Jesus and the Woman of SamariaJohn 4:1-30 (NRSVUE)
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” (although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized), he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
When I was young, I remember hearing the mythical story of the “fountain of youth”, a fountain that, if you drank from it or bathed in it at any time or at any age, you would be restored to your youth and could ultimately live forever. As a child, I was very intrigued by the story. Why didn’t more people search for this fountain of youth? It would change your life forever! And you could share it with all of your family and friends and change their lives as well. Can you imagine? Water that could make such an amazing difference in your life? Well, the living water that Jesus gives can too!
Friends, we all know that water is essential to us as humans. And that is why today’s scripture reading about Jesus meeting the woman at the well is so understandable. It was an ordinary everyday activity in Jesus’ time–a woman walking, sometimes miles, to the village well to bring water back to her household. And yet, Jesus used that ordinary moment to swing open the doors to the unexpected and the extraordinary! Are you surprised?
Now right at the beginning, we need to take a step back to understand something. Because normally, the women of the village would walk together to the well in the coolness of the morning to fetch their family’s water for the day. But the woman Jesus meets is all alone at the well, in the middle of the day. Hmm… something is going on here.
The truth is the woman is an outcast. She is deemed unwanted and unworthy by society. She has no friends, and she doesn’t fit in anywhere. And as scripture says, she has had five husbands, and the man she is with now is not her husband. So not only was she a Samaritan, but she had quite a reputation to boot. That was why she had to venture to the well all alone in the heat of the day to get water. For she so longed for refreshment. Not the kind of person one might expect God to choose as a messenger of the Good News, huh? But as we all know, Jesus often turned the world’s expectations upside down, leading and teaching not with judgment but with unconditional love and grace. And that is just what happened in this story.
Now because the story of the woman at the well is quite long, it contains lots and lots of different themes and snippets to understand and to start conversations about. Actually, I could preach on this story for several weeks and still not share all of its wisdom. Because in talking with this woman, and ultimately offering her living water, Jesus broke down racial, social, and gender boundaries, just to name a few! He intentionally crossed all kinds of man-made rules and lines to teach and show that God is for everyone and that God is a uniter, not a divider!
During the pandemic, when our church building was closed and we had worship and household huddle videos online, I would often wear a tee shirt in the Household Huddle videos that spoke to the story or the theme of the day. And I’ll be honest, I almost wore a tee shirt today, because I saw one that truly put into context for me the story of the woman at the well and what may have happened had this encounter between Jesus and the woman happened today. For those of you that use social media, it could have been a meme, a tweet, or a Facebook post that the woman at the well would have posted. Instead, I put it on the cover of today’s bulletin.
It says, “It wasn’t the water that he came for… it was me” – signed the Woman at the Well. “It wasn’t the water that he came for… it was me.” Jesus sat there by the well, in the middle of the day. I’m sure it was hot, and I’m sure he was thirsty. But the real reason he was there was because he knew that she would be there too. He knew that she would be hiding and hoping to sneak in to get some refreshing water without being seen before heading back to the broken, hurting, and judged world that she lived in.
Jesus knew who she was and what she had done, and that’s why he wanted to give her living water. He wanted her to understand that no matter what, she was loved unconditionally and that her life mattered! He knew that the water from the well would only refresh her for a moment, but the living water that He gives–the water that sees you, acknowledges you, and loves you just the same–is just what she really needed.
Friends, many of us, hide pieces of ourselves from the world: mistakes that we have made, things that we are ashamed of, or labels and judgments that the world has put on us for simply being who God created us to be, and we worry that we aren’t good enough. But Jesus chose the woman at the well–this woman that society deemed and labeled as “unworthy” and “unclean”–to share his living water with the world! First, He told her her own story, and in so doing he never turned away from her. On the contrary, he loved her just the same. Then he told her his story–a story that he had told no one else before. She was the very first one to know that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Messiah that the world had been waiting for. And in that moment, her life was changed forever. She received the living water, and she was never thirsty again! Scripture says that she left her water jug behind as she ran into the city to share the good news with others. Friends, today, I hope you know that YOU MATTER too! I hope you know that judgment and labels and disappointment and unworthiness are human actions and understandings because God only offers living water. God loves unconditionally, and God longs for you to know that no matter what the world thinks or says about you, or what you think or say about yourself, YOU MATTER!
So, my brothers and sisters, as you go out into the week ahead, let go of your hurt and that voice in your head that tells you that you are not enough, and hold your head high! Know that you are filled to overflowing with God’s living water, that you ARE enough, that you do matter, and that you are loved just the way you are! Then, go share that good news with the world!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!