This is a sermon from Lent 2014 where I arranged for the gospel to be read by a narrator and two other readers. I, as the interloper-preacher, broke in to question and comment on the story throughout. It was a different way to approach a very long gospel reading that can be difficult to unpack.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. Glory to you, Lord Christ.
Narrator: 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,
Jesus: “Give me a drink.”
Narrator: (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him,
Samaritan: “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.)
Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on just a minute here! Time out. Go ahead and be seated, this could take a while.
Did you hear what the woman said? I didn’t quite catch her name, did you? No? Well, she’s just a Samaritan. Doesn’t matter.
Besides, (if we’re being totally honest) when we ask someone for something, we don’t really want to know their name, we just want them to give us what we need. You know, like when you’re at a gas station or grocery store, you really don’t want the sob story of the single mom making minimum wage, or the retiree who just took the job because he was lonely…you just want your change.
We all know how it goes, you smile and converse just long enough for them to hand over your ice cream – and no one gets hurt.
Or better yet, you can go to a self-checkout where you won’t have to bother with an actual person. Who has time for that these days?
But this no-name Samaritan woman seems to have one thing right, Jews and Samaritans don’t mix! The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it! Sure you could shake them up and they’d pass by each other frantically as they separate like oil and water – but they don’t mix! The Samaritans were the theological step-children to the Jews. They were about as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian. They didn’t know their epiclesus from their sursum corda – they didn’t get good liturgy. They were not the chosen ones. They had gotten religion all wrong.
After all, if my mind’s all made up, what’s the point in having a conversation?
Why should a Democrat sit down to talk with a Tea Partier? Why would a proponent of same-sex marriage converse with a defender of traditional marriage? Why would an Anglo-catholic work together with an evangelical? These things just don’t mix, right? Better to keep them separate, safer for everyone, right?
But it is noon. And it is HOT. You know, like Texas-in-the-middle-of-August hot. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose, even for Jesus. I guess he’ll just ask her for a little bit of water to hold him over until his disciples (the men) return with some real food. I hope he keeps this short…
Jesus: 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.”
SW: “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: “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.”
SW: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
SW: “I have no husband.”
Jesus: “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!”
SW: “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: “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.”
SW: “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”
Jesus: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Did you all catch all of that? Is it just me, or is this conversation getting a bit confusing? Are they talking about H2O or spiritual stuff? Or is the water the spiritual stuff? It’s hard to tell with Jesus. Bread, wine, body, blood, water, spirit, birth – it’s all a bit muddled.
But one thing is clear: Jesus seems to know more about this woman than she even knows herself. The whole business of how many husbands she’s had tells us not that she’s some sort of sinful person, but that she’s been handed down (more or less) as property from one person to another. And all of these things have left her a bit parched. Noon was not the most convenient time to come to the well. Most others came in the morning while it was still cool. At midday, those others could be avoided. It was the one time she wasn’t being bullied or bossed around.
And then this Jewish Rabbi, a prophet even, pops up asking for a favor. As he asks for a little drink of water, he promises he can give much, much more in return. Perhaps he’s even flirting a little, but there seems to be something more, a stream that runs very deep with him.
There’s something bigger going on here. Beyond these labels of Samaritan and Jew, Liberal and Conservative, beyond any of your fill-in-your-blank labels, we all know what it’s like to be thirsty. We all know what it’s like to long for something just beyond our reach.
We may be a bit more clever now in how we come about our water, but the slightest drought reminds us of our thirst. One look at a scorched summer landscape can remind us of the leanness of our own souls. We cry out with the psalmist:
As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God.
But the stuff you get from the sink won’t do. Neither will a new car or smartphone. Even as this Samaritan Woman found out, neither will the next best relationship fill that void. Jesus does not offer the next best thing, he offers himself. He is the Source, in him are the Headwaters which never run dry.
The Eucharistic bread and wine are the foretaste of that heavenly banquet in which we will never hunger, never thirst again. It is but a sampling of what God has in store for those who love him. This sip of living water does not inebriate, but quenches that inner thirst. As St. Ambrose so beautifully wrote, “’Let us joyfully drink of the sober drunkenness of the spirit.”
But, like the Samaritan woman, how often do we put up our defenses when Jesus whispers, I am he. We sputter religious jargon that justifies our isolation and indulgence. When Jesus offers to quench our thirst, we backtrack into our own sense of unworthiness or our self-justified, self-adequacy.
I don’t know about you, but when I can sense a thirst, a longing, and invitation to abide and spend time with Jesus, I often substitute a long litany of excuses. In a little while, I’m a bit busy right now.
“Well, I did read a book about prayer. I can always pray…later.” And the thirst remains.
Perhaps you’ve come up with better ones, and I ask of you – what are your excuses that keep you thirsty?
Narrator: 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,
SW: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Narrator: They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
Jesus: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
Narrator: So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”
Jesus: “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.”
What’s-her-name, she left her water jar. I guess she wasn’t thirsty anymore. I have no idea whether Jesus ever got his drink of water or not. But it doesn’t matter. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
We, like the disciples, can be a little slow to catch up. We arrive on the scene long after Jesus has begun the conversation, and we look at each other dumbfounded asking, what the…did he just…huh?
You can almost sense the smirk on Jesus’ face. The cracked corners of his mouth curl as he says, “Oh, I’ve just had a feast!”
If we, as Jesus’ disciples in the here and now, are asking the question, “what does God want us to do?” we’re asking the wrong question. Jesus has already started the conversation. God is already at work. Perhaps the better question is, “What is God doing here? What are we waiting for?!”
Narrator: 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Christ.