Startled at the Well

John 4: 1-42               "Startled at The Well"                 March 15, 2020

Beginning at the third verse… Jesus left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 4 He had to pass through Samar′ia. 5 So he came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him….

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

 

You have invited us to be in your presence, O God, and promised that when we are together, you are in our midst. And so we come, hungry for a good word, thirsty for the living water of your love. Now startle us, once again, with your truth in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

I received a Valentine’s Day from a church member this year. It was a nice surprise. I have gotten Easter cards, birthday cards and Christmas cards, but this year I got a Valentine’s Day card. It’s feels good to be remembered.

I think back to when my daughters were young, we would buy Valentine cards for every kid in their class – you know those little cards with the tiny candy hearts attached?

Not every class did it that way. I had a flashback to being in Third grade. When I was in elementary school in the 1960’s, it could be humiliating. Back then not everybody got a Valentine’s card. The popular kids would get a couple dozen cards. But if you were the eight year-old kid who only got 3 or 4 cards, it could crush your fragile spirit.

We survive these experiences mostly. But they can still be hurtful. If you were left out, you might find yourself parched for acceptance. We may not even understand it, but being excluded may give us a powerful thirst for approval and a thirst like that can be as real as the longing for water in the midday heat of a parched desert.

One day, at a well in Sychar, Jesus taught his friends about this thirst and how it was quenched for one person.

According to John, Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea in the south to go back home to Galilee in the north. It was a long journey. "He had to go through Samaria," John wrote. But if you look at any Bible map, you’ll notice the most route from Judea to Galilee doesn’t go through Samaria at all. So why would Jesus detour them into the one place any self-respecting Jew avoids at all costs?

When they finally arrive at Jacob’s well, it’s midday. It’s hot. It’s deserted. They are tired from walking hours in the hot sun and the fact it was hours of walking into a place they despised, must have left they cranky. On top of being tired, they are hungry and thirsty. The disciples go to the closest town to buy some food. Jesus waits alone by the well. About this time a woman approaches. And here’s where things start to get interesting.

In the first place, the woman approaching the well is a Samaritan. Hostile is the best word to describe the 700-year old rift between the Jews and the Samaritans. The two tribes were related, but it was distant – like second cousins once removed or something. Like any family argument, the whole reason for the fight is almost forgotten. All that is left is bigotry fueled by anger and hurt, and the accusations of who is pure and who is impure.

By the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans had nothing to with each other. Even the word, “Samaritan,” became the name you used to describe someone who was a reject or an outcast.

Kind of like the insulting name the English used to describe the colonials leading up to the Revolutionary War. Do you know what offensive name the English used to describe someone who was a reject, an outcast or someone just plain annoying? They called them, Presbyterians.

The centuries of arguments had done nothing but cultivate racial and religious hatred. Samaritans walked on the other side of the street when they saw a Jew and a Jew would literally turn around and go back home and use a completely different street to avoid a Samaritan. They both knew better than to use the same road.

Yet, here he is, a young Jewish rabbi, sitting at a well in Samaria. He sees a Samaritan coming toward him. It’s time for him to get up and move a hundred feet away. It’s just what people did. Prevent confrontation. For sake of all concerned, don’t have any contact – it will only make everybody feel uncomfortable. Don’t talk. Don’t converse. Don’t look them in the eye. And, for goodness sakes, don’t drink from the same water fountain.

What’s more, it’s not just any old Samaritan sidling up to the well. It’s a woman. And the law is clear for males, especially rabbis. They’re not to have anything to do with any woman other than their wife.

So, it’s time for Jesus to get out of there. And instead he does the most startling thing: he asks her for a drink of water. She objects. She knows it isn’t just socially awkward, it’s illegal. If Jesus touches the cup, it will render him impure. So, she says, "You know better than that. You’re not supposed to have anything to do with me."

This would be like a 1960 Woolworth clerk in North Carolina offering a black man a piece of pie at the counter, or a white woman giving up her front row seat to Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus in 1955. This just didn’t happen.

