Lent 3 March 15, 2020 – Sermon

Lent 3 March 15, 2020
Psalm 63, Genesis 29:1-2,9b-13; John 4:3-42
We who are thirsty…
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We’ve just read together through the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anybody anywhere in the bible. Reminding us – last week we were listening as Jesus spoke with a religious leader named Nicodemus who came to visit him by night. And at the end of their conversation Nicodemus, the scholarly religious authority figure was still in the dark… Not understanding Jesus…

Today a woman of Samaria (and now we’re reminded Jews and Samaritans avoided each other’s company and would not normally share hospitality with each other) – but today a Samaritan woman meets Jesus in broad daylight and remains in lively conversation with him… Gradually coming to see more and more of who Jesus truly is…

This is a longer conversation today by comparison with last week. And at the same time, a relatively brief conversation within the larger story of the love of God that begins even before the first book of the bible… And in this larger story, we now find ourselves in a story within the story… in the biblical narrative of a man and woman meeting at a well that begins in Genesis (24)…. as…
Abraham, patriarch of Israel, sends his servant to find a bride for his son Isaac back in the country he and his wife Sarah left when God said go…And the servant goes back to Haran, and comes to a well, where he prays for success…And as he prays, here comes Rebekah, tending her family’s sheep. And behold, Rebekah becomes the wife of Isaac – and later the mother of Jacob – who we’ve seen today returning to that same well in his grandparent’s home town – where he meets Rachel, shepherding the sheep. And Rachel becomes his wife.
Their son Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt… And 400 years later, their great-great-great grand-nephew Moses flees Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave driver. And arrives in Midian, where he sits at a well and meets a group of shepherd women watering sheep – drives away some other shepherds harassing them – and marries one of them, Zipporah. Long story abbreviated – up to now anytime a man and woman meet at a well in the bible, marriage happens. So we have expectations… though –

Of course we know Jesus is not like other men. (Mild understatement.) So – we listen closely… As Jesus engages with this woman in a different kind of courtship… Wooing her with words of mystery and wisdom… Coaching her to know him as Messiah… Never forcing the conversation… Just offering the gift of Who He is and what He has to offer… (and…)

As with Nicodemus last week, there’s some word-play at work here… as Jesus asks for water – and the woman asks “what’s a Jewish guy like you doing talking with a Samaritan woman like me?” And Jesus replies “if you knew the gift of God and who you’re talking with, you would ask and he would give you living water.” (And…)
We can hear her skepticism… but also a hint of interest… in her response… as she says, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket, and this well is deep. Where do you get this living water? Are you claiming to be greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well and with his sons and flocks, drank from it?”
Jesus lets her know he’s talking about a different kind of water as he tells her “whoever drinks of this water will still be thirsty – but the water I give will become in anyone who drinks a spring of living water for eternal life…”
Later he will speak of living water as another name for the Holy Spirit (somewhere in John 7)… But for now, living water seems to mean Jesus… and all he offers… He isn’t about to explain… And he doesn’t need to – as she says, “Sir, give me this water, so I don’t have to be thirsty, and keep coming to this well for water…”
“Go call your husband and come back” Jesus says, and the woman replies “I’ve got no husband.” And Jesus says ‘that’s true, you’ve had five and the one who you’re with now isn’t your husband…’ And…
Many a preacher and bible scholar have gone way off track here – assuming this means she is a great sinner, a loose woman, even a prostitute. Interpreting her having had five husbands along with her being at the well at high noon (instead of early or late in the day, the usual times for getting water) as meaning she is trying to avoid being seen in public due to shame. Overlooking our biblical family history precedent of Rachel and Jacob also met for the first time in broad daylight.
And Jesus, in contrast with many scholars and preachers, never implies she’s any worse than anyone else. We’re all sinners, but there’s nothing here to suggest she’s in a different category from the rest of us. For all we know, she may have been widowed and/or divorced five times in some combination and then become a victim of community gossip…
Remembering in the book of Tobit (included in Catholic and Orthodox bibles) a widow has been married seven times, and all her husbands have died on their wedding nights, through nobody’s fault, but now she’s avoided by the community – till Tobias comes along and the story ends, happily, with her vindication.
The point Jesus is making by asking the woman to go get her husband – is mostly to let her know he knows all her story… just by looking at her and listening to her… And to let her know he isn’t trying to hook up in any usual sense – but that he does care for her enough to offer eternal life… on the first date. (So to speak.)
And the woman obviously doesn’t take offense at what Jesus says – as now she calls him “a prophet” and without missing a beat asks him a probing theological question about one of the main issues that divided Samaritans and Jews. “We Samaritans worship on this mountain, but you Jews worship in Jerusalem…” The implied question being “who’s right?”
And Jesus replies “salvation is from the Jews…” (Samaritans had Jewish roots, but had inter-married with Assyrians who had conquered and colonized their region that had once been part of Israel.) “But the time is coming,” Jesus continues “and is here now already… when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and truth…’ When Spirit and truth are present, true worship is happening… (And we note – for Jesus, in John’s gospel, time is always both/and – here already – and still coming in fullness…)
And now the woman is getting warmer, as she says “I know when the Messiah shows up – he will explain it all to us.” And…
“I am he,” Jesus says.

Just then his disciples come back from town… Wondering, like the woman had wondered – what is Jesus doing talking with a Samaritan woman like her? (Scholars debate the point but… Rabbis probably weren’t supposed to talk with women in public…except in emergencies…) But his disciples know Jesus well enough by now to know to keep their mouths shut… and listen… And pretty soon they and we know from listening to him…

This is exactly the kind of person we most need to be in conversation with – and exactly the kind of question people will be asking about us… when they see us talking with people they think we shouldn’t be talking with…

And as disciples are standing there, wondering what’s going on – the woman leaves her water jug and runs to tell the whole village “come see a man who’s told me everything I’ve ever done! Can this be the Messiah?”

And the whole town comes and sees – and convinces Jesus to stick around for a few more days and keep talking with them… And after two days, villagers are all saying to the woman ‘Now it’s not just because of what you told us. Now we have heard for ourselves – now we know – this is not only the Messiah – this is the Savior of the world!’

And this woman at the well turns out to be one of the quickest students we meet in the bible… As with a little coaching from Jesus she learns enough about him to go and tell others… Some of whom turn out to be quick learners too… As they become the first to call Jesus “The Savior of the World.”

Making this Samaritan woman the first successful large scale evangelist in the gospels.

And… From just this one conversation with Jesus – starting with just this one woman – (who nobody but Jesus seems to think is able)… A conversation with Jesus has begun… that has never stopped…
Reverberating from ancient Samaria… around the world and back many, many times… and still going…

As now Jesus continues to meet us, greet us, speak with us, here and now in all our village gathering places…
Asking, as he asked long ago – for a little hospitality – a little conversation…
As he rests on his journey… and…
Invites us to bring all our questions, cares and concerns to him…

So – Let’s keep listening – as Jesus reminds us… He knows all of us, just as he knew the woman at the well… Knows everything we’ve ever done… And still he calls us, even us…
To share the good news with our neighbors –
The Good News of Who Jesus Is…
The Good News of the Living Water he offers…
To satisfy our every thirst…

Thanks be to God. Amen.