Mission First, People Always

John 4:5-42

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I am a person who hates interruptions. Telephone solicitors are the worst. Then a friend of mine was out of work. After a year, the only job he could find was in a call center. I encouraged him to take it. “It’s a stepping stone to something better. You need to get back in the process of working everyday.” Sure the job wasn’t his goal. But, it was the next step on the flow of life for this person. Often obstacles and interruptions get demonized, when really they are part of the journey. Often the people who distract us from our task get abused. How hard would it be for us to be compassionate? To see the world, not as an obstacle, but as the way to God?


People from Galilee, as Jesus and his men were, saw the territory of Samaria as an obstacle on their way to Jerusalem. The disciples assumed that the people that lived there weren’t worth talking to. Jesus saw things differently. He had compassion for the woman at the well. Jesus’ mission was to save the world. This woman wasn’t an obstacle. She was the way of this work.


Three things: 


  1. Life is a continuous process of undoing the prejudices and stereotypes that we accumulated in the first eighteen years of our lives. Growing up in a white, upper middle class, suburb of Pittsburgh, I have had to unlearn many of the things I was taught about race, poverty, and the role that immigrants play in our country. Part of why Jesus stopped by the well in Samaria was to challenge the prejudices of his men. When we get to Easter, we will see Jesus revealing himself first to the women. This, I believe, was a lesson to their sexism.
  2. There is never a justification for failing to be compassionate. Jesus pushed back against those who were abusive in his society, but he treated even these “bad hombres” with respect. It is appropriate to warn others when we see someone taking advantage of the system. Our mission is to have a free and safe society for all. When we catch someone misbehaving in our neighborhood, workplace, etc, we call them out and look for the appropriate legal actions. We don’t demonize them. In all things, we must behave compassionately. As the military saying goes, “People first, mission always.”
  3. There is a paradoxical nature to the kingdom of God. The woman with a disastrous home-life becomes the best witness Jesus could have asked for. You never know. Sometimes what we do to quell our fears makes us less secure. How do we treat those whom our culture has taught us to see as obstacles? What if the way to make America safe is to welcome the Moslems who are fleeing the brutality of Syria? We can demonstrate our values by example, or we can stigmatize these victims until they join radical group that hates us. What action furthers our mission? People first, mission always.
Lent 3
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Buber: the great I-thou thinker of human & divine relationships