In Nomine Iesu
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is a story with many interesting levels of meaning. Unfortunately, most of this time, and in the past even from this pulpit, we get distracted by the Samaritan woman. She’s an easy target, low-hanging fruit for the moralistic fruit pickers. Five marriages and now living with number six, probably because the rabbis and the rest of the community have more or less given up on her. We’re quick to judge, to make assumptions, to condemn. Because that’s what religious people do best.
But curiously, Jesus doesn’t condemn or even chide. Or say so much as a discouraging word. Oh, he mentions her long marital rap sheet, which probably not her fault anyway, as a kind of little divine “tell” that He knows more than He is letting on. Kind of like telling her the contents of her safe deposit box without ever being at her bank. And she takes note of it immediate. “I perceive that you are a prophet.” Indeed He is, and so much more. But her rather colorful, if not checkered past, is only a stepping stone to Jesus’ revelation of who He is as I AM in the flesh in no uncertain terms. No one in Israel, and certainly not Niccodemus the Pharisee get it this straight from Jesus. And that alone is impressive: Jesus reveals Himself as the source of living water, the true mountain of worship where true worshipers are gather, the great I AM in the Flesh to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well at high noon.
So suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on here, but one thing that’s NOT going on is a discussion about marriage, divorce, remarriage, and shacking up. That’s only incidental to the story.
The conversation between Jesus and this woman is parallel to the conversation with Niccodemus the Pharisee. Niccodemus came to Jesus at night, and was, to a very great extent, completely in the dark about who Jesus was or even what He was talking about. Jesus spoke to Him about a heavenly, spiritual birth “from above” by water and Spirit, but Niccodemus could only hear in earthly terms, “from below.” For him, to be born “from above” was to be “born again” which was utter nonsense, for “who can enter his mother’s womb a second time?” The Samaritan woman encounters Jesus not at night, like NIccodemus, but at high noon, the peak of the day. Noon was likely the safest time for her to go the well. All the other women with their hard, judgmental stares would be gone already and she could get her daily ration of water alone and in peace. But it was hot, hard work, drawing that water up in her bucket and balancing it on her head or across her shoulders to walk home. It would have been easier early in the morning, but the stares and glares were likely too much.
Niccodemus was a rabbi, a Pharisee, and a religious ruler. He represents Pharisaic Judiaism, the protection and codification of the Torah that obscured the mercy of God in the darkness of legalism. The Samaritan was, well, a woman from Samaria, who had been married five times, presumably divorced though she might have been widowed, and now living with a man who was not her husband. She represents the Samaritans. There were good reasons why the people of Judea had no dealings with the Samaritans. They were considered heretics, religious mutts, the result of centuries of repatriation and resettlement.
In 2 Kings, the author describes the situation with Samaria this way:
2Kings 17:24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the LORD. Therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
2Kings 17:29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
It was standard operating procedure. Exile the people, resettle the land, claim it as your own, dilute the culture, introduce foreign gods. Anhiliation by assimilation. It’s still done today. Notice that there were five nations – Babylon, Cuth, Hamath, the Avvites, and the Spharvites, that resettled the area and established worship of their gods. Five gods, five husbands. Concidence? I think not. “And the one you now have is not your husband.” That would be Yahweh, the God of Israel. You see? The woman at Jacob’s well is representative of all of syncretistic Samaria. And God sent lions. More on that in a bit.
Jesus asks her for a drink. He’s set the whole scene up Himself. He sent the disciples away to ensure they would be alone. She’s surprised. Startled. For two reasons: Jews don’t talk to Samaritans and men don’t talk to women in public.
Jesus starts the conversational ball rolling, much in the same way as He did with Nicodemus. “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.” That’s as opaque as Jesus saying, “Unless you are born from above you cannot see the kingdom of God.” What’s living water, and how is Jesus going to give it?
Living water is different from well water. Well water you work for, living water comes to you in a refreshing stream. You don’t work for it, you receive it. The same as salvation in Jesus. You don’t get it, it comes to you, washing you, refreshing you, cleansing you in a flood of salvation. Well water requires a bucket, which Jesus didn’t have, or He would have had to ask. Living water requires faith, trust that Jesus will supply when all your efforts have done bone dry.
Are you greater than our father Jacob who dug this well? Indeed He is! Jesus is greater than Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. And, as John has told us in the beginning of his gospel, He is greater than Moses. Jesus trumps Moses and the old covenant at every turn, from changing OT washing water to NT wedding wine, to dying and rising to save the world.
The woman is intrigued. Curious. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain. Mt. Gerazim. But you Judeans say Jerusalem is the only proper place. That’s the open door, right there. And listen to what Jesus says.
“Woman, believe me (which is sound advice at any time and place!). The hour is coming (but isn’t here yet) when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. (The temple was destroyed forty years after Jesus said this.) You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (See, the one you have is not your husband. The Samaritans worshipped the God they didn’t know.) But the hour is coming, and is now here (right here in my speaking to you) when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
And just as this story is not about marriage, it’s also not about worship. It’s about faith. To worship in spirit and true is to worship in faith, which is what all who are born from above by water and Spirit are given to do. The true spirit of worship is faith in the promises of God in Christ. That’s the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the faith which God reckons as righteousness. It is faith in Jesus, the Promised One, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God in the Flesh whose words are spirit and life, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The woman is captive. He has her. She goes back to the simplest, most child-like thing she believes. “I know that Messiah (the Christ) is coming. When he comes, he’ll tell us everything. That’s faith talk. At least as much faith as she could possibly have. And Jesus speaks to that faith. “I who speak to you am he.” Or, if I may tinker with the word order so you hear it correctly: I AM, the One who is speaking to you. I AM. Yahweh. The One you worship but do not know. The one who is not your husband but now claims you as His own.
Centuries before, God sent lions to Samaria to re-establish the worship of His Name. Now the Lion of Judah comes to Samaria to claim it for His own, one Samaritan at a time. The One greater than Jacob has come to his well to fulfill it. Washing water becomes wedding wine. Well water becomes living water flowing in a stream of life that goes on forever. That living water flowed down from the wounded side of Jesus on the cross to you in your Baptism and it flows to you daily in His Word. This isn’t water you work for. This is grace water, free gift water, water that rebirths, cleanses, restores, renews, refreshes the world in its Samaritan ignorance.
They worship what they do not know. But you know. You know by the grace of God, by the Spirit of God that has enlightened you. You know. God has made you worshipers, disciples, those who worship in the true spirit of faith in Jesus. Living water has come to you so that you need never thirst again. The One who has spoken to you is the One who is God in the Flesh, the Light and Life of all, the eternal Word through whom all things, including you, were made. You know Him and are known by Him. And the only thing you can do is tell everyone else where this living water is found. The woman went to her town and told everyone. This woman who had avoided the condemning stares of her little town now can’t shut up about Jesus. The whole town came out to meet Jesus and they welcomed Him and He stayed with them for two more days.
Jesus, this friend of Samaritans and tax collectors and misfits of all sorts, is the Savior of the world. Not just the respectable and reputable and religious. But the world. A world of broken Samaritan women, of confused Pharisees, of societies rejects and royalty, winners and losers, children of Abraham along with Babylonians, Cuthites, Hamithites, Avvites, Sephavites and whatever else was in the multi-cultural morass called Samaria, or this world in which you and live.
Stop debating religion. Start proclaiming Jesus. There’s a Samaritan woman at a well somewhere who needs to hear it.
In the name of Jesus,