Friday, October 30, 2009

What have you done?

I don't mean to ask my children tough questions but I do a lot.

The most common is, "What have you done?" Sometimes, I mix it up. "Tell me what you did" or "Tell me what happened?" The exact words doesn't really matter - the results are almost always the same.

An uncomfortable pause.

You can almost see the gears turning - Do I tell the truth? How much can I tell without getting in trouble and not really lie? What do I do?

I can't really blame them. This is a question that echoes through time - from the beginning.

In Genesis 3:13, God asks Eve "What have you done?" after he grills Adam. God already knows but he is trying to give Eve a chance to come clean just like he did for Adam. I know exactly how he feels. As my children are squirming with my question, my inner voice is calling to them - Come on. Make the right decision and confess. Don't make this worse on yourself. Sometimes I even say it out loud. Usually though, I am silent and hope that they make the right decision. Sometimes they do...sometimes they don't.

The Bible is full of examples of this - Besides Adam and Eve, when Cain killed Abel, God gave Cain a chance to come clean and asked him, "Where is your brother?" But Cain blew it and God said, "What have you done?" It is always an invitation. God asks and waits for our response. Usually, when we blow it - there's a negative consequence because we bring it on ourselves. That's justice because the cover up is almost always worse than the crime. And our God is just.

But there are examples when we do it right too. When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26) he told her, "Go, call your husband and come here." Same pattern - invitation : answer. The difference here was the Samaritan woman didn't lie - she confessed that she had no husband. She told the truth. And when Jesus told her that she spoke truly because she had five husbands and the man she was with was not her husband then she realized that Jesus was a prophet.

Let's just take a moment to think more about this Samaritan woman. The Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans. They were outcasts because they were no longer pure. While Samaria had been the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, Assyria had conquered them in 721 BC and sent most of the Jews to live in Assyria replacing them with five alien tribes. Even after the Jews returned, they mixed with the people living there and their faith became a mixture of beliefs. That's why Jesus uses them so often in his parable such as the good Samaritan because the Jewish audience would have instantly understood - Jews do not deal with Samaritans because they are tainted.

Add to that, this was a woman in a male dominated society. Widows, pregnant women, children, the blind, lame, lepers, all are are mentioned in the Bible not because they are valued but precisely because they had little to no value in that society. They didn't contribute, they weren't productive in ways that this male dominated society valued yet God calls them out precisely to say that he wants everyone.

So Jesus talks to this Samaritan woman (a double whammy already) and it's worse than that - she's loose. She sleeps around. She has had five husbands already and is shacking up with some guy who is not her husband. This woman comes to the well at the sixth hour. That has little meaning to us today. But this is what it meant in Biblical times. (Thanks to Wayne Blank for this explanation.)

The term "hour" referred to a period of time, one-twelfth of the daylight part of the day. While daylight is longer in summer than in winter, and therefore summer "hours" were longer than winter "hours," as a general rule the first hour was equivalent to 6 to 7 am on a modern-day clock, and so on:

The first hour = 6 to 7 am
The second hour = 7 to 8 am
The third hour = 8 to 9 am
The fourth hour = 9 to 10 am
The fifth hour = 10 to 11 am
The sixth hour = 11 am to 12 pm
The seventh hour = 12 to 1 pm
The eighth hour = 1 to 2 pm
The ninth hour = 2 to 3 pm
The tenth hour = 3 to 4 pm
The eleventh hour = 4 to 5 pm
The twelfth hour = 5 to 6 pm

So what kind of respectable woman shows up at noon to draw water? Everyone knows that you draw water in the morning before the dirt is kicked up by all the people and the livestock as they move around. By noon, the dirt and dust fly around and settle on top of the water in the well. That's not good water. Respectable people draw the water in the morning to give all that dirt and dust to settle at the bottom so they draw good water. And you send the younger, stronger women to do it because they have to draw a lot of water and that's heavy. No one draws the water at noon.

And that is why this woman is there at noon - because she doesn't want to be with the other people. She is not "respectable." It's a village, a small town and everybody knows her story. She is the town slut. No one is reaching out to her and she's resigned to her fate. She has made mistakes and everyone knows about it. There is no forgiveness and there is no hope for her - she can't move and start again. She doesn't need a scarlet letter because everyone in that town already knows her sins. She doesn't send a younger woman to do this task because there isn't one. No daughter, no daughter-in-law and there won't be. She is alone. She is stuck and that is why she is at the well at the sixth hour long after everyone has left.

Everyone except for that Jewish stranger. This Jesus who promises her eternal water. This Jesus who knows about her five husbands. The symbolism here is that this woman herself is Samaria. The five husbands are the five alien tribes and the man she is living with who is not her husband is the Samaritan religion.

Symbolism that is lost to us today but not to the Jewish audience and not to the woman. She instantly knew Jesus was a prophet and started asking Jesus questions about who was right the Jews or the Samaritans about places to worship and Jesus finally tells it doesn't matter because the Messiah was coming and it was him.

And she runs to town to let everyone know about Jesus and could he be the long awaited Messiah? And they come and Jesus stays with them for two days and many came to believe in him.

There are so many layers to this simple story but at the heart of it is redemption and it starts with the truth and with confession.

Many times, even as adults, we are loathe to face our sins. Our Catholic faith teaches us about the sacrament of reconciliation. That the surest way to overcome our sins is by frequent use of confession. Yet we are reluctant to go. We give a lot of excuses but at it's heart is an unwillingness to face our own sins, as if God does not already know. As if somehow, by not going to confession, we are free to continue to sin because we don't have to repent. And so we stack up our sins blocking our way to God because we are hiding like Adam and Eve even though there is no hiding from God.

And yet God is patiently waiting for us because he is ready to forgive us and hold us close again - the way it was meant to be before sin separated us.

There is no sin that God cannot forgive. All we have to be willing to do is admit it and repent.

It is still the same pattern with us. God invites and we answer. God is inviting us to come close and admit what we have done and he is ready to forgive. That is why reconciliation is such a blessing because it is the door to a closer relationship with God.

The door is open, won't you come in?


  1. Ahhh Phil, not confession. Why do you do this to me? Make me look at my life, examine my walk. Oh, today I do not like you. But I know what you say is truth, and I will drag my hiney to confession. . .sooner rather than later. Thanks for another great post. By the way, would it be okay if I gave your blog a shout out on my page? I think there are some people that read my blog that would really appreciate your posts.

  2. Thank you Tami. I am glad that we are on this walk together. I stumble - a lot. I am always grateful for friends, like you, who help me up. Walking with friends is always better than walking alone (even though we are never really alone). Yes, feel free to share my blog. God Bless you. We miss all you guys very much.