March 15, 2020
Can you imagine if someone instructed Jesus to stay away from people? It was the willingness of Jesus to be near people…all people…even those who others thought were unclean or unworthy that made him who he was. The Gospels tell stories of the intimacy of Jesus with all those in which he came in contact. Our Gospel today about his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well speaks to this intimacy. She came to draw water and Jesus spoke to her, asking her to draw a drink of water for him. This shocked her. “How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria,” she asked. There were two things about her that should have kept a significant space between them. Her gender and her religion. Social distancing, that new phrase that we all now know, should have been the rule for Jesus and this Samaritan woman. But Jesus moved toward her. He spoke to her about her life. He got close and invited her into relationship.
As Christians, we often talk about how we should be more like Jesus. We ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” During this season of Lent, we’ve been thinking about and talking about how we can be better disciples. Just last week, I invited you all to a deeper discipleship by following Jesus to the places and into the relationships where he himself would most likely go.
But this past week has turned our world upside down. It seems that at least for the time being, the way we love our neighbor is to keep our distance. To limit our interactions. To refrain from touching one another.
Jesus defied the expectations of his society about how he was supposed to interact with people. Jesus often turned expectations upside down and asked his followers to do things differently, to try a new way of loving one another. In our current context, we must now look at social distancing as an expression of love for our neighbors. And we should remember that while social distancing speaks to a physical separation, it does not mean we must be separated in our spirits or in our hearts. In fact now, more than ever, there will be people who need our attention, our compassion, and our help. We can learn to be the loving embrace of God to one another even in the context of our physical isolation.
Beautiful acts of humanity are still possible, and are happening even now, in the midst of the fear and anxiety that the world is feeling. As the busyness of life comes to a screeching halt in so many places, people are still finding ways to connect. Amidst the nationwide lockdown in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by this pandemic, a community filled their street with song. Perhaps you have seen this video that has gone viral of the street in Sienna where neighbors joined their voices in song from their open windows? Even as a quarantine kept them physically isolated from one another, they joined in solidarity with the power of their song and lifted each other’s spirits.
One person, commenting on the video, said, “It’s a reminder that especially during a tragedy, the human spirit keeps us all going in hope. We shine our brightest in the darkness.”
How can we shine brightest in the darkness? How can we be beacons of light even from this wilderness of uncertainty that we find ourselves in?
These are a few things of which we should be mindful during this time. Things that will diminish our light rather than brightening the darkness around us.
First, we can’t let our fear turn into anger. Don’t let this pandemic become about partisan politics. Don’t get sucked into arguments over who is to blame. Practice loving all your neighbors during this time, even those who will be voting differently than you come November.
And just as we shouldn’t let our fear turn into anger, we shouldn’t let our fear make us selfish, caring only for the wellbeing of ourselves and those closest to us. During these uncertain weeks, don’t take more than you need. If you have an abundance of something others need, share. Be compassionate. Call your neighbors to check on them. Offer to pick up groceries or run other errands for those who are vulnerable. Find ways to be helpers, to spread the spirit of love.
There are many ways we can shine our light in the darkness of these times. We canoffer kindness, compassion, and mercy. And while we may have to find creative ways to care for our neighbors during this time of strongly encouraged quarantine, we can do it. The steadfast love of God will give us the wisdom and courage to do so.
I want to end with a poem that many of you have seen and heard. A poem that calls us to be still while continuing to reach out our hearts, our words, and our compassion.
By Lynn Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
May it be so. Amen.