Because this Gospel reading is so long, John and I decided it would be fun to preach it as a conversation. We broke the reading into six parts and took turns both reading the scripture pieces and preaching after each. I'm including the reading pieces below to help give context for the preaching.
Jesus 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.)
Right before this reading John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is heading to Galilee, but he has to pass through Samaria to get there.
That’s the kind of place Samaria is. An undesirable place you have to pass through to get to where you really want to go.
Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and although the Samaritans and the Jews were distant cousins, there was no love between them. Samaritans were seen as ritually impure by the Jews — too close to the pagans and incorrect in their worship. As we heard in our reading, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”
And yet, here is Jesus. He’s resting in the heat of the day by the Samaritan well where low class women and servants come to get water.
And here comes this woman, this nameless woman who is not only part of the despised Samaritans but also disrespected because she is a woman and has a less than reputable personal life. She is coming to the well to complete one of the most tedious of daily chores, lugging her heavy clay water jug, kicking up dust, sweating in the noon day sun.
Jesus is right here. In this undesirable kingdom, with this disreputable woman, in this place of tedium. God shows up. This kingdom, this woman, this ordinary activity — It’s all worthy of God’s love and care.
There’s both hope and challenge. Hope - because that means God can be found anywhere, with any of us, in the midst of whatever we are doing, however ordinary. It’s all worthy of God’s love and care. But also challenge - because I’m guessing God wants our love and care to stretch that wide too.
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.”
It is so easy and so common to look first outside ourselves for what we think we need. Think of the consumer market where, as Jackson Brown tells us, “the ads take aim and lay their claim to the hear and the soul of the spender”….. It is so common to believe that something out there can fulfill our desires, heal our hurts, make us whole. It is common also to believe that something or someone out there is the source of our pain, our discontent. Jesus often countered that idea. You hear it in story after story. “It’s not what we take in from outside that gives us trouble, but what comes from inside.” God can make ancestors from these stones…..your salvation lies not in your lineage, but in your own heart.” Jesus travels around Palestine working as a psychologist, teaching people to look for answers in their own lives, their own motives, their own stories before trying to explain the troubles or the sins of other people. When Jesus encounters people pointing fingers at others he always led them back to their own situations, their lives. That, says Jesus, is where they should be looking. The answer lying inside is true, not only for what troubles us, but for what makes us whole as well. Jesus tells this woman that she will find goodness within her that will fill her and sustain her and leave her refreshed.
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.”
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman is his longest recorded conversation with anyone in the Bible.
In this incredible back and forth between these two Jesus reveals his true self: “I am the Christ,” he says. Something he hasn’t even told his disciples.
And, we learn more about this woman than we do about most of the disciples!
This unnamed, disreputable Samaritan woman has been excluded from proper religion because of her life circumstances. But Jesus bothers to know her anyway. He talks to her and listens to her and responds to her questions. Maybe for the first time in her life, this nobody of a woman feels like she matters. With Jesus she is able to share what is on her heart, to speak about God and her deep yearning for a different life. For the first time, she begins to really know the God that she has always assumed was distant and Other and judgmental.
What parts of ourselves have we been too afraid to share with God? How are we separated from God by our untold truths?
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.
I don’t know much that is harder than living with stories that can’t be told. Stories that we are afraid of others finding out. We have all done it, lived with such stories, and some of us live those stories much of our lives. It is the same with fears, fears that often that have no grounding. It is easy to worry about what others might think, easy to worry that scary things we don’t even know to be true about ourselves but might be. Maybe I’m not as competent as I think I am. Maybe that trouble really was my fault. Maybe that bad thing I did year ago is coming back to haunt me. We have all been in the position of trying to look like we really have it together when deep inside we are pretty sure we don’t. That can be an awful place to live.
Nothing can feel better—when we are finally ready to let go of our fearful secret— than the gentle laughter of a kind soul who, upon hearing it says with a caring smile, "You’ve been worried about that?" It can be like a warm spring shower that refreshes the flowers brightens the sky when it passes. Everything changes. The moment is a little resurrection. Life begins again.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
When Jesus sat down by the Samaritan well he was exhausted by his journey. Maybe he was also exhausted by disciples who even after all the time they’d spent with him still understood God’s kingdom as being too small to include someone like this Samaritan woman.
But now, after his conversation with this woman, he is rejuvenated. This conversation has nurtured his soul just as surely as hers. For Jesus, being in relationship with people - maybe especially people that have been discounted and judged - and helping them explore their longing for God is as filling and nurturing as food.
The disciples are suspicious and jealous, but Jesus invites them to rejoice instead, Sower and Reaper together. How might God be calling us to spread the kingdom in unusual ways and to rejoice in that work?
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
We are to experience God for ourselves. Not rules or formulae or creeds, but experience. What leads us to the point where we want to go see for ourselves is not preaching about what we should do or claims about what God wants us to do, but stories we tell about having met Jesus in our lives. I may not want to hear about your religious ideas, but if you tell me how excited you are about painting the walls of the house your community is reading for a family of refugees I may feel drawn to join you. We don’t talk that much about spreading the gospel but we do it in the best way possible. We tell our stories and some of those who hear our stories decide to come find out for themselves. When we ask why people are at St. Aidan’s the answer is often about having found a community that accepts us where we are and welcomes us. Many of us can tell about the person in this community who told us about this place and who was glad to see us come out and see for ourselves.
The end of this story about a chance meeting is the story of Christianity. It is the story of one who is stirred by an experience of Jesus and who tells the story to others who want that sort of experience themselves, people who in the end can say I believe because of what I have found in Jesus’ presence. You story was good and I thank you for it, but now I have my own story to tell and that will carry me from here.