Third Sunday in Lent (19 March 2017)
JoAnn A. Post
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, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.” The woman said to him, “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 said to her, “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.” 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.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “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!” The woman said to him, “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 said to her, “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.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
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, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “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.”
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.”
On Wednesday afternoon I got sprung, released from the care of my oncologist, 4½ years after first being diagnosed with cancer. After reviewing my scans and lab work, he leaned back in his chair and said, “I have nothing to say to you. Nothing except congratulations. You’re done.” And then my wildly reserved physician stood up and gave me a hug.
I’d been expecting that day for years. I knew, during daylight hours when well-rested and in my rational mind, that I was probably cancer-free. But in the nighttime hours, when there were no distractions, irrational anxiety nibbled at my toes through the bed covers. I was, in the dark, a prisoner to my fear.It’s foolish I know, to be so afraid, but calamity seemed to be always lurking just under the surface.
I shared the news with my family and a few friends, and then came back to the office to work. As though nothing had happened. But a friend from Connecticut, who knows me as well as anyone, texted, “What are you going to do now? Now that you know you’re going to live?” It was then that I cried.
My days are lived with a biblical backdrop, as I study scripture texts for preaching or teaching. This week I wandered in a parched wilderness with an angry Moses (Exodus 17.1-7), and lurked at a public well with an unnamed Samaritan sinner. My friend’s question could also be addressed to them. “What are you going to do now? Now that you know you’re going to live?”
Moses and his followers were camped only a few days’ journey from slavery when they found themselves, for the moment, far from a source of water. Though they had witnessed mind-blowing miracles of deliverance (with water) from God’s hand, this temporary setback threw them immediately back into their old ways. Suddenly, they were slaves again. Powerless. Victimized. Frightened. Certain that death waited around every corner. I can’t say that I blame them, but it is shocking how quickly we revert to old patterns and old fears.
We don’t know if they were right, that God was testing them by parking them on parched real estate, but we do know that God never intended to let them die out there. Unexpectedly, with a word from God and a tap of Moses’ staff the rock cracked like an egg and water gushed out. It was cool. And clean. And endless. And just below the surface of their fear.
The Samaritan woman was similarly enslaved. Enslaved by her past and the disdain of others. We don’t know the details of her sordid life—five husbands?—but we do know that the circumstances of her life made her unwelcome just about everywhere, including at the village well. The “nice women” of the village came for water in the early dawn or just after dusk, when it was cool and they had time to linger. Nobody wanted to linger with her.
Though still breathing and working, the woman had no life. If she fainted from the heat, if she didn’t return from the well, would anyone notice? Would anyone care?
Jesus shared her circumstance. Alone at the well. In the middle of the day. Hungry. Thirsty. In that moment, under that hot sun, they were more alike than different.
The Woman at the Well was wary of Jesus. With good reason. What if it was not water he wanted, but something else? Something the men of the village also wanted and sometimes took, something that made her a pariah among her feminine peers.
Standing on the arid earth outside her village, Jesus offered water that no well could produce, no bucket contain, no desert air dissipate. Jesus offered his life for her death, his abundance for her poverty, his forgiveness for her failings. He offered her living water.
And why did she believe this outrageous offer? Because he knew her, knew all about her, and didn’t run away. Instead, she was the one who ran, waterless, breathless back to the village that shunned her, “Come, meet a man who knows everything I have ever done!”
This should not have been surprising, since they all knew what she had done, and some of them had done it to her. But here’s the difference. Suddenly, she was no longer the wicked woman who lived on the wrong side of the tracks. She was witness to the Messiah for whom her people had longed for centuries.
The words that flowed from her lips were as unexpected as a geyser erupting from a baked boulder. And her life was restored, life that had always been there, waiting for a word of forgiveness to be released.
In the desert, God provided water from a rock. And they lived.
Outside Samaria, Jesus washed a sinful woman clean. And she laughed.
And the question hangs in the air, “What are you going to do now? Now that you’re going to live?”
Most often, the deaths we suffer are small—not nearly so dramatic as chronic cancer or desert dehydration or public shame. But we all die every day. We fall prey to our fears, our disappointments, our anger, our limits. We grieve the harm we have caused or resent the harm we have received. We mourn the dreams that die at daylight. We fear being found out, exposed, shamed. We do not live abundantly, but with our heads down and our hearts heavy.
Some days it seems we are dead—dead to the world, dead to hope, dead even to God. But the water of God’s love, Jesus life flows freely. And just under the surface of our fear.
It might have felt like death out there in the Wilderness of Sin, but the water of life flowed wildly just under the surface, and soon they would drink deeply.
It might have felt like death out in the hot sun, but the water of forgiveness carries that nameless woman from the pages of history into our lives today.
We are going to live. All of us. Slaves and freed. Women and men. Public sinners and private ones, too. Because Jesus’ living water, abundant life, endless forgiveness is about to flow over us, as well. It is already there, waiting under the surface.
And my friend’s question still stands, “What are you going to do now? Now that you know you’re going to live?”