To Be Known Is to Be Loved

Hebrews 13: 1-2

John 4: 1-30


Langston Hughes published the following poem, entitled Prayer [2], in 1931.

Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved,
The desperate, the tired
All the scum
Of our weary city.
Gather up
In the arms of your pity,
Gather up
In the arms of your love
Those who expect
No love from above.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

When I was 16 years old my High School Youth Group from St. Mark Lutheran in Salem, Oregon attended the Western States Youth Gathering in California. 20 plus years later I honestly don’t remember if we were in LA or San Francisco as we took trips to both locations.

What I do remember is that at one point our group stopped at a convenience store to get snacks. Outside of the store was a disabled Vietnam Veteran who was panhandling. This man had no legs and was wheelchair bound. My parents had taught me NEVER to give money to panhandlers so I planned to hurry past him and try my best to avoid eye contact or communication of any kind. And then it happened – my friend Alicia, who I was walking with went straight up to this man and gave him all of her change.

I was aghast, but felt compelled to follow suit, so I gave him mine as well. His whole face lit up – he gave us a wide smile, looked us in the eyes and said. “Thank you, pretty girls. You just made an old man’s day by acknowledging me. God bless you both.”

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

That is one of the first times I can remember feeling as sense of mature shame. When we are children we totally have moments where we’re ashamed of ourselves for stupid little things – or we at least think we should be because some grown-up told us “you should be ashamed of yourself.” But in that moment it wasn’t childlike shame. It was mature. It was completely mine to own.

As we walked away I asked Alicia – “Why did we just do that. My dad would be so pissed at me if he knew I gave money to a panhandler.” Even feeling that sense of shame, my upbringing was still influencing me and making me question my actions.  Alicia replied – “My biological father (who she had no relationship with) has mental health issues and is often homeless. I give to those in need because I desperately hope, that someone, somewhere is doing the same for my dad.”

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

Alicia hoped that someone, somewhere would extend the radical hospitality of acknowledgement and maybe a little help to her dad. That he would be seen as an angel, not as the sick, depraved, desperate, tired, and scum of the city. That he would know the love from above through the love of another human being.

In our Gospel there is another human being who is desperately seeking that kind of love. As Jesus traveled through Samaria on his way from Judea to Galilee – he and his disciples stopped in the city of Sychar where Jacob’s well was located. It is noteworthy to know that the Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Samaritans were unclean gentiles. Unknown and unloved by God – at least in the eyes of the Jewish religious authorities of the time.

Jesus sends the disciples into the city to get food and he sits by the well to rest. A woman comes to the well – in the heat of midday. The only conceivable reason for this is because she was an outcast. Shunned by society. Most likely considered unclean for one reason or another. She is the sick, depraved, desperate, tired, scum of her city. So alone she comes alone to the well. When no one else will be there.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. She is stunned that a Jew would speak to her let alone touch anything that she has touched. She says to him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

Jesus replies to her that if she knew the Gift of God and who was asking this of her, she would ask him for a drink instead… because he offers living water which quenches all thirst and gives eternal life. When she asks for this water Jesus tells her to get her husband. She responds to Jesus that she has no husband – and he proceeds to recite back to her the harsh truths about her life.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

Jesus knows this woman. He knows that she has no husband. That she has had 4 husbands and currently lives with a man who is not her husband. This does not necessarily make her a harlot or a prostitute like is often assumed by church doctrines and traditions.

At this time women had little recourse for survival other than to marry and bare children. There are many reasons why she may have married so many times – short life expectancies and traditionally older husbands left many women widowed. Inability to bare children caused women to be abandoned or divorced. Being abandoned by ones spouse did not reflect poorly on the man who left, but on the woman. Women bore that shame.

So, to be living with someone who she is not married to could have meant just that – that she had been taken in and was dependent on this man for her care. It could mean she was doing what she had to in order to survive. It could mean that per Levitical Law, she had married her deceased husband’s brother but was not technically considered his wife.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

No one really knew or loved this woman. No one showered her with the radical hospitality of acknowledgement. She was most likely tokenized, demeaned, and abused. But in this moment she is seen and she is known and her humanity is recognized by Jesus. And she realizes that someone amazing has entered her life. That she has met a prophet.

Through further conversation she learns that Jesus is not only a prophet, but the Messiah. She has been seen and known and extended love and acceptance by God. And she knows this – and so she goes back to her city and proclaims the truth that she has learned through her encounter with Jesus.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

We are also known and loved by God. We receive God’s radical hospitality through word and sacrament and are called to in-kind share it with the world around us.  Not to earn God’s favor, but in response to God’s love.

So how are you doing this? There are so many people in this world that we often look past. The sick, depraved, desperate, tired, scum of our city. The underemployed; the single parents; the marginalized; those who are not native English speakers; those experiencing homelessness; those who are sick and/or dying; the injured; those struggling with mental health concerns; those who seemingly have all the power, wealth, and privilege that one could want; those who are just bone tired and weary at the end of the day.

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

Ask yourself – how often do you feel loved, and known, and seen? My guess is that it is LESS frequently than most of us would like to admit.  And how often do you miss loving and knowing and seeing others? My guess is that is MORE often than most of us would like to admit.

Who is it that we don’t see? Who is it that we should be showering with the radical hospitality of acknowledgement? Whose humanity have we missed? What angels are we failing to entertain?

From that day on, some 20 years ago, I have never avoided those on the streets asking for help. I am rarely able to give them anything because I quite honestly, don’t ever carry cash anymore, but I always make eye contact and recognize that they are a human being. Because they are.

What meant so much to the disable veteran that I encountered all those years ago, wasn’t the two handfuls of loose change that two teenage girls gave to him, but the fact that we looked him in the eyes and recognized his humanity.

I have seen a meme on Facebook this past week that states: “You will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love. Always be kind.” I can still remember exactly what his eyes looked like – age and exposure to the elements left his skin leathery and wrinkled – but his blue eyes shone and sparkled with unprecedented joy.

So go out this week and look into the eyes of those around you. Those who are like you and those who are vastly different from you. See people. Extend the radical hospitality of acknowledgement to everyone, every angel, you encounter.

Because – To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what is the point of doing either one of them in the first place?

Amen.

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