2.19.2008

Third Sunday in Lent

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

If you touch a hot stove, you get burned.

If you spend more money than you make, you go in to debt.

If you stand in the rain, you (or your jacket) will get wet.

If you don’t have water in the desert, you will die.

It seems that there are consequences to our actions. Some people go so far as to imagine that every action has some sort of consequential (if not equal and opposite) reaction—a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Columbia which eventually causes an Avalanche in Austria.

One question that seems to bubble up this week is whether or not God is subject to the same rules of logic and society and human relationship to which we are bound. Can we assume that the Action = Consequence logic works with God as we might observe it working in the world around us?

This week we are presented with several examples of biblical logic, If / Then statements, and examples of actions and consequences. Not all of those consequences seem logical in light of our own experiences or understandings and beliefs.

In Exodus we see Moses in a space where he is pretty consistently questioning his call out of slavery. These are Israelites who have not yet received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, and the rest of the group is not as confident as Moses because none of them have actually had the chance to speak with God yet. Right before this scene, the people had been desperate for food and suddenly manna and quails appeared to feed them. They are early in their time in the wilderness and they arrive in Rephidim (which means “resting place”). It seems they are still expecting a comfortable journey out of slavery and a quick and expedient resolution to their problems. And so they blaze up with complaints about their thirst so loud and angry (“testing and quarreling” in the text) Moses is afraid they might stone him to death before it is over. So he prays to God for help with these people and God intervenes and provides them water from a stone. The people gripe and God comes through for them again, or so it seems. (Notice the Elders got to see God….at least God says he will stand in front of them on the rock.)

Does this mean they had God on a string? Is this how we are to relate to God? We make an angry pleading request and God relents?

When we read Psalm 95 we see a writer who, looking back at history through his own experience and the experience of Israel projects that the Testing and Quarreling of the Israelites came with a price. The Psalmist believes that because of their quarreling and testing of God, that generation did not enter in to the Promised Land. He emphasizes the importance of only trusting God and never testing God.

The assumption seems to be that we as humans have God at our beck and call, any time we test God, God will respond AND there will be consequence to our testing.

In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well we see another application of this logical, Action = Consequence scenario. At first, the woman is caught in the cultural assumptions about how she and Jesus are from different backgrounds and their society places expectations on how people of each gender will or will not act. She assumes because she is a Samaritan woman and he is a Jewish man, he will not talk to her. She assumes because he has no bucket, there is no way he could offer her any Water. She assumes that water from the well is all that is needed to quench thirst. The Disciples assume that it is only physical food that would offer Jesus (or them) the nourishment necessary for life. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman different provisions, not in response to her complaint about what she has, but as an alternative to what she has.

And in Romans Paul again constructs this entire section based on assumptions of how We understand human relationships to work. He knows that for him, it would be difficult for a human to die for another righteous person, much less an unrighteous one. And so he extrapolates that because he (or you or I for that matter) would have a difficult time sacrificing ourselves for other humans that might be sinful or ungrateful, God would have the same difficulty; and as a result, this should make us (as human recipients of the sacrifice) all the more grateful.

As American society, we seek rational outcomes. We look for cause and effect relationships. We strive to develop skills and abilities that enable us to achieve specific things. But the recorded experience of Israel – which informed the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings – didn’t often play out in neat cause and effect scenarios.

When reading the lectionary for any week, a key question is what ties these verses together. One theme this week is our expectations of action and reaction and God’s response. Another theme is how we respond to provision. A third might be how the readings differ in perspective on human relations with God.

This weeks’ scriptures need to be wrestled with. They don’t fit our logic structures in tidy ways and they raise fascinating questions for us.

  • When does God respond to our cries for help?
  • What is the appropriate response for God’s provision?
  • Do our physical needs trump our spiritual needs?
  • What other themes surface for you as you read?

O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?…
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

—Anslem

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