Lent 3A; John 4:5-42
First, let me say that John's gospel is very different from the other three. Miracles lead to belief, he uses images of light and dark a lot, there are long stories and monologues, Jesus is always in control, and John begins by assuming that Jesus is part of the godhead. To get a sense of this gospel it's important to have a holistic view because so much is both dependent on what came before and foreshadows what comes after. Because of this, you really should join Dcn. Sue on Tuesday nights for a journey through John.
This is also part of why it's difficult to preach on John without it sounding like a Bible study. It's hard to pick out a stand-alone passage because so much of this gospel is tied to other aspects of the gospel.
That said, I want to focus on the end of today's gospel passage. Jesus said, “Do you not say, 'Four more months and then the harvest'? Look around you, the fields are ripe for harvesting.”
Jesus lived his life in an agrarian society. People in that time and place knew when it was time to harvest their crops, as do people today who farm or garden. Do it long enough and you know when to plant and when to reap. Every fruit or vegetable has that window of opportunity. If you harvest too soon, it won't be the end of the world, but customers will have to let their produce ripen on the counter. Harvest too late and it might spoil on the vine. So you know and you wait for the right time.
In the first chapter of John's gospel we are introduced to John the Baptist who is the herald, the one crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord and make his path straight. He is the one who points out Jesus as the Lamb of God. People have waited for the Messiah to come for years. Even the Samaritan woman said she was waiting for the Messiah.
But John the Baptist is pointing to Jesus and saying that the Messiah is here now. There is no more waiting, the time has arrived. The fields are ripe for harvesting now. In other gospels Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near, or is among, you. It's clear that the time of waiting is over.
I think we are in the same place as the disciples. We have spent the last three years battling, struggling, and dealing with COVID. Almost three years ago to the day we were informed of a mandatory two-week shutdown. Those two weeks became months and longer. One of the refrains I heard over and over again was, “If we can just get back to what it was like before COVID.” It was a way of saying, “Only four more months until the harvest.”
But Jesus is here among us now. John the Baptist has pointed him out, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God.” The Messiah whom the Samaritan woman was waiting for is here now. The fields are ripe for harvesting.
COVID messed up a lot of things. COVID also shone a light on how messed up things were that we may not have noticed before. COVID still rears its ugly head and will not, I think, ever leave us. COVID may have forced many of us to consider our own mortality. It may cause us to ask questions. It may cause us to look for new ways of doing things. There are things we not only ponder in here, but things which people out there are pondering.
Look around, the fields are ripe for harvesting. The kingdom has come near.
The fields in this case, and maybe in all cases, are people looking for something that helps them cope as well as providing a place to question. Christianity is a place that, at its best, allows us to ask big “Why” questions while also providing a place of love, support, and service. I think people are hungry for this. I think COVID exacerbated this. I think the fields are ripe NOW – not four months from now or when COVID is “finally over” – but NOW.
The funny thing about harvesting, though, is that crops don't jump off the vine or stalk by themselves. We need to go get them. We need to labor for them.
Those who are thirsty for living water, for the most part, won't wander in here by themselves. Some will, and some have; but for the most part we need to labor. We need to invite and welcome people into the presence of Christ. We need to play the part of the Samaritan woman and say, “Come and see.” Then we need to let those people experience Christ for themselves. And then maybe, just maybe, they will also say, “It is no longer because of what you have said, but that we have heard for ourselves that this is the Savior of the world.”
This is where an individual passage intersects with the totality of the gospel. Today we heard Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman, her invitation to others, Jesus saying the time is now, and people coming to belief through their experience with Jesus.
As with John's gospel, though, that isn't the end of it. John's gospel includes images of light and dark. It has surprising connections from one part of the gospel to another, even to all of Scripture. It has images of love in action and examples of how Jesus relates to those whom society condemns. John's gospel is best understood in its totality – just like we need to relate to those who thirst for living water in totality and those who thirst need to experience the totality of Christ in this place.
There are not four more months until the harvest, for the harvest is ready now. Now is the time for us to labor. Now is the time for us to say, “Come and see.” Now is the time for us to live into the totality of Jesus. Now is the time to invite others to experience the totality of the gospel.
Now is the time of harvest, so let's get to work.