had learned that there was much in the world different from what I had been taught. The spaghetti incident, though, was a concrete lesson for me. I should never make assumptions about what people do and why. There are reasons people do what they do and some of them make sense and some of them don’t. But when you take them out of context, they could become absurd, or as in the eyes of my date, sacrilegious.
Many of us come to the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well with a lot of assumptions about the conversation that took place that day. We assume the woman was some kind of prostitute. Who else would have had five husbands plus one more? Why else would she be drawing water at noon when all sensible women were inside where it was cool? We don’t know her story. We don’t know what happened to her husbands. If she had had five husbands and they all died, why would she want to marry again? Or maybe these were symbolic of the five regions of Samaria? Or maybe she kept marrying men who divorced her for their own reasons?
So if she wasn’t a prostitute, why would she be at the well at noon? She was an outcast by her choosing or by the behavior of the other women. She could very well have chosen to come to the well on her own to avoid having to listen to other women judge her or to avoid having to explain herself. Maybe she was the woman that they all came to when they had secrets that needed sharing or medicine that was frowned upon by the powers that be. Maybe going to the well at noon just made her life a little easier. We’ll never really know.
What we do know is that she was smart and she had some local authority. She listened to Jesus and heard what he was offering her, even if she didn’t fully understand. She recognized Messiah where Jesus’ own disciples did not. Moreover, other Samaritans believed on her say so, and went to see Jesus because of what she told them. If she were truly on the outside of everything in the village, who would have listened to her? Outcast to whatever extent she may have been, she became an evangelist extraordinaire. We would do well to follow her lead.
Imagine how different things would have been if Jesus treated people the way I cooked when I was young. What would have been missed if he treated Samaritans the way he had been taught and never had the conversation with a woman at Jacob’s Well. We might all be missing out on some living water and a chance to go to a well that is always restorative. Shouldn’t we be doing the same with our faith? Too many of us are still breaking the pasta the way we were taught without giving it a second thought. Jesus took each person, each situation as it came, and gave it his full and careful attention. As a result, lives were transformed one after another. Isn’t it time we do the same?
RCL – Year A – Third Sunday in Lent – March 19, 2017