She came for water in the heat of the noonday sun. A woman of Sychar in Samaria. She was well known in the village, the woman who lived on the other side of town, that side you didn’t go at night. She was the one had five husbands, each of whom divorced her and cut her loose. She was living with another man now because she had no honorable means to support herself and the rabbis wouldn’t grant her another marriage. They’d been lenient to give her numbers four and five.
One usually didn’t go for water at noon. The water jug balanced on your head was work enough, not to mention lowering it 100 feet into the well. You didn’t need to contend with the heat of the noon day sun. Most of the women from the village came in the late afternoon, as the day was cooling. Perhaps that’s why she came at noon. Who wants to be stared at and pointed at all the time? She knew what they were saying behind her back, loud enough so she could hear the unkind names they called her. They really had no idea what her life had been like, but they judged her anyway. It was easier to come to the well at noon when she would be alone.
Jesus happened to be there that day. He happened to be going through Samaria on his way back Galilee. All roads went through Samaria. Judeans disliked Samaritans, and the feeling was likely mutual on the part of the Samaritans. Samaritans were considered half-breed Israelites, intermarried with foreigners. They were also “heretics” in the eyes of the Judeans, following a different version of the books of Moses and worshipping on a different mountain. Samaria had all the historic sites. This was Joseph’s field given by Father Jacob; it was Jacob’s well. Samaria was also the site of Israel’s greatest idolatry. Simply having historic sites never guarantees orthodoxy.
A doubly unlikely meeting took place that noon at Jacob’s well – Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, and a sassy Samaritan with a marriage record a mile long. Jews hated Samaritans in general, and men didn’t speak to women in public. But Jesus doesn’t care about such things. He asks her for a drink. He really doesn’t need for her to give him a drink, but it’s as good a conversation starter as any when you’re hanging around a well.
As it is so many times in John, as it was last week with Nicodemus, Jesus quickly moves from one thing to another. From well water to living water. “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 is thinking of well water, water that requires work. Water for which you carry a jug on your head, and lower it until the well, and pull it up. Water that you have to work for every day. Water that you work up a thirst just getting it. Jesus is speaking about a different kind of water. A water that flows like a spring. A water that you drink from and never thirst again. A water that wells up to eternal life. This is not the water you can draw from Jacob’s well, or from any well in Israel. This is living water that flows from the Lord, the fountain of Israel. This is the water that comes from God, like the water that flowed from the stricken rock in the wilderness. That Rock was Christ, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians. “For they drank from the same spiritual Rock in the wilderness, and that Rock was Christ.” This is the water that flowed like a stream from Jesus’ wounded side on the cross. This is the River of Life, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Son, flowing like a river down the center of the heavenly city and watering the Tree of Life. This is the water that flows to you in Baptism, a water with the Word that wells up in faith to eternal life.
The woman’s interest is caught. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Well, not quite, but it’s a start. She’s still thinking well water and all the work and not having to come to Jacob’s well any more. But she doesn’t quite get who Jesus is, other than some man offering some water that is better than what she can get on her own.
“Go, call your husband.” And then the truth. Jesus doesn’t say this to shame her or accuse her, the way the women of the town would talk about her. Jesus only says this to let her know that He is much more than she could ever dare to think. He is greater than Father Jacob. And Father Abraham. And Moses. She senses that He’s a prophet. Maybe He can settle the age old question that divided Jews and Samaritans – which mountain? Jerusalem or Gerizim? “Neither,” Jesus tells her. Salvation comes from the Jews, and she’s looking right at the one Jew who can save her. But worship is not a matter of mountains when you have the Son of God in the flesh right there in front of you. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” True worship of the Father is through the Son who is the Truth in the Holy Spirit. It isn’t a matter of mountains but a matter of faith that is born of water and Spirit.
The Father seeks true worshipers who worship in the true Spirit. And the thing we learned last week with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is that the Father begets the very worshipers He seeks through water and the Spirit. Worship is not a matter of finding the right mountain but being found by Jesus, by being born again from above by water and Spirit, by dying and rising in Him. You don’t get close to God by climbing up mountains to Him; God draws close to you by coming down from heaven to join you in your human existence, to embrace your flesh and blood humanity, to take it to His cross and tomb and resurrection. Worship is receiving what Jesus has to give you, coming as one’s who hunger and thirst, “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul thirsts for you,” says the psalm.
Our sin has left us parched and thirsty, as though we were in a wilderness. No mere water can quench our thirst for God. We try the alternatives. The polluted puddles and cesspools of this world’s religions and “spiritualities,” But they can’t quench the deep thirst we have for righteousness, for wholeness, for peace. Only God can provide that water which flows freely like a stream. Only God in the flesh that open up that stream to us so that we may drink and live.
Our lives can be a mess too, like that sassy Samaritan woman’s life. Some of it may have been her own doing. Who really knows? She married bad men, perhaps. Or she hadn’t read Dr. Laura’s book on the “Care and Feeding of Husbands.” But the point is that Jesus deals with her as she is, and receives her as one He came to seek and to save. Maybe it isn’t so shocking to us, but it was to the people of Jesus’ day and even to His own disciples. A Samaritan woman with a past and not much of a present, who doesn’t even have her religion quite in order, is loved by God in Jesus, and He is there for her as no man had ever been in her life, as no one could be, offering her the gift of eternal life with God.
There is no life that is so messed up, there is person beyond the scope of this amazing, seeking love of Jesus who intentionally goes out to the margins to gather in the lost one, the despised one, the rejected one. No wonder the prostitutes were drawn to Jesus. He gave them dignity; He gave them life; He made their broken lives whole again.
We need to keep this Samaritan woman in mind, the next time she shows up in here in church. She probably wasn’t what most would call “good congregation material.” More of an embarrassment, really. But Jesus was not ashamed to talk to her and reach out to her, and neither should we be ashamed. The church is a hospice for sinners of all sorts, and Jesus is the Savior of sinners.
We need also to keep her in mind for ourselves, especially when things are not going well with us, when we are embarrassed about our lives and would just as soon sneak to the well at noon rather than having to engage the citizenry. It is one of the big mistakes that Christians make is to check out of church life the moment life gets messy and difficult. We’re so accustomed to wearing our Sunday best and pretending that all is well with us when it isn’t, we forget that we come to worship as broken, poor beggars. How sad it is that the time when we need to hear the Word and receive the Body and Blood of Christ is often the time we stay away. And then the devil has won the day, keeping us away from living water that can quench our thirst forever.
“I know that the Christ is coming, and He’ll straighten it all out,” she says, not knowing the half of it. “II who speak to you am He,” Jesus says. It helps to rearrange the sentence the way the Greek text has it – “I am, the one who is speaking to you.” Jesus not only identifies Himself as the Messiah, but as the I AM, the Lord in the flesh. It’s one of the rare times in the Gospel where Jesus says it plainly and clearly, that He is the Christ. And the wonder is that He says it plainly and clearly to a Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was living with what would have been number six. He doesn’t reveal this to the high and mighty and religious, but to this lowly, despised, poor, miserable sinner of a woman.
“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s what the Bible calls “grace” – undeserved, unmerited, free kindness from God. While we were still sinners. A Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Each of you, here today. Worshipers gathered in spirit and truth around the gifts of Christ. “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires receive the water of life without cost.”
In the name of Jesus,