Sunday, February 24, 2008

Discovering our inner Yook

John 4:5-42

One of my very favorite books is The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. Written when the Cold War was still hot, he describes the battle between the Yooks and the Zooks that had grown so old and grown so far, that even though it meant their mutual destruction, they had forgotten what they were fighting over in the first place.

What divided Yooks from Zooks? Well, the Yooks and the Zooks fought over which side they butter their bread. It really was a butter battle.

Sounds goofy, I know, but the fable talks about how humans work. We get so drawn into the fight that everything eventually gets defined in terms of the conflict—and we forget why it started let alone what our real job is.

This pattern is as old as human history. And in the Gospel of John we hear about how Jesus confronted it and how he drove through it and why.

Jesus is in Samaria. Let’s call them the Zooks. They are Zooks because a long time ago—a long time before Jesus, mind you—they decided that God did not want them to worship in Jerusalem but on a place called Mount Gerazim, a place located in the former Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Jews, lets call them Yooks, worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem. And because the Zooks would not take part in all the right rituals in a place only the Yooks thought was God’s house, the Yooks thought the Zooks were perpetually unclean.

And that is why Samaritans and Jews didn’t talk to each other. Sounds silly, right? Wait. It gets better.

There was one thing that both Yooks and Zooks could agree on…and that was that men did not talk to women who were not in their family. So here is Jesus the Yook, sitting a well that is sacred to Zooks talking to a woman from the land of Zook.

I put it this way (with apologies to the good doctor) to emphasize the strangeness of it all. Put this way, it does seem strange, doesn’t it? And yet, this was life-and-death stuff! Trust me, the prejudice ran deep, across generations! If the Samaritans and Jews had money, weapons and an army—and weren’t equally occupied by Rome—they’d spill blood over which Mountain on which to build God’s House. Which was too bad because the point of the whole exercise is to let God change us from within--no matter where we live.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the point of her deepest need. She hauled water in big clay jars as every woman did in those days. But Jesus saw her thirst was deep within her soul. He saw that her thirst was no different from the deep longing of all people—Jew or Samaritan, Yook or Zook.

Jesus speaks to her because the ancient divisions between Samaritans and Jews get in the way of the news Jesus brings. Jesus speaks to her because her deep longing and the injustice of their separation is precisely where God’s grace and power is addressed. Listen to how the passage we just read is set out:

Water found in wells will go away. Drink from it today, be thirsty tomorrow. Living water is given by God. Drink it today and it will quench you forever.

Worship on one mountain or another will someday end. True worship happens from a changed heart and lives forever.

Bread from bakeries will go away. Eat it today, be hungry tomorrow. True bread is doing the work of God. Enjoy it today and be satisfied forever.

Jesus does not ignore the barrier of centuries of animosity and custom. He drives through it!

So it is no wonder that the response from the disciples is bewilderment--after all they want Jesus to eat the bread they just bought--but the really a big surprise is the response of the woman. She not only believes but she proclaims! She goes and invites her neighbors to come and meet Jesus and see the Messiah. The early Christian movement really did take hold in Samaria and became one of the earliest big centers of Christianity outside of Israel.

Still there are some things about this passage which trouble me; that is, they challenge me.

The biggest challenge is that it appears that the closer one is to the tradition (whatever tradition you find yourself in) the harder it is to see God at work in it. It is almost as if Church becomes more important that Gospel. Can it be that I am a Yook who only cares about other Yooks like me? Can it be that deep down inside I am threatened by those strange, dangerous Zooks? Looking past my innate Yookness is a challenge for me.

The other thing that gives me pause is that Jesus seems to always find a way to meet people at the point of their deepest need in language that they can understand, and is patient enough to allow the transformation happen from within. This is a challenge because in my Yookness, I have this urge to straighten out wayward Zooks. Usually by yelling at them.

Jesus shows us that when we listen attentively, and when we are really present to people who are poor or are in pain or who are outcast that is when they begin to change us. When we can put aside our fear enough to identify the place of deepest need of the persons God has sent to us, we discover that we are being changed from within.

Eventually, we find that there are no Yooks and there are no Zooks. There are only people God loves, the people God meets, and the people God heals. There are only people for whom Christ died. And there only people for whom Christ rose.

Our human divisions look petty and silly compared to the transforming power of Christ. Believing, following and telling about the Christ changes us. The first sign of change? That we wake up to our inner Yook and allow our encounter with some Zook to change our heart from within.

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