Sunday, March 23, 2014


Don't catch it! But if you do, don't spread it around. And don't let it keep you down.

   Third Sunday of Lent   A 

There’s a nasty sort of illness going around these days…
…and I’m not talking about the violent stomach bug
that’s laid so many people low.
I’m talking about a chronic outbreak of crabbiness.
I’m not pointing fingers here!
I admit that I have been afflicted with it myself.
My fuse has grown quite short, my patience worn quite thin.
Thankfully, only a few
of the snide remarks passing through my mind
have made their way out across my lips.

Now, I don't want you to think
that you should be afraid to shake my hand on the way out of church!
I'm well on the way to recovery,
and believe I'm past the contagious stage.

This illness is not good.
And I know that other people
have noticed this disorder on the rise lately, too.
No doubt, for many folks it’s brought on by the weather.
The calendar now says it’s spring,
but spring isn’t exactly what you see outside the window...
...if you can still see out the window.
It’s been a pretty tough winter,
and it doesn’t look quite ready to let go just yet.
Before Mass yesterday, a parishioner came into the sacristy and said, 
"I sure hope we're praying for spring at this Mass.
Even my cat is depressed!"

I don’t think winter is the source of my problem.
I made peace with the cold and snow years ago.
I actually like a number of winter activates, 
and have even gone out winter camping a few nights.
No, the problem for me 
is that this time of year has gotten extra busy.
I'll spare you the details, 
but I’ve let myself get overwhelmed—
racing about, trying to do too much in too little time.

I’m certain this sort of thing sounds familiar to you,
since this dis-ease I’m calling crabbiness is nothing new.
In our first reading, we hear about a time (certainly not the only one)
when the Israelites were a bit cranky, too.
They’ve escaped from slavery in Egypt,
but now they’re wandering about thirsty in the desert.
The people grumble against Moses,
and Moses then gripes about it to the Lord.

Someone who isn’t grumpy
is the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
She easily could be.
She’s out doing a daily chore at about noon, we’re told—
when it’s getting to be the hottest part of the day.
It’s safe to assume that she simply wants
to fill her water jar and get back home.
But sitting there is this chatty man—
a hated Jewish foreigner, no less—
who’s only going to slow the whole process down.

And yet, in the midst of a routine task—
and a fairly grueling one, at that—
she has a completely life-changing experience.
There, at the well, where she’s gone to draw water
hundreds and hundreds of times before,
she very powerfully encounters God
and will never, ever, be the same again.

Looking at the woman at the well,
I recognize a couple of potential cures for my own case of crabbiness.
I share them, in case they might help alleviate someone else’s, too.

The first is a question of priorities.
Getting extra busy throws mine way out of whack.
Here’s a woman taking care of necessary business.
According to most sources,
a healthy person can survive a month or more without food,
but only a few days without water.
Did you notice, about three-quarters of the way through the story,
how the Samaritan woman leaves her empty water jug behind?
She has discovered something even more fundamental
than a drink of water, and without it,
nothing else is going to make any sense any more.
The woman at the well reminds me
to be more careful about setting my priorities:
to determine what’s essential,
and to make sure it stays at the top of the list.

The second is a question of presence.
When I get extra busy, I might still get a lot done,
but I’m not fully “with it”—
I’m going through the motions,
but without my head really in the game.
The Samaritan woman could have done the same:
filled her pail and walked away.
But because she shows an openness to this mysterious stranger—
one which increases as their conversation goes on—
she receives a lot more than she bargained for.
Sitting there in the full light of midday,
Jesus opens her eyes
to the truth about herself and her deepest desires:
that she has an immeasurable dignity as one loved by God…
…it’s just that she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places;
and Jesus opens her eyes to the truth about himself:
yes, that he is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world,
but also that he cares for her very passionately and very personally.
You never know who you might meet over a cup of water.
The thirsty, crabby Israelites put God to the test by distrustfully asking,
“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
This daughter of Samaria has no use for that question!
The woman at the well reminds me
to be more present, to be more fully in the moment,
lest I miss out on God’s presence here and now.

The current outbreak of crabbiness will eventually pass
come a break in the weather or a break in my busy schedule
or a break in whatever brings it on for other folks.
But in the meantime,
I’m going to work on priorities and presence
as this Lent continues on.
If I can always remember
that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts,”
then whatever could there be to be cranky about?

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