Remember Me

“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…

 

4 thoughts on “Remember Me

  1. She didn’t have many secrets
    Or friends to tell them to
    She was shamed and scorned
    How long she had mourned
    And longed for love to be true
    Not so fleeting
    In the bright light of sun
    She had a refreshing meeting
    With one who saw her
    For who she was
    He was the first
    And the only one
    Who could answer her questions
    And quell her deepest thirst
    He too was an outcast
    A foreigner in this land
    He crossed lines but with kindness
    Receiving what she had to offer
    A cup of cold water from her hand

  2. Thanks so much for this reflection on shame and the God that never condemns. Great song to go with it too!

  3. Excellent article…great insights, especially about shame and the Samaritan Woman (going way beyond most sermons I have heard) and so true!! I also have always loved your song “Remember Me” and have sung it as a prayer often. I am often encouraged by what you write on your blogs. Thanks for sharing things that have been meaningful to you in your songs and in your blogs. I appreciate how Jesus communicates through you His messages as well as the grace of the Holy Spirit to empower us through good truth that penetrates our hearts. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

  4. Thanks again for the important insight.

    One peculiar thing I have been considering with respect to the Samaritan woman is its contrast with the woman caught in adultery found in John 8 (I recognize the inclusion of this story is dubious and does not appear in the earliest manuscripts). In this story, after Jesus confronts this woman’s accusers, Jesus makes this statement back to the woman, “Has no one condemned you… Then neither do I condemn you… Go now and leave your life of Sin” (NIV).

    What is remarkable about the Samaritan encounter, although Jesus addresses clearly the woman’s less than admirable relationship history, he never counters by calling for a suitable correction as we might presume to expect. My guess is that Jesus also recognized the actual day-to-day livelihood needs of this woman that were also implicit and and deeply attached for with both her current and past relationships.

    It reminds me that often as Christians we are are very intent on judging and changing the behaviors of people, as if this is God’s most important agenda. Yet at the same time we are not willing to take the new found responsibility or cost that changed behaviors may now require.

    In a complex world of dislocation, it is a helpful reminder that there are not always easy fixes or ideals that can be lived out simply and superficially.

    Blessings… & thanks for the wisdom and the nature in which you call your fellow sojourners to think!

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