Message on John 4:7-15 for Lenten Lunch Program
March 6, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to 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 Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common 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 no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
I am honored to be the first to share a message in this 50th anniversary year of our ecumenical Lenten lunches. As a female pastor, I can testify to the difficulty that women sometimes have in communities of faith of being heard and being taken seriously. I have had the opportunity—I am not going to say challenge—of serving as the first female pastor of 2 churches and as the second female pastor to a church in rural Minnesota, following a female pastor whose leadership was not universally accepted. But it isn’t like I didn’t know this might happen.
After graduating seminary in 2010, I told my dad that I would be seeking ordination in a denomination that, though it had been ordaining women as church leaders for decades, still had many congregations reluctant to call a female pastor. His response was to ask me why I would do this—give up careers in journalism and teaching to pursue something in which I might experience rejection and disappointment?
I don’t remember my exact words to Dad, but I do remember the sense of call that I had back then that stays with me today and gives me strength and joy to walk this way. Because it is the joy of the Lord that gives us strength to overcome any social barriers built by human beings. And it helps to have a sense of humor. When my last congregation asked why I was adding purple streaks to my hair, I told them it was for Lent. Most of them accepted that. And I have a cartoon framed in my church office of 3 women—probably the 3 Mary’s—coming from the empty tomb and being told by a group of male disciples, “So ladies, thanks for being the first to witness and report the resurrection… And we’ll take it from here.”
That may have been what really happened after the discovery of the empty tomb, but that isn’t what happened after Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the gospel of John. The fact that she is going to draw water from the well in the middle of the day reveals her low status. She is purposefully avoiding other more “respectable women” of the community. For this is the hottest point of the day and all the other women of the town would have already drawn water for their families in the early morning hours. She is marginalized and Jesus knows why, though he is a stranger to her and this community. She is living with a man who is not her husband and has had five husbands, Jesus will tell her after she accepts his offer of living water so that she will never thirst again.
Why Jesus has taken a route through Samaria is a mystery. Most Jews avoid Samaritans because they reject some core beliefs of ancient Judaism and have a long history of animosity with one another, going back to the exile. The Samaritan woman—I wish we knew her name!—is aware of some of these theological differences and will say in 4:20, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you (meaning the Jews) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” And Jesus will tell her that the hour is coming and is now here when true worshipers will worship the Father not on a mountain or in Jerusalem. “True worshipers, “he says, “will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
The conversation continues as the woman shares more of her faith with Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called the Christ,” she says. And when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus chooses to reveal himself to this woman, living on the margins of her community. “I am he,” Jesus says. “The one who is speaking to you.”
The conversation ends perhaps prematurely—when the male disciples return from the city where they had been sent to buy food. They are astonished that Jesus is speaking with a woman, says 4:27. So the issue isn’t about her being a Samaritan, but her being female. But they knew enough not to question what Jesus was doing. I love it that scripture says, “But no one said (to her), ‘What do you want?” or to Jesus “Why are you speaking with her?” Meaning, they wanted to ask these questions because it wasn’t the way things were done; it wasn’t the norm for their culture or their faith.
And how does the Samaritan woman respond to Christ’s revelation to her—that he is the Messiah? She believes! And believing compels her to share her testimony with everyone. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” she says. “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And the one who accepts Christ’s living water and leaves her empty water jar forgotten at the well, brings many to Christ through her simple testimony. Her openness to an encounter with the holy in a completely unexpected way changes her life forever. Today in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions, though she isn’t given a name in the biblical story, she is venerated as Saint Photine or Photina from the Greek word phos for light.
Jesus is invited by the Samaritans to stay two more days and he accepts their invitation. Still more come to believe because Jesus has spoken to them, too. They have heard for themselves, “And we know,” they say, “that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Friends, as we journey through this holy season of Lent with one another, I encourage you to open your heart for unexpected encounters of the holy. But also, make time to intentionally drink deeply of the living water from the well that is Christ himself. The Lord knows everything about you and doesn’t hold your sins against you. So how could you possibly hold other peoples’ sins against them? Don’t make the mistake of the disciples and dismiss someone because of gender, religion or social status that the Lord has chosen to speak into your life and change your world for good. God wants to equip you and use you and your simple testimony of what God has done for you to bring others nearer to Christ.
Come to the waters that will satisfy heart and soul. All are welcome to come and be refreshed and renewed by the Word and Spirit. Man or woman. Young, old and in between. In Christ, all human barriers are broken down and we are made one in His body.
Come to Christ with the confidence of the children of God—and you will never be thirsty again.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for your love, mercy and compassion, shown in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Thank you for choosing broken vessels like us—male, female, young and older, to bring healing and wholeness to those who are suffering, lonely, and outcast. Forgive us, Father, for when we have deemed others unworthy of your grace and not good enough for you to use to build your Kingdom. Give us, Lord, your living water, more and more, so that we may drink deeply and grow in Spirit and truth. Then send us out, Lord, to be love and light for the world. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.