Last week we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with a
powerful man, the rabbi Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night so that he
wouldn’t be seen talking to the rabble-rousing troublemaker. Today we hear
Jesus in another conversation, but with someone completely different. The
unnamed woman by the well is an outcast in more ways than one. She has three
strikes against her.
To start with, she was a woman in a rigidly patriarchal
society. It certainly wasn’t considered appropriate for a good Jewish teacher
to be talking to a woman by himself. The disciples, we read, were astonished
when they came back with food and found the two of them deep in conversation.
But by now they knew Jesus well enough to keep their opinions to themselves.
Secondly, she was a Samaritan. There was bad blood between
Jews and Samaritans; they didn’t speak. It was partly a religious thing and
partly a political thing - their feud was similar to the Protestants and
Catholics in Ireland or perhaps the Muslims and the Christians in northern and
southern Nigeria. The reasons for the feud go deep but are almost inexplicable
except when expressed in terms of religious conflict. Could God be truly
worshipped on the hillsides of Samaria as the Samaritans maintained, or was the
Jerusalem temple the only place of true worship, as the Jews believed? About
the time of Jesus’ birth, some Samaritans had profaned the temple by scattering
the bones of dead people in the sanctuary. Such acts, like the destruction of
ancient Buddhist statues by the Taliban a few years ago, are not quickly
forgotten. The woman herself asks, "How
is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
And thirdly she
was a social outcast among her own people. Women had to be part of a household
with a patriarch. A woman living alone would have had no way to support
herself. We don’t know what happened to this woman’s husbands – whether they each tragically died
or whether they abandoned her – and how she came to be living with a man who
was not her husband, nor it seems her son. She came to the well in the heat of
the day – at about noon – which is not a good time to be carrying water.
Presumably she came then in order to avoid the other women of the village.
This woman didn’t
seek out Jesus. She didn’t know he was a great teacher or healer. He was just a
man at a well, asking for water. And in that liminal space outside normal
society they had a conversation which resonates through the centuries. In that
conversation Jesus came out to her. This is the only time before the trial when
Jesus says that he is indeed the Messiah. For the Samaritans the Messiah was
not seen so much as a political and revolutionary leader but as a great
teacher, so it maybe that this was one place where he could use that term without
Last week Donna
talked about the questions of Lent. For Nicodemus the big question was how to
receive the Spirit – how to be born again. What are the questions you hear
being asked in this conversation? And what questions does it raise for you?
The woman at the
well was so impressed and excited by Jesus that she went back to the city, and
though she was hardly a community leader she brought people out to meet him and
at their request he stayed for two days when originally he had just been
travelling though the area returning to Galilee from Jerusalem. The big
question for me is how do we let people know that there is living water to be
found in Christ and in Christ’s body, the church?
gotten a bad name, and we need to get the word out that the spiritual
connection which so many people long for, is freely available. We need to get
the word out not because we want more people in church on a Sunday morning,
though that’s always wonderful, but because it’s what the world needs and
because living water becomes stagnant if it doesn’t keep moving. Changing the
image, we are fed by doing God’s will and we know from Jesus’ conversation with
Nicodemus that God’s will is that all will turn to him. We are the body of
Christ, we are God with flesh on in our community. It is part of our task to
witness to God’s love wherever we are.
Fred Phelps, the
hateful anti-gay crusader died this week. I trust he will find a nice surprise
waiting for him in death, hopefully one with lots of rainbow flags. He has
become a cultural laughing stock but that is because he is a caricature of what
many people think Christians are – purveyors of God’s judgment and anger. We know
a different God – we know a God whose justice rolls down like water and whose
righteousness is an everflowing stream (Amos 5:24). That is the God that people
need to hear about; the loving God whose heart is always open, who longs to welcome
all beings into the reign of God.
The main reason
that the tide is turning for gay and lesbian people in this country is because
one after another we came out. One after another we took the risk to tell
friends and family that we are gay. It was always a risk. It often still is.
The percentage of gay, lesbian and trans people among homeless youth is much
higher than you might expect. We still get thrown out for being queer. It is a
risk. But coming out is a risk that we have to take in order to be truly who
God made us to be.
Jesus came out to
the Samaritan woman, and it was a blessing to her. Coming out is a risk that
the Body of Christ needs to take if we are to be truly who God made us to be
and to be a blessing to our community. Living water has to be shared, it cannot
be stored because then it becomes flat; living water is like a fountain welling
up inside us – and it has to go somewhere. If your supply of living water seems
more like a trickle than a geyser there are two questions to consider: are you
fully open to the source? Or are you damming the flow?
So these are the
questions I leave with you this week, in addition to those that we discussed
Are you fully
open to the Spirit, the source of living water?
Are you damming
the water, holding it and making it still water, by not daring to share it?