Feminine Heart

March 23, 2014    Ex. 17.1-7; Ro. 5.1-11; Jn. 4.5-26

I know this disclaimer won’t shock most of you, but I want to begin this sermon with an acknowledgment: I was not born a woman.  I know some of the ladies here will say, “Nobody’s perfect!” But really, I confess that I have been on many occasions clueless when it comes to understanding women’s heart-guided reactions to situations.  And I’m not alone.  Even the great father of psychiatry Sigmund Freud asked seriously, “What does a woman want?”  It’s often a source of befuddlement for men the world over. Comedian Hinny Youngman acknowledged the good sense of listening to the women when he said, “If your wife gets in your car and she really wants to drive it, don’t stand in her way.”  Contrary to the gender stereotypes, that women are emotive and not as practical as men, (a rumor no doubt perpetuated by men) women have a practical effect on groups trying to solve problems! Research shows that groups having a mixed gender composition are more productive than exclusively male groups working alone.  And women, as research has shown, are often better managers.  As when money is given to women in poor households in America and the world over, women do a better job with it than the men, who tend to use it for their own purposes.   Women will use it to better the condition of their children, to start a business, or do some other beneficial thing with the money.

So, we have this Samaritan woman in the gospel today.  Although she’s a woman, as a result of the beatings that life has given her, she had not forgotten her feminine heart. Jesus reminds her to listen to and trust that good heart of hers.  Let me explain.  I think this Samaritan woman represents all the poor and downtrodden everywhere who thirst for righteousness or just a fair chance.  The woman comes to the well at mid-day, the most miserable time to be out in the heat, probably that was the allotted time for her and other less desirables to have access to the well.  So, she dragged herself to the well and found Jesus there, and probably thought,
“What’s this madman doing here now?” 
Her conversation with Jesus was perfunctory until she misunderstand Jesus’ offer of “living” or flowing water.  She probably thought,
“He’s a plumber! Flowing water into my house without having to haul it! Sign me up!” 
But Jesus goes to the central issue in this woman’s life…that is, the pain in her life.  She has had five marriages that have all ended and the man she is with…is not her husband.  But Jesus gets to that by saying, “Go and call your husband,” and her literal reply is, “A man, I have not.”  In Jewish law it was forbidden for a woman to divorce her husband.  But the court could “induce” the husband to grant a divorce if the woman paid alimony or performed some service like getting his water at the well. In theory there was no limit to the number of divorces, although typically it was two or on a rare occasion…three.  So, this woman really was out of bounds.  She could have been working out the alimony to five different ex-husbands!  No wonder she didn’t want to marry number six!

She won’t want to make a desperate lurch at any offer no matter how good it sounded, because after a time even a lifesaving offer can’t be believed.  Consider the work of psychologist Martin Seligman and the research he has done with animals to discover how our experience shapes behavior.  Seligman taught dogs that when they heard a bell they could jump to a different part of their cage to escape an electrical shock.  But then he put the dogs into a no-win situation. They were shocked even if they jumped to the “safe” area.  He found that when the dogs were returned to the original condition where they could avoid the shock, they didn’t bother.  They just endured it.  Sometimes, just living is pain. We’re like that too.  This woman at the well represented the better part of humanity…the ones who’ve given into the pain. She, like other young people, had probably hoped for a loving husband, supportive friends, or enough money to live comfortably, but life had taught her to expect pain…it was unavoidable.  That’s what we do with painful situations, we simply ignore or misrepresent them in our hearts so they can be tolerable.  We “tough them out,” we have become hardened and resigned, and we say to ourselves, “I don’t need anybody,” “I can do this alone.”  We can almost put ourselves beyond the reach of love.  But the feminine heart reaches out and crosses the painful gulf even when many others will not.

This woman at the well experienced an incredible change when she met Jesus, because he showed her that she didn’t have to keep soldiering on with this forced march. After talking with Jesus, the Scripture says, she left her bucket at the well.  What a gesture that was!  She was saying, “I’m done!”  Jesus, who had the heart of a woman, addressed her pain and helped her find a new way to hope. 

And here’s my point: I think it takes a feminine heart to identify with another’s person’s deepest pain.  I think that’s why good therapists, and the best in the helping professions, friends, and other healers have that special heart for people’s pain, it’s a feminine spirit whatever the gender of the person. I believe Jesus had such a feminine spirit…He says to us,
“Take heart!”
Let go of the bravado, let go of the macho stuff and find your feminine heart.  The feminine heart says,
“Reach out, connect, find help, and it will be better.”
Talk with Jesus and let him give you the living water that springs up in you with new life and you will find a new heart when you are bathed in that soothing water.  Life may have painful spots, but the meaning of life is not the pain.  This vicious cycle can only be broken by sitting down and having an honest to God talk with our blessed Lord who knows our pain and tells each of us how to get on with the other things in our lives. And that’s about as close to perfect as we’re able to get in this life.  Am I not right, ladies? AMEN.