Who shouldn’t you talk to?


Address for Lent 3 (March 15) 2020
St George’s Anglican Church, Dunsborough

Gospel: John 4:5- 42

Tribal identity

I’m a proud Noongar woman. I belong to this country. And I know how to open the gnamma hole to get water. I know what to sing to the spirits. I shout loudly to tell them that I’m coming. I’m about to throw sand down the gnamma hole to purify the water, when this wadulah man appears.

He’s a wadulah and he’s a man.

Gnamma – courtesty W.A. Museum

He thinks he knows everything, and he thinks he owns our country. But he waits, back where I called the spirits, and says to me, respectful-like: ‘Can you get me some water, Aunty?’

I’m a bit surprised. I’ve never heard a wadulah ask before. For anything. If they know where the gnamma hole is they rip the top off and help themselves.

I’m a bit suspicious too.

‘What wadulah asks a Noongar woman to get him a drink?’ I ask.

 ‘If you knew who was asking you,’ he says, ‘you would ask him for living water.’

‘Where would you get living water?’ I ask him, ‘You got no gnamma hole and you got no spirits here. Our ancestors told us how the gnamma hole was made, and how the Wagul passed through the country. You’re not greater than the ancestors, are you?’

He said, ‘When you drink your water you get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks the water I give will never get thirsty again. The water I give will be a water-hole gushing up to eternal life.’

I didn’t know whether to laugh or run away from this wadulah.

‘You’d better give me some of your water,’ I says, ‘so I don’t have to come out to the gnamma hole to get it no more.’

So he said to me, ‘Go and get your husband and come back here.’

‘Ain’t got no husband.’

He says, ‘Too right you’ve got no husband. You’ve had five husbands. But the man you’re living with now is not your Law husband.’

I swallowed. ‘Uncle, you must be a prophet. Our ancestors called on the spirits on this mountain and you wadulahs say people should worship in church.’

He replied, ‘Believe me, Aunty, time is coming when you will worship the Father not on this hill nor in church. You worship spirits you do not know. We worship God because he brings salvation. But time is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in a real true spirit. The Father is looking out for people to be his true worshippers. God is spirit.’

I says, ‘The Mission told us Christ will come and when he comes, he will tell us everything.’

Then he turns to me and puts it to me: ‘I, this one talking to you, I am he. ‘

Just then, his followers came back. They looked shocked to see him talking to me, but they didn’t say to me, ‘What are you after?’ or to him ‘Why are you speaking with her?’

I dropped my water-can and ran down into the camp shouting to everyone, ‘I’ve met someone who’s told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be Christ? Whoever he is, he’s made me proud of being me!’

********

Jesus made a habit of embracing people he shouldn’t.

For the woman at the well in Sychar, there are three reasons he shouldn’t speak to her.

First, she’s a woman. It was unthinkable for a man to talk to an unaccompanied woman in public. Think Saudi Arabia today, only more restrictive.  It wasn’t a matter of waiting for an introduction, men just did not talk to someone else’s woman. But Jesus did.

Second, she’s a Samaritan. The Jews were supposed to hate Samaritans. When most of the Jews were taken off into exile in Babylon, the Samaritans were left behind. Even then, they weren’t as high status as other Jews. But while the Jews were away, the Samaritans started to marry out. So they were neither Jews nor foreigners, despised by both. Jews would go to great lengths not to speak to Samaritans. They avoided even travelling through Samaria, although it was the shorter route from Jerusalem to the Galilee. But Jesus spoke to this Samaritan.

Map: courtesy Spend A Year with Jesus

Third, the woman was probably morally unclean. She was fetching water in the heat of noon, presumably because the other women would not associate with her. The village saw her as an adulteress because her previous husbands had divorced her. Morally clean folk do not talk to morally unclean folk. But Jesus did.

Just as he embraced lepers, who were outside proper society. Just as he engaged with Gentiles, who were not Jews, and therefore beyond the boundary of social interaction. Just as he laid his hands on dead people who were unclean and told them to live: the widow of Nain’s son, the 12-year-old girl in Jericho, his close friend Lazarus.

There is so much to unpack in this story of the woman at the well. But this morning I would like to reduce it to just one challenge.

Jesus made a habit of embracing people he shouldn’t, and their lives were transformed for the better. Who are the people who you shouldn’t embrace? The people who are outside our social world change as society changes. In the nineteen eighties, people didn’t embrace folk with AIDS. It was thought to be contagious. And yet courageous people did and made their lives better. Up until the 19th Century, you didn’t embrace lepers. Yet people like Saint Damien in Hawaii lived with lepers and turned their hell into a loving community.

Who are the untouchables for you today? It might be the homeless man begging near Coles. It might be the druggie creating a fuss at the Op. Shop. It might be someone who has abused children. It might be a family member or neighbour who is estranged from you, probably by their fault, of course.

Two things are certain: if you follow Jesus, you are invited to follow him in embracing people you shouldn’t. Engage them. Talk to them. Treat them as human beings.

Secondly, if you embrace these untouchables, your care will transform them.

For Jesus has embraced you and is transforming you too.

Death in Paris


This blog honours St Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor and seventh Minister-General of the Franciscan Order. Mind Journeys is taken from the title of Bonaventure’s work on mysticism, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Mind into God).

I also hope that I honour Bonaventure with Death in Paris: A Fiction which appears in this month’s issue of Lacuna, the online journal of historical fiction. In this entertainment, one Brother Giovanni works with Brother Thomas d’Aquino to solve a murder threatening the French king. It’s that sort of story, and I think, one of my best.

Click here to read the story.