Don’t you sometimes wish you could talk to these people? About what it was like? About what happened to them? What if tonight we could talk to the woman who had a conversation with Jesus all those years ago?
The Samaritan woman–
Samaritans, by the way, same God and same ancestors as the Jews – better translated Judeans because they were all Jewish - but different practices, different scriptures, different worship. Each one right, each one knowing the other to be wrong. Tense and distant, they avoided each other whenever possible. Which was often possible, and meant that despite the shortest route from Judea to Galilee being through Samaria, it wasn’t often used by Judeans. And if Jesus had taken the regular route, this conversation might never happened. They might never have met.
But God so loved the world. And Jesus went through Samaria.
So the conversation happened.
It’s the hottest time of day, lonely and dusty, and you come alone to the well. It’s just easier that way –you stopped trying to come in the early morning with the other women and children. Nobody really talks to you anyway, and it’s too painful to see them surrounded by their children, their big, loud families, talking about their sons, and husbands, and you trudging along behind with your water jug on your shoulders, no one to share your load. So you come alone at the hottest time of day.
Today there is someone there. He looks like a Judean, not Samaritan anyway. He looks hot and tired, and he is sitting by the well. You ignore him and go about your business. Until he clears his throat and asks you, Excuse me, can I have a drink of that water?
And the conversation begins.
Encountering God, seeing Jesus, this life of faith and following, is not about answers handed down from heaven, not about good behavior or earned right or accumulated knowledge. It’s a conversation– it’s a back and forth with doubt and insight and frustration and challenge and breakthroughs and mysteries that remain unsolved.
It’s sweaty, dusty thirst, a complicated living situation, and a lonely person who is drawing water in the heat of midday without the company of other women. It’s the glaring differences and walls that separate absolutely, but a moment of connection anyway, dignity, humanity, shared need, shared generosity.
And so they begin the conversation. Jesus and this woman.
Jesus and you.
And he knows all about your tragedy. You have no people; five times you’ve been divorced, abandoned, or widowed. Maybe it’s because you’re infertile, but a man can cast off a woman for nearly any reason.
Over the centuries, I am sorry to say, you’ve gained the reputation for being of ill-repute, (after all, we deduce, there must be some seedy reason you go through men so fast). But the truth is, your more disposable than easy.
Without husband or sons, you have no protection, security, food or home, so you clings to what you can, even though time and again you are discarded and ditched. You’ve come to see yourself the way the world sees you - unwanted, unvalued – belonging to nobody and fending for yourself, outcast and lonely.
But none of that stops him from having the longest recorded conversation he had with anyone, with you. He sees you. And he talks to you anyway. He talks to you like you’re smart. He listens to you and answers back. When was the last time someone listened to you and answered back?
Living water, he says. Springing up from within; water of life and living. What does it mean? You feel alive, in this conversation, this moment; you arrived at the well dead, and right now you feel alive.
It is said that to be seen and to be known is to feel love. Love feels like this. When he sees you, you’re a person, not a tragedy. A person, not a reputation. A person, not a burden. The life within you wakes up. You’re someone who participates, someone with a voice. When he sees you you’re as you were meant to be seen, you feel your life as it was meant to be lived, longing to live within you.
I can see you’re a prophet, you say. Your people say Jerusalem is where God is found and only if you worship there are you seeking God. Our people say this mountain in front of you is the place God meets us.
Believe me, woman, he answers you, the time is coming when it wont matter – here, Jerusalem, wherever. Those who truly seek God will do so in honesty and longing, and God, who is Spirit – not captured in bricks and mortar, doctrines and definitions – will meet those who long for God right where they are.
I know the Messiah is coming…. You answer.
And a thrill of hope goes through you when he responds in the timeless words of Yahweh, “I am.”
This is when it all changed for you. The whole world cracked open.
You left the jar, you know, like James and John left their nets, you walked away from the thing that had brought you there to begin with. You left behind who you were in that moment it all changed. All that weighed you down, all that held you back from running, kept you silent from speaking, kept your eyes from meeting others, your heart from opening to the world around you, you left it there at the well beside him. And you ran. You ran back to your town and you told the people, you told everyone – come and see. Come and see this man who knows everything about me. He can’t be the Messiah, can he?
And they came. They listened to you to. Turns out you are someone that people listen to. Turns out you have things to say.
They invited him to stay that day, and he did.
You know why they all listened to you, don’t you? You were completely different when you came back without that water jug. You ran into town confident, joyful. You slunk out of town a shadow, and you returned luminous, as one who overcomes. You had a passion and purpose, your shoulders were high and your head was raised and your voice was firm and your eyes lit up and people couldn’t help but stop and stare, take in what you were saying, see for themselves that you were different.
The way you yearned for the water when he said it – the way everything inside you longed to be filled, they felt that too, when they saw you. It is like a spring, you know, that came right up out of you and spilled onto others, until they went to the source of the water themselves.
It is said that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwells among us. That day the Word made flesh dwelled among you. Love moved into the neighborhood. And your people beheld his glory. And they called him the salvation of the world. Because they had tasted the living water themselves. They had felt the life they were meant to live bubbling up inside them, the love they were meant to share longing to spill out onto others. They had seen the light of the world. The light of the world had seen them. And being seen and known, it is said, is what it feels like to be loved.
Now the disciples didn’t seem too happy about this at first. They went off to buy the lunch and came back to a different evangelism strategy. For truly, you are not only the first person Jesus revealed that he is Messiah, but you are the first preacher, really, the first evangelist, and your whole town signs on pretty quickly, and you all weren’t even on the tour schedule, so no wonder the disciples were a little taken aback.
But Jesus tells his disciples that day that they are part of something that started before them and continues after them – their part is important but this isn’t their parade. The work they do now was begun by others, and that these people they dismiss without a thought are the ones who Jesus will be staying with for the next couple of nights, so just sit back and let it unfold – for God so loves the whole darn world.
And we keep looking at all your stories and at our own stories, your lives and our own lives, and wondering, Who is this God? And what is God up to? Nicodemus with your questions and hesitation; woman, with your baggage and your boldness, What happens to you when you meet the light of the world? What happens to the world?
And disciples, how long before you realized it? That Jesus will always be found in the world, that Jesus came for the world? That nobody gets a corner on God, and as soon as we’ve labeled ourselves the temple people or the mountain people or the true followers, we’re about to be surprised by Jesus who comes to us alongside and for the other. Indeed, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." And we are invited along for this ride.
So, I would ask the woman tonight if I could,
What would you say about that day? About your life since that day?
And in turn she might ask us some things too.
Where are your encounters with God, your conversations with faith and following?
Where are your back and forth with doubt and struggle, where are the places you are drawn in and the places mystery still remains?
And, she might add, What’s your water jug?
What would you like to leave behind?
What burdens do you carry and beliefs about yourself and the world that hold that hold you back from joining in the life God is calling you to?
She might ask us, Where have you tasted living water? Felt the parched thirst within and the thrill of coming alive? Where does the life within you join in the life in the world, in the love that was meant to be shared?
But mostly, I wonder if she’d look at us with shining eyes and poised shoulders and gently ask us about the places and times we’ve been seen. When we’ve been known. The times we’ve been turned inside out, changed, saved, by love. When love has called us out of ourselves to give of ourselves for others. Or simply to lift our head and lean over to a stranger, and ask for a drink of water ,and see what happens after that.
And after we’d tired out from talking, we’d sit a while in silence.
And then, together, out of our being, with honesty and longing, we would worship God, in Spirit and in truth.