The Secrets We Keep: Reflections on John 4:1-30
March 27, 2011
Third Sunday in Lent
I wonder what the woman thought as she approached the well and saw him sitting there.
"Who is that sitting at the well? No one I've ever seen before. The whole point of coming here at noon in this ungodly heat is to avoid meeting anyone else. Why does he have to be here? At least he's no one I know. He is no one who knows my secrets. Maybe he'll go away if I wait long enough. But I can't stand out here in the glare and heat a moment longer, and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon."
Our first-century Samaritan woman is not the only secret keeper walking toward the well. Most of us have something we would rather others not know, even those closest to us.
Frank Warren, started his blog PostSecret.com in 2004 as a temporary community art project. He invited people to mail in postcards that had one of their secrets written on it. The rules were that the secret needed to be anonymous, and something you had never shared with anyone else. Still going strong today, PostSecret generates thousands of postcards, many of them decorated by their senders. Warren reads them all and picks ten to twenty to post on his blog every Sunday. He has published several books that are compilations of postcards. Secrets cover the emotional spectrum from humor to heartache:
- In high school I was so desperate for a boyfriend I dated a guy who went to Star Wars Conventions . . . and he dumped me.
- Even vegetarians think of meat from time to time. I know I do.
- I suffer from an eating disorder and I fear my mother's suffering.
- My insomnia is going to get me fired.
- I can't stand my stepmother.
- I had an affair. We stopped before we got caught. I miss her today.
- I was 7 years old the first time I attempted suicide.
- I'm in love with my marriage counselor.
- When things go well for me I have to wreck my life all over again.
- I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in a mental hospital.
Post Secrets from the Gospel of John
Our Samaritan woman is not the only first-century secret keeper. Everybody Jesus meets in the Gospel of John has a secret they think he doesn't already know. I imagine they're falling in step with her as she approaches the man at the well, each clutching their homemade PostSecret.
There is Philip in chapter 6, when Jesus and the disciples are surrounded by hungry throngs who have followed Jesus for healing. When Jesus asks him, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Philip moans, "Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little" (Jn. 6:7). His PostSecret would read "I am totally overwhelmed by the demands of the people in my life."
There is the woman caught in adultery from chapter 8; we know what her PostSecret would read.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.