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John 4:5-42 • March 27, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Our texts this Lent place us right in the middle of some amazing Biblical stories and encounters with Jesus. Last week we heard of the first encounter Jesus had with Nicodemus.
There is transformation and change going on in these early chapters of John. Jesus changes water into wine and proclaims change from the physical bricks and mortar temple that everyone knew about into the temple of his body in chapter 2. His encounter with Nicodemus transforms being born of the flesh into being born of the spirit in chapter 3. Which brings us to today’s story, the Samaritan woman at the well. In Chapter 4, Jesus is challenging society’s expectations on relationships and the ridged status quo, and revealing himself to an outsider.
There was an extensive study done by a well known organization recently about Christianity in our country. Atheists and agnostics scored better in this study than did Lutherans and Catholics in their knowledge of the biblical story. The study revealed that a lot of people who claim to be followers of the risen Christ think that Deuteronomy is a rock group and Joan of Arc was married to Noah. Now I know that these are just studies that we need to consider with great care, but what struck me most was not the demographic information or how people responded as this research was conducted, but how it revealed that today’s Christian seems to be losing their connection to the biblical story.
When we hear these incredible stories during Lent, do you believe that you are connected with them? That you have a faith story?
Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman as he rests in the shade of Jacob’s well while the disciples are off getting some takeout for lunch in the city. According to tradition and culture, Jesus and this woman should not speak to each other. Which actually is what takes place in some respects in this encounter – at least in the beginning. Except for Jesus’ initial request for a drink of water, he and the woman do not really “speak” to one another. Did you catch that?
You might be saying, “What do you mean they don’t speak to each other? It’s almost an entire chapter with them speaking to each other. What are they doing if they aren’t speaking to each other?”
What I discovered for the first time this week in this beautiful text from John’s gospel – one of my favorite in all of scripture and one that we only find in John’s gospel – is that Jesus and this woman are not speaking to each other, they are sharing their stories with each other. They both know their own story, but it is the other one who tells it.
The Samaritan woman begins by identifying Jesus as a Jewish man and wonders what in the world he is doing in Samaria and why he cares to be with her, a woman in the middle of the day. Jesus offers none of this information – the woman does.
Jesus then identifies the thirst that the woman has and how her thirst is not simply quenched by water from the well. He knows of her thirst for something more than water. He knows that her thirst includes past disappointments and struggles. He identifies the struggle she has had in marriage and other relationships, even the one she is in currently. I think Jesus also understands other parts of her life that are just as difficult. The woman provides none of this information – Jesus does.
The disciples interrupt their sharing and seem to be a little ticked at Jesus for spending time with this woman. They aren’t interested at all in the exchange taking place aside from the concern that they have that Jesus may look bad to others who will see them because he is speaking to a Samaritan woman.
During the encounter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, something changes. But not the change that we may expect. During their time together, they stop referring to each other as “a Jewish man” or “a Samaritan woman” – terms that separate them from one another.
The woman goes back to the city and says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” And verse 39 says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”
Jesus spends more time with this woman at the well than he does anyone else in all of the Gospels – longer than he talks with any of his disciples, longer than he talks to any of his accusers, longer than he talks to any of his own family. She is an outsider who sees Jesus.
The disciples seem to be more interested in Jesus eating his lunch before his food gets cold.
In this encounter, change happens as Jesus shows the woman who she is; and as a result he shows her who he is. And the woman’s response is to go to the city and tell others about this Jesus. She doesn’t keep this encounter with Jesus a secret. She sees Jesus as the Messiah, the savior of the world, and her response it to tell others about Jesus so that they too can share in the story and never thirst again.
Jesus helps the woman see that the story connected to her past life – six men, her well, her places of worship, her story of Jacob and ancestors – is just that. In the past. Jesus offers her a new path, a new and secure relationship, an unfailing supply of the water of life, a new center of devotion. A new story.
Theologian Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion on the wall of his office by Matthias (Mateas) Grunewald with an image of John the Baptist in it. The artist portrayed John the Baptist pointing his finger to the cross of Jesus in the center of the painting. It’s said that when Barth would talk with a visitor about his work, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger.” Barth wanted to point people to Christ.
As a result of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus, she wants to point people to Christ. Just a short time before meeting Jesus, she had been completely trapped in a story that pushed her aside as an outcast. There was no way backward or forward, all she could do was to scrape by as best she could by doing things like going to the well at the time of day when there would be nobody there to sneer or mock her. Rather than continuing to see Jesus only as a Jewish man, she now saw him as the savior. It caused her to share her story of Jesus and how he told her everything about her to everyone she met. She is one of the first evangelists we have, even before any of Jesus’ closest followers understand who he is.
So, do you have a faith story? Yes. You do.
Do you believe that your faith story is connected with the stories that we are experiencing on this year’s Lenten journey? I hope your answer is a bold and confident, yes.
God accepts us as we are and loves us and showers us with grace each day – no matter who we are or where our journey has taken us. Like the Samaritan woman at the well that we hear about today, Jesus sees us and knows our story. Jesus sees you and knows your story.
As you walk through this next week, point to Jesus and share the story.