03/15/2020: By the Well
A sermon by Reverend Gretchen J. Switzer
For decades and longer, biblical commentators have focused on the making of disciples through the Samaritan woman – that once she was saved, she went out and helped save a whole bunch more people. She made disciples for Christ. I believe every sermon I have ever heard on this passage has made that it’s message. But today, I want us to focus on something else – first, the fact that Jesus speaks to the woman in the first place, and second, that he met the woman at the well right where she was. He didn’t try to change her, but he brought her personally into the warm, embracing love of God.
This un-named woman had had a challenging life. Scripture doesn’t tell us if she had any family or not, but I have always kind of had the impression that for all intents and purposes, she was alone in the world. We learn that she has had six different men in her life with whom she was intimate, perhaps married to five, but there is no indication she was ever widowed. The implication is that she divorced five husbands and now lived with a sixth man.
She would have been seen in any culture, Samaritan, Hebrew, or otherwise, as what we might call a ‘hussy’, a wanton woman, or even a whore. Typically, the women of the area would come to a well to get water in the cool of the day, in the early morning or the evening to avoid the deadly heat of the midday and those women would use that time to visit and share personal news. Biblical commentators suppose that the reason this woman was at the well in the heat of noonday, was so she could avoid the judgmental derision and ill will of the other women which she would have to endure if she drew water when all the other women were there.
So, she expects to arrive and see the well deserted. That’s her plan. She would hurry and get her water back home so as to avoid contact with anyone. But when she arrives, she sees an unfamiliar man sitting at the well, and she can see he is Jewish. Now a woman was not to speak with a man in public. Jesus, as a faithful Jew, was not to have any contact or conversation with any woman in public. Add to that that Jews and Samaritans were not to have any dealings with each other at all, and you see what happens.
So, the Samaritan woman’s assumption was that she would go right to the well, and draw water without even acknowledging the unknown man’s presence. But as she got down to the business of collecting her water, she hears the man’s voice, addressing her. “Give me a drink.”
You see, Samaritans were descendants of Pagan tribes from the northern kingdom of Israel. No one really knows when or why they became enemies of the Israelites, but the Samaritans only believed in the first five books of the old testament, known as the Pentateuch, so they were naturally at odds with traditional Jews who believed in the entire Hebrew Bible as they knew it. The Samaritans had an altar that was central to their faith tradition, which sat at the top of Mount Gerizim-the place the Samaritans called “The Place of Blessing.” Samaritans called themselves as the true Israelites and “Keepers of the Covenant,” while traditional Jews claimed that God had given them Jerusalem as the central location of God and God’s followers.
So, the Samaritan woman was astonished that this man was speaking to her! She was amazed that a Jew would even acknowledge her existence. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he tells her that if she knew the gift of God and who Jesus really was, she would’ve asked him and he would have given her “living water.”
Jesus explains that earthly water, like the well water right there, will only satisfy her physical thirst for a short time, but the living water that Jesus gives will become a spring of water inside her soul, gushing up to eternal life.
Then Jesus invites her to go get her husband and bring him to Jesus. She explains that she has no husband and then Jesus recounts to her, her whole life and all her relationships.
So, what is amazing here is the fact that Jesus was not only openly speaking to a woman and a Samaritan – the two least likely objects of his attention, but he knew she had sinned and made many mistakes and he was still there for her. He knew she had become scared and dejected about what life would bring, and still, he listened to her. He knew she was lonely. He knew she had lost hope. He certainly knew she did not believe in him, and yet he still came to her.
This, to me, is the true promise of the story, that no matter how insecure she was, no matter how many mistakes she had made or how ashamed and regretful she may have been, no matter that she was seen as “the least” in society, Jesus still came to her!!!
He still offered her salvation. In spite of everything, Jesus saw her as a beloved child of God.
“Every Christian minister from time to time is visited in the privacy of his/her study by some person who is completely crushed by a guilt that the despairing individual believes to be beyond forgiveness. And it is precisely then that a pastor is most grateful for the privilege of being what he/she is by the grace of God. A messenger of the divine mercy, a spokesman for the suffering Son of God. For he can say something like this, “let us forget about you for the moment and talk about Jesus.” It’s because He came and I’m here and I know it’s because of Him that you came to me. And you’re right. He has something He wants to say to you through me. He is saying to you, “I came to make it possible for you and for anyone to find forgiveness in the love of God. That’s why God sent Me. God wanted Me to take the burden of your guilt on Myself.” “God wanted Me to share your whole life that you might share Mine. I’ve done that. I’ve lived for you, and I’ve died for you. And I’ve been raised form the dead, and I’m living now to tell you that My Father loves you that much!” “And all we ask of you is the willingness to believe that, to accept it. We want you to know the joy of a penitent heart that has found forgiveness. We want you to live the changed and the radiant life of one who knows what it means to be born anew.”
I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life, when I haven’t felt that I quite ‘measured up,’ when maybe I felt like I didn’t deserve human love, times when I have felt I didn’t deserve God’s love either. What the Samaritan woman teaches us is that even if we have made mistakes or done things wrong God still loves us. God forgives us, God welcomes us and gives us the living waters of faith to draw us closer to God’s heart and more deeply into the promise of eternal life with Jesus Christ.
No matter how badly we’ve messed up, no matter how many opportunities for good we’ve ignored, no how stupidly we’ve acted or how much compassion we have failed to show others, no matter what -GOD LOVES US ANYWAY!!! God comes to us anyway. God draws us into a divine embrace in spite of any and all mistakes we have made or will make!!!
So, what about the Samaritan woman?
She needed Jesus, so Jesus came to her and miraculously, he met her right where she was. He spoke kindly and tenderly to her – that’s what she needed. He knew her life, even though she hadn’t said a thing about herself. He knew her personal history, he understood her mistakes, her sins, but he also knew her heart and that she longed to be whole and content and truly loved, just like we do. In fact, she had been searching for love her whole life, hadn’t she? And her love was, standing right in front of her, pulling her into an embrace, forgiving her everything and promising her living water bubbling up into eternal life.
Believe it or not, it’s the same for us. Jesus comes to meet you and me right where we are, too. He finds us in the depth of our pain and regret. God lifts us up out of the much and mire of our human error and shortsightedness, our fears, our struggles and our sadness. Jesus knows exactly who we are, inside and out, and even so, his love is the living water that cleanses our souls and makes us his own. Thanks be to God!