Sermon, Year A Lent 3, March 27, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ , Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: John 4:1–42 (Samaritan Woman at the Well)
This encounter... this life-changing, life-affirming afternoon of transforming love spent around Jacob’s well... this hot, dusty, sun-hammered, make-your-eyes-squint, dry afternoon conversation between the Son of God and a Samaritan woman outsider reveals a God who claims all sons and daughters as part of the flock in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is a story that ought to change your life.
A God who will walk miles in the heat, thirsty, probably tired, to say to a woman on the outside, “You are cherished and you are part of my life.” That’s a God worth following, a God worth believing in, don’t you think?
This is still pretty early in Jesus’ ministry, and early in John’s Gospel. So far, Jesus has been baptized, he called some disciples, turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem (John puts this right away in Jesus’ ministry; the other Gospel writers put it during Holy Week), he had his evening encounter with Nicodemus that we read last week, and then this trip to Samaria. Jesus is setting the pattern of his ministry.
You may remember from last week’s reading about Nicodemus that after Jesus keeps trying to explain things to him, Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. And then Jesus said that famous line, John 3:16 and 17, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so that whoever believes in him may be saved. For he came into the world not to condemn it, but in order to save it.”
“The world” is key here. Jesus came for the WORLD. Not just for the Jews, or Israel, or any other group; not for Americans, or the well-dressed, or the well-behaved , or the people who make the right decisions, or who live responsibly. Jesus came for the world. The whole world. And everyone in it. Jesus tells that to Nicodemus, and then he goes into the world.
He leaves Judea and goes to Samaria, where the despised Samaritans lived. Despised because they were Jewish break-aways who built their own temple in Gerazim and began their own version of Judaism with their own traditions and rituals and lots of idolatry and a bunch of other bad political stuff. Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans. They’d even take the extra time to go around Samaria, rather than through it, if they needed to travel to places on the other side of it. And vice versa – the Samaritans weren’t so keen on the Jews, either. Nothing breeds hatred like family.
So, Jesus declares that he’s come to save the world, and heads immediately to Samaria. He said he came for the world, and proved it by going straight to the religious enemy, the neighbor to the north. And there he meets an amazing woman at Jacob’s well. The well was named after the patriarch Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. We read some of Abraham’s story last week, too, and heard about the birth of his son, Isaac, who became Jacob’s father. Jacob was later renamed Israel, after that night-time wrestling match he had with God.
How symbolic for this liberating encounter with the woman to take place at Israel’s well.
Jesus is thirsty. It’s the dead of noon, he has no bucket to draw water, and he’s been at the well for some time. Then the Samaritan woman shows up, and Jesus asks her for a drink; actually, he kind of demands one. This is so typical of Jesus: religious taboos have no meaning to him. He shouldn’t associate with Samaritans OR women, and here he has someone both Samaritan and woman. Not only should he not be talking to her, he certainly shouldn’t accept something so precious as water from the hands of one who is so religiously and culturally unclean. But he does. And she is astonished! Absolutely flummoxed. “Why do you want water from me, a Samaritan? You’re not allowed, by your customs and traditions.” She knows where she stands. She knows where her brothers and sisters stand in the view of the Jews. “Are you sure about this? Really? From me?” And then Jesus tells her about himself and what he is doing. But more importantly, he tells her about herself. He knows her story. “I know you have had 5 husbands, and that the man you live with now is not your husband.” But he doesn’t care. He doesn’t judge her for it. He says, “I know you. I get you.” And yes, he’ll accept that drink from her. And in this encounter over water, she is transformed by the living water of Jesus.
Nicodemus couldn’t be transformed and wasn’t. He had too many doctrines and beliefs to allow himself to be opened up to transformation. But this woman, this wonderful, nameless woman, listens and responds. Nicodemus comes in the safe darkness of night because he really doesn’t wish to be enlightened. Or maybe he does, but he wants it in his safe way, the way he thinks it should happen. This encounter takes place outside in public, at the brightest time of day, and she is enlightened, she is transformed. That’s the power of love. Love that can break down walls and barriers of our own invention, and let in God’s everflowing living water.On Wednesday nights we have been looking at gifts given to Jesus. This story was our text last Wednesday night. In our discussion, we saw not only that Jesus gives her the gifts of living water and transformation, she gave him some gifts:
A woman who has had her identity stripped away through multiple husbands, and by being a Samaritan, by being unnamed, is given the power of being Jesus’ first evangelist. She gives water to Jesus, is transformed, and she takes living water to her people. Notice that she left her water jug behind. And many of them believe. All of them outsiders, brought into the kingdom. Though they aren’t really brought in, so much as they are told that they were already part of it. And they call Jesus Savior. The only ones in John’s Gospel to do so. Jesus also delivered his first “I am” statement to her. She says she knows the Messiah is coming. “I am he,” says Jesus.
“God so loved the world.” The whole world. And so Jesus goes to Samaria first. And says to a woman he encounters at Jacob’s well, “You are part of God’s kingdom.” And says to her community, who have been told they are not part of the kingdom, “You are part of the kingdom too. You have identity. You matter.” Rev. House, at the Association meeting yesterday, phrased the Good News as: “You are enough.” Isn’t that something? “You are enough.” We also had a panel at the Association meeting made up of four young adults who are distanced from the church in various ways, one of them young woman about 21 or 22 who had a very Samaritan experience. She left home at 15, pregnant at 18, had a baby at 19; she made a series of decisions that weren’t good ones. She left her church and hasn’t gone back because of the judgement she felt from her community. At a time when she most needed her church to step up and be the church, to say, “You are not an outsider, you are part of the kingdom,” they judged her out of it.
But Jesus comes with living water to say you are precious and you are cherished and you are enough. Jesus offers her – and offers us – dignity. He offers the truth that we are not defined by our circumstances, or our choices, or our situation in life. Jesus knows us. He knows everything about us. Jesus offers us an identity that raises us above who we think we are, who our neighbors think we are, or who we think our neighbors are. Jesus raises us up to a place of dignity through his transformative love for all the world. For all the unnamed women at wells, for all of us who long for life.
Let us pray: Holy Jesus, you are thirsty for our salvation, for us to ask you for your living water — take us beyond our reasoned justifications, our feelings of unworthiness, our satisfaction with the status quo, our self-righteousness, or whatever reasons we invent to say that we don’t need you, or don’t deserve you, or that we have enough of you. Take us to our dusty wilderness and show us how much we need you, so that we, like the woman at the well, may ask for your living water and know our place in your heart. Amen.Tweet
Return to previous page.