Jesus says, "If you knew who I was you would give me a drink from the well and I would give you ‘living water.’"

And then the plot thickens. We’re about to find out why it’s all the more urgent Jesus get out of there as quickly as he can. Jesus says, "Go bring your husband," he says. "I have no husband," she responds. "You’re right." "You had five husbands and right now you’re living with a man who’s not your husband." And now the encounter is way out of bounds. She’s a Samaritan and a woman and a sinner, and not a quiet lust in your heart sinner, she is a flagrant sinner.

Now, for the first time, we understand why she is at the well in the heat of the day. Most women come early in the morning before it gets too hot, or later in the evening when things get cooler. But, she doesn’t. She is there in the middle of the day for just that reason – she is doing all she can to avoid the crowds. Better to go alone in the heat of the day, than to go at a time when you can predict the mean stares and the nasty names.

She is an outcast: a Samaritan in the midst of Samaritans.

But, then the unexpected. Instead of walking away, Jesus engages her. At first, she is surprised that this man, this Jewish rabbi, would dare to talk to her. But something more wonderful is happening. He hasn’t demeaned her. She expects to be ridiculed. She is prepared for cruelty. She has come to terms with constant rejection. But, here, perhaps for the first time in her life, is a man who doesn’t react to her as men always do: either as a sexual partner to be used or as a social outcast unfit to be seen with. This man has tried to neither seduce her nor condemn her.

The moment she realizes he actually knows her history of poor relationships and bad choices, and yet stays anyway, well, that changes everything. Unlike the strangers who hurl insults, and unlike the church people who turn up their noses to her in the grocery store, Jesus isn’t horrified by her sin; and to have someone not horrified by our sin is by itself, a kind act of love.

Now, we begin to understand the living water Jesus is offering to this woman. It is acceptance. It is the opposite of that awful Third grade Valentine’s Day rejection. It’s love – by just talking to her and not condemning her – he is doing more in those few moments to teach her about the grace of God than four years of Sunday School could ever do.

It was the most stunning and unexpected experience of her life, so stunning that she drops her water jar and runs back to the village to tell anyone who will listen to her about this amazing man.

We don’t see it at first, or we don’t realize it, but the Samaritan woman at the well became the first evangelist for Christ. Long before Peter and Paul, before Matthew and Luke, and even before John who’s telling us the story, is this unknown woman who drank the living water and her soul was quenched. This was no morning dew - what Jesus did for her – think Niagra Falls. It’s blindly ironic how the Roman Catholic Church has denied women the chance to be priests, and yet in all the gospels, the women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

Of course, the disciples don’t get it. They arrive with lunch and they’re stupified. If there was ever a case for condemnation, this was it. At the very least, Jesus should have preached to her on morals. But, no. John reminds us: “Jesus came not to condemn but to save; not to exclude but to include; not to judge, but to redeem.”

Notice the startling way the story ends. Remember how the Jews and the Samaritans hate one another? After they meet Jesus, the Samaritans actually invite the Jews to stay with them, and then for two days, Jews and Samaritans, men and women, talk to one another, eating at the same table, sleep under the same roofs.

A 700-year old conviction of how nothing can ever change, all changes just because Jesus spoke to woman parched by rejection. He didn’t see her as a sermon illustration or as an example of the problem with the world today. The picture before us today is a woman, who, in the presence of Jesus was not an unfortunate minority or a moral embarrassment, but a human being. Jesus loved her back into being a person again. He restored her human dignity. He saved her.

At the center of the gospel and the heart of our faith, is the message that neither our foolishness and even our sin can outdo the love of God.

It’s a love offered to each of us: to you and I, no matter who we are or how we’ve been excluded. It is a wondrous love that comes to claim us and remind us that whatever words others may use to define us, whatever words and ideas we have come to use to describe ourselves, the one permanent, unchanging, indestructible thing about you and me, is we are God’s child, and God’s own Son came to make sure we never forget that.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.

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