5[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A 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.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27Just 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?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.”
At a previous church I was involved in, there was a statue in the narthex/lobby area. It was a statue of Jesus in white stone, hands outstretched, and it was all very nice, but one thing bothered me. Jesus was standing enclosed on all sides by either wood or plexiglass. In essence, instead of Jesus looking inviting, it looked like Jesus was trying to escape. I think of this statue this Lent, as we examine Jesus’ interactions with people who seem to challenge us. All of these interactions work to break Jesus out of the box. Grace is the sort of thing that we talk about a lot – the love of God that draws us in and sends us out as daughters and sons. We know grace is not something that runs out, there will never be a drought or famine of grace. Yet, knowing this, there are still times in our lives where we are challenged and sometimes find that are treating grace like a finite resource, rather than an infinite gift. We may not say it in so many words, but it’s common. It’s easy to want to put Jesus and his followers in a box, but that’s not where Jesus (or we) belong.
So today we find Jesus and his disciples taking a detour through lands controlled by Samaritans and meeting a woman at the well. We don’t know much about this woman, but we can get a glimpse into her life by noticing a few details. She comes to the well in the middle of the day, which tells us that she is probably not in high standing in the community or she would come in the morning in order to not risk the heat. She has been married (and quite possibly widowed) 5 times and now she is living with a man to whom she is not married. And she is a Samaritan, someone who was typically despised by the Jews, almost considered a half-breed, and as a Samaritan, she held to different purity laws (I won’t go into the details, because, well, that would make for a very dull sermon). This is what we know of her, and yet people throughout history have been quick to assume a lot about her, especially in the area of adultery. But there seems to be no evidence to back that argument, and Jesus certainly doesn’t seem to care.
What stands out to me, in the middle of this story, is the disciples’ reaction to see their teacher, Jesus, talking with this Samaritan woman. She, simply by being who she is, is an outsider. Her gender, her race, and her social standing made her an unlikely candidate for a conversation from a Rabbi who happened to wander through their region. She was unclean by religious and social standings, and yet Jesus does not seem to care. Even more shocking than the discussion is his request of the woman for water.
This may seem fairly innocent. He was thirsty and didn’t have a bucket, after all, but in their day it was scandalous. Without a bucket of his own, he was asking to drink from her bucket. Now, that makes sense, but it would shock anyone who they had come by. This was the behavior of a married couple, not two strangers of different religious, gender, social, and ethnic identities. By doing this, Jesus would have been made unclean in the eyes of his Jewish faith.
But here’s the real scandal: Jesus was not content to stay in the box. Jesus is willing to put her personhood, her humanity, ahead of his purity. Jesus is willing to meet her where she is, without shame and without fear, and this encounter changes this woman’s life. And, even more, by her transformation, her entire community is transformed. People come to see this man, this prophet, but instead met the man who would become their Savior. Jesus was not pulled into arguments about who was right or wrong, but instead focused on showing love to those who are marginalized, oppressed, misunderstood, and cast out.
As we imagine this scene unfolding, we may take a few different vantage points. We may see it through the eyes of the disciples, scandalized by the grace that God has brought forth to people we don’t think deserve it. We may see if through the eyes of Jesus, following him to meet people where they are and loving them regardless of what the world will tell us. We may see it through the eyes of the woman, wondering out loud if this man, the one who meets us exactly where we are, truly is the Messiah, the chosen and anointed one of God. We may see if through the eyes of her village, coming to see for ourselves if the tales we have heard are to be believed.
The reality is that we are all of them. At points we are the villagers, coming to see if Jesus is really who he says he is. At other times, we are the woman, caught off guard by the unearned, unexpected grace of God. If we’re honest without ourselves, there are times when we’re the disciples, shocked and unsettled by the idea that God’s grace and love are for all, regardless of if we like them or not. And, hopefully, there are times when we play the part of Jesus in the world, offering grace, forgiveness, and love to all we meet.
If we are following Jesus, we are going to be uncomfortable sometimes. We are going to confuse people sometimes. We are going to say and do things that seem to make no sense whatsoever. Following Jesus will mean different things at different times to different people. We are all called and sent by the Holy Spirit into the world with different gifts, different communities of people, different ways of serving the world, glorifying God, and spreading God’s love.
But before we are sent, before we can play the part of Jesus, we play the part of the woman. We find ourselves in the presence of God, unaware at the time that this love was ours from the beginning and that it is to be shared. We are sometimes confused and perplexed by this idea, that God’s love would be for anyone, everyone, even you. That’s the reality of God’s love and grace. It is for you. You don’t earn it, work for it, or tend it. It comes on its own and it comes to you. You are God’s own because God has made it so. Before anything else, before we can ask, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?”, he already is.
Life inside a box can feel comfortable, but it is not the life of Jesus and it is not the life of his disciples. God’s love and grace, seen through the man of Jesus of Nazareth, felt in the water of baptism and bread and wine of Holy Communion, brings us to life more abundant and true than we could ever imagine. There are days where this water, this love and life, are the only things that keep us moving.
We have all come to the well, it seems, hoping for water. But we leave with life, life shared and redeemed and traveled with Jesus. Jesus calls us, sends us, shares the bucket with us (so to speak), shares our life with us, and it because of his life that we live in eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.