March 19, 2017

3 Lent Year A

The story of the woman at the well is familiar to most of us. “(Jesus) left Judea, and departed into Galilee. He needed to pass through Samaria.” There are two ways to get from Judea to Galilee. One takes you up the Jordan River Valley. It’s soft and flat. The other takes you through Samaria. It’s rocky and mountainous. Jesus took the high road. He was on a mission. John continues: “So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph.”

Sychar was the site of Jacob’s well. This was the place Jacob first met his wife Rachel. It was love at first sight. This is our first clue as to what this story is about. Back when Jacob first met Rachel the Jews and Samaritans were one people. They shared a common faith, a common heritage and a common devotion to God. So, Jesus came back to where it all started. Like his forefather, Jacob, he came with a proposal in hand. But not a marriage proposal. His proposal had to do with reconciliation. That was his mission – to reconcile the world to God. In order to do that, he first had to reconcile the Jews and the Samaritans. That’s what this story is about. John says, “Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being tired from his journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

Noon is the time of day when the sun is high overhead. It’s the brightest part of the day. It was the time of day when you weren’t likely to find many women at the well. Women drew their water in the cool of the morning or late afternoon. Jesus was sitting at the well when this woman arrived. He said, “Give me a drink.” Sure, it was noon. Sure, he was hot and thirsty. That’s beside the point. The point is Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix. They didn’t drink from the same cup. They didn’t commune with each other as brothers and sisters of a common faith. He’s pushing the envelope.

“The Samaritan woman therefore said to him, ‘How is it that you, being a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)’ “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'”

It should be obvious: He’s not talking about water. He’s talking about life – real life – life in all its abundance – eternal life – life in the Spirit – the New Creation. Like Nicodemus in the story last week, the woman didn’t get it. It sailed right over her head. She said, “‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. So where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well?'”

Here’s another clue: Both Jews and Samaritans claimed Jacob as their own. They shared a common history. You’d think that would’ve held them together. But it didn’t. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give will never thirst again; but the water that I will give will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Again, she didn’t get it. She said, “Sir, give me this water, so that I don’t get thirsty, neither come all the way here to draw.” Another clue: It’s embedded in the language. The same Greek word for “sir” – kurios – is also the word for “Lord”. It’s also the same word used for “husband,” and that’s where this conversation is going. “Jesus said, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ To which the woman replied, ‘I have no husband.’ (Which is the same as saying, ‘I have no lord.’) “Jesus said, ‘You said well, “I have no husband,” for you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you have said truly.’

To which the woman replied, ‘I perceive that you are a prophet.’

John assumes we know the background. Back in the days of Hosea, the Samaritans abandoned the faith. Scripture says, “They went after false gods and forsook all the commandments of God.” They fell into the hands of Assyria, and the king of Assyria brought in peoples from five different regions to occupy Samaria. They, in turn, brought their own gods and built shrines for them. The Samaritans began worshiping these false gods, and so, drifted farther and farther from the one true God.

To put it this way: Jesus isn’t confronting the woman’s adultery; he’s confronting the Samaritans’ idolatry. He’s not asking her, “Who have you been sleeping with?” but “To whom do you ascribe your allegiance?” This is brought out in the verse that follows. The woman said, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

Here’s the missing piece of the puzzle: Back when the Jews and Samaritans went their separate ways, they established their own centers of worship. The sacred mountain for the Samaritans was Mount Gerazim. The sacred mountain for the Jews was Mount Zion. If the Jews and Samaritans were to be reconciled, one would have to come over to the other’s place of worship.

This is why the woman responds as she does: “Are you asking me to forsake my fathers and come over to Mount Zion?” You’d think Jesus would have said, “Yes! That’s precisely what I have in mind.” But, no, he said,

“Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman didn’t get it. She said, “‘I know that when Messiah comes, he will declare to us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who speaks to you.'” The woman left her jar and ran into town shouting, “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Messiah?”

At this point there’s a break in the story as Jesus confers with his disciples. In the meantime, the woman goes back to the village and tells everyone she meets what’s happened. As a result, John says, “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman …”  They not only took her at her word, they followed her back to the well. John says,

“So when the Samaritans came to him, they begged him to stay with them.

He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

And that is John’s point. Jesus came to reconcile, not just the Jews and the Samaritans, but the entire world – and that includes our world too.   Amen.