Sermon for Lent 3: The Woman at the Well
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptising more disciples than John – 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’
11 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?’
13 Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’
17 ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.
Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’
19 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
21 ‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’
25 The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’
26 Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ 30 They came out of the town and made their way towards him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’
32 But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’
33 Then his disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’
34 ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.’
Who is the Samaritan woman?
Or rather what do people make of her?
We are not given her name, but then in John’s gospel people often appear anonymously, even including ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ who is not named but that we learn in the last chapter of the book is actually the author – John.
Some see the Samaritan woman primarily as a penitent sinner. A women given over to sensuality and promiscuity having got through five husbands, and not married to the man she is presently with. A woman so notorious she comes to the well alone, having been scorned by the good women of her town.
In this reading of the story her encounter with Jesus lays bare her sinfulness, and ashamed she repents.
There follows from this an idea of evangelism that involves condemning other people’s iniquities in order to try and shame them into turning to Christ. This does require the knack of being able to point the finger at others while not inviting close examination of one’s own life. As the Apostle Paul writes, “… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In contrast others see the Samaritan woman as a kind of proto Feminist. The five husbands plus one man are understood in the context of a society where women were regarded as entirely disposable, and the marriage contract next in kind to slavery.
This Samaritan woman had probably been carelessly cast off by men who had exploited her, and now she was left to get by as best she could knowing full well that the main options available to an abandoned woman in first century Palestine were beggary or prostitution.
Remarkably she is unafraid to debate with a man in a society that forbade women speaking in public, and bid them only to go out wearing a veil. She is clearly an articulate woman. Even if she doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is saying at first, she does get it, and she gets it in a way that not even the disciples do, and then off she goes to tell the whole town!
Men of his time and culture didn’t speak in public to women, but in this account it is to be noticed that Jesus does not follow the conventions of his time, rather he speaks to this woman as an equal. There follows from this reading an understanding of evangelism as being about liberating women, and other oppressed peoples, from the structures that oppress them into the freedom and equality found in Christ.
Throughout the bible God chooses people forced by prejudice to the margins of their society to bring a message of justice and restoration, think of Joseph in Egypt, and Moses before Pharaoh, think of God working His purposes through Ruth the Moabitess, or Daniel exiled in Babylon, or Jesus himself rejected and pushed to the margins by those with power and influence.
So who is the Samaritan woman? Is she a reformed harlot? Is she a feisty woman, not bowed by the injustices of her times, or is she perhaps the outsider who from her distant vantage point with a little help from Jesus can see things as they really are?
She is certainly a good evangelist; we read that many believed because of her, and that she brought many to Jesus in order for them to hear for themselves the good news. The Church needs people like her today.
Most Anglicans throw their hands up in alarm when asked to be evangelists. I don’t know why as actually it is very simple. You just have to able to tell your story – just as the Samaritan woman did. She didn’t go to her town with complicated theology, or demands that people change their ways, she went and told people what Jesus had done for her and recommended they go and find out more for themselves. Evangelism is about telling your story, a story about which you are the world’s expert. What has the Christian faith done for you? How has it helped you? What do you get from coming to Church? How did you end up sitting in this church?
So who is the Samaritan woman?
The Samaritan woman is you and me.
If you have met with Jesus and determined to follow his way then you are this woman, and if you haven’t met with Jesus and turned to his way you need to be her. People always imagine the bible is about someone else, about a penitent harlot, about an exploited woman, about a heroic outsider, or a powerful evangelist, but the point of the bible is that it is about you.
If you read the bible and cannot see yourself in the story then look again.
A story about a woman fetching water, how beautifully everyday and human is that? Yet Jesus was there. He is present in your everyday story too. Listen to him, and don’t be afraid to share with others what you learn about yourself, and about God.
To end we are going to hear a poem that imaginatively retells the story of The Woman at the Well, it was written by Chris Kinsley and Drew Francis of Studentlife, a Christian resources group, and I think it helps us to understand who the Samaritan woman could have been. I won’t read it myself as it is a first person narrative and I am not a woman!
I am a woman of no distinction
I am a woman of no distinction, of little importance,
I am a woman of no reputation save that which is bad
You whisper as I pass by and cast judgmental glances
Though you don’t really take the time to look at me
Or even get to know me for to be known is to be loved
And to be loved is to be known and
Otherwise what’s the point of doing either one of them in the first place?
I want to be known, I want someone to look at my face
And not just see two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two ears
But to see all that I am and could be
All my hopes, loves and fears
That’s too much to hope for, to wish for, or pray for
So I don’t, not anymore, now I keep to myself
And by that I mean the pain that keeps me in my own private jail
The pain that’s brought me here at midday to this well.
To ask for a drink is no big request but to ask it of me
A woman unclean, ashamed, used and abused,
An outcast, a failure, a disappointment, a sinner
No drink passing from these hands to your lips could ever be refreshing
Only condemning as I am sure you condemn me now but – you don’t.
You’re a man of no distinction though of the upmost importance
A man of little reputation, at least so far
You whisper and tell me to my face what all those glances have been about
And you take the time to really look at me
But don’t need to get to know me for to be known is to be loved
And to be loved is to be known and you know me
You actually know me, all of me and everything about me
Every thought inside and hair on top of my head
Every hurt stored up, every hope, every dread
My past and my future all I am and could be
You tell me everything, you tell me about me
And that which is spoken by another would bring hate and condemnation
Coming from you brings love, grace, mercy, hope and salvation
I have heard of one to come who would save a wretch like me
And here in my presence you say ‘I am he’
To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known
And I just met you but I love you
I don’t know you but I want to get to
Let me run back to town this is way too much for just me
There are others, brothers, sisters, lovers, haters,
The good and the bad, sinners and saints
Who should hear what you’ve told me, who should see what you’ve shown me
Who should taste what you gave me, who should feel how you forgave me
For to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known
And they all need this too, we all do, need it for our own.