Sermon for Today, (Lent 3, Year A)
Text John 4:5-42 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Whenever we hear the name ‘Samaritan’ today, we think of “The Samaritans”, that wonderful organisation that has helped countless numbers of people simply by being a listening ear on the other end of the telephone line. It wasn’t always that way though, for the Jews living in the first century, Samaritans were outcasts; they had their own temple separate from the one in Jerusalem and they had their own peculiar style of worship. The Jews hated the Samaritans and this feeling was mutual.
I don’t know what parallels we might draw today from this, I suppose wherever you go in the world you will find equivalents; communities that will not speak to each other, the enmity often going so far back in history that no one can really remember when it all started. Each of us probably have our own Samaritans and (believe it or not) we are most likely Samaritans to other groups who think differently from us…
Into this racial, ethnic and moral mess comes Jesus, let’s see how He deals with it. Jesus and the disciples were travelling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and the most direct route was through Samaria (though many Jews took the longer route in order to avoid coming into contact with any Samaritans). Jesus comes to a town called ‘Sycar’, where the famous ‘Jacob’s well’ was (and still is). It is midday and Jesus is tired from the journey, the disciples had gone to buy food and so the Lord is on his own as he goes over to the well to sit down. A woman comes over to draw some water and the Lord asks if he may have a drink.
The woman is surprised by this, (remember, Jews and Samaritans were not on speaking terms), and so she says:
‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (v.9)
But if she is surprised that this Jewish rabbi is even speaking to her, that’s nothing compared to what happens next.
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.’ (v.10)
Now it all starts to get a bit strange, what does Jesus mean? The woman asks Jesus how he is able to get water without a bucket, especially as it is a very deep well. ‘Living water’ can be translated running or flowing water which would have been a lot fresher and nicer to drink than the still, stagnant water deep below in the well. But Jesus means more than this, as we shall see. He says 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.’ (v.13b, 14)
Clearly He is no longer talking about ordinary water, He is actually talking about the Holy Spirit. If we drink water it satisfies our thirst for a time and then we will be thirsty again. In life we try to satisfy the spiritual thirst we all have with the things of this world and wonder why we can never get enough of the things of this world, we are never satisfied and always want more. In Jesus though we have the opportunity to drink the living water that gushes up to eternal life and if we do so will never be spiritually thirsty again.
It’s a big concept to grasp, so we can have a bit of sympathy with the Samaritan woman, as she doesn’t yet get what Jesus is talking about by the fact that she replies by saying:
‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
The woman is intrigued by what Jesus is saying and wants to find out more and she is about to learn something of vital importance. When we invite Jesus into our lives He is more than glad to come, but He will start to clean up the mess he finds once he does come. This is true for all of us and so we are not in any position to look down upon this woman or anyone else for that matter ‘for all have sinned and fall short if the glory of God’. For this woman it was her married life or rather unmarried life that needed sorting out. So the Lord says 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. (v.16b-19)
Jesus, as always sees to the heart of the problem, this woman’s life has been one emotional upheaval after another. We don’t know how much of all this was her fault, but the result was that her life was in a mess and it must have been strangely comforting for her to know that Jesus knew. But perhaps it was not that comforting as she tries to change the subject by talking about the differences between Jews and Samaritans. We of course all do this (not talk about the differences between Jews and Samaritans but rather try to change the subject when it gets a bit close). How many times talking to our spouse or good friend have they gently challenged us on some aspect of our behaviour only for us to change the subject when it gets a bit uncomfortable? And we even do it to God – we are reading a Bible passage that deeply challenges us or we sense the Holy Spirit confronting us about something and all of a sudden we decide we want a cup of tea or lunch, in fact anything to avoid being confronted about our sin!
But of course, in trying to steer Jesus away from His deep insight into her life, she only ends up drawing Him closer, she says:
‘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.’ (v.26)
And so there we have it, Jesus reveals who He is to a woman at a well in Samaria. Fairly ordinary we might think, but in case we haven’t already realised just how extraordinary this is yet, the return of the disciples gives us another hint. We are told that they are astonished that he is talking with a woman. It was just not the custom for men to talk to women they did not know and even more so a Samaritan woman. Think also about this, she had come to draw water from the well in the middle and hottest part of the day. All the other women of the town would have come to draw water in the cooler parts of the day, the early morning and evening. This woman though was an outcast, she either was not allowed to go to the well when the others did or she simply could not stand the gossip and the looks she got from the others. This woman was disadvantaged in many ways, some through her own making and some by accident of birth. But that didn’t matter to Jesus, He met with her and her life was never the same again.
Would we not love to meet with Jesus in this way? Would we not just love to sit down with Him and have a conversation, even though we know that it might be a bit uncomfortable because to drink the living water, we have to let Him get rid of all the stagnant and stale water first?
Well (if you’ll excuse the pun), the good news is this. You, me, anyone can sit down with Jesus any time. We can talk to Him and we can allow Him to come into our hearts and lives and fill us with His Living Water that gushes up to eternal life. We can allow Him to change us, to wash us, to cleanse us from the inside out. There is no need for us to be an outcast with God, He wants us to become part of His family, He wants to be our Father and for us to be His child. No matter who you are, even if your lifestyle is as bad or worse than the Samaritan woman in today’s reading it does not stop Jesus, He comes to us regardless of who we are and of what we’ve done and He wants you to sit down with Him and He offers you a drink, Living Water. Will you take it?
(Some ideas and concepts explored here were found in Tom Wright’s magnificent book “John for Everyone”, SPCK, 2002)