“In your love,  re-member me…” Psalm 25


Samaritan-woman-2Certainly one of the most painful experiences of human existence is the shame of social alienation. To be cut off from family, friends, community—to be shunned, excluded, rejected, dismembered—is a suffering that can be so crushing as to distort all perceptions of reality and render life unbearable.

Shame is a debilitating thing.

Guilt, by contrast can be a life-giving thing. Guilt is like the nerve endings in your fingers that alert you to the fact that you’ve leaned on a hot stove and should probably remove your hand. It is interesting to note how leprosy—a disease that figures prominently in the scriptures, with wonderfully metaphoric potential—is the deadening of the nerves so that the afflicted person doesn’t know damage is being done until it’s too late. In the Bible, we see that leprosy is a disease Jesus is keen to heal, ironically restoring the possibility of life-saving pain to the afflicted person.

But shame is different.

It could be said that guilt is feeling badly for what you’ve done. Shame is feeling badly for who you are. The one feeling can save your life, the other destroy it. The distinction is vital.

A potential danger while observing Lent—a time when we begin to consider the true state of our soul with its unruly impulses and inordinate loves—is that we can confuse the two emotions and mistakenly turn toward death instead of away from it.

painting: Jacek Malczewski

painting: Jacek Malczewski

And so, one of the readings for the third Sunday of Lent is the gospel story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus meets and engages at Jacob’s well (John 4: 5-42).

I’ve heard countless sermons on this passage. Many focus on the Samaritan woman’s wantonly behaviour as evidenced by her serial relationships. She is clearly a social outcast, demonstrated by the fact that she is collecting water in the heat of the day by herself rather than in the cool of the morning with the other village women.

One reading of the text portrays Jesus as stern and knowing, but merciful. Her response is relief, gratitude and proclamation. Well and good.

But professor and author Robert Hoch has observed that the story of the Samaritan woman follows the story of Nicodemus, who by contrast was an insider, upstanding and revered in his community, both learned and influential. Yet Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the cover of night, wary of exposure. Why is it that the person whose stature and security is assured seeks Jesus in the “safety” of darkness?

The outcast Samaritan woman, however, encounters Jesus in the bright light of midday. She can be seen from a mile off, and Jesus does indeed “see” her. First, he sees her dignity by asking for and accepting her aid in drawing water. She is rather taken aback, not accustomed to such kindness, especially from a Jewish man.

“You’ve had five husbands…” Jesus observes (sees).

Here Robert Hoch points out that in cultures with pervasive poverty (both ancient and modern), women often marry for security. The less egalitarian a society is, the more vital marriage is to survival. But in such situations of unequal power and opportunity, abuse is rampant as the stronger person slowly pulverizes the spirit, if not the body, of the weaker. Such contempt and expulsion often results in wider social alienation as the community scapegoats the victim to deflect their own neglect and complicity.

Perhaps the woman’s marginalization was not a result of wantonness. Could she have been the casualty of a wider social disease, one that victimizes and expels rather than repents and re-integrates members of the community (re-members)?

Jesus sees the Samaritan woman’s pain. He feels her alienation. He absorbs her cynicism and weariness and says, in effect, “I re-member you. And I will not disappoint, for I am the well (life) that will never run dry.”

It is worth noting in this context that the scriptures repeatedly refer to Jesus as the bridegroom and to us as the bride. It is important during Lent that we encounter Jesus as He truly is: as the one who encounters us as we truly are.

LetSteve Bell guilt do its good work. Consider it as a gift and be grateful, for by it we know when we are in trouble. But flee from the soul-crushing press of shame, remembering that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners.”

He must have seen something worth dying for…



REMEMBER ME (Psalm 25)
music and lyrics by Steve Bell

To You oh Lord do I lift up my soul
You are the only recourse that I know
When shame denies me a place in Your fold
In Your love remember me

Show me a road with respect to the truth
Hold not against me the sins of my youth
There’s no one to turn to if You don’t come through
In Your love remember me

In Your love remember me
In Your love remember me
All because of Your goodness Lord
In Your love remember me

Yahweh confides in the ones who have faith
And shares from the secrets of old, so they say
Dare I presume Ye would treat me the same
In Your love remember me

In Your love remember me..

Show me Your favour Yahweh
Let it never be said that I’ve trusted in vain
It is Your reputation that makes me outrageously brave
Hold out Your mercy to me
Go ahead and correct me for the sake of Your name
It’s not much of a thread but my hoping is keeping me sane
Again and again…

In Your love remember me…


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