Third Sunday in Lent; Year A
Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
God is bigger than: Your past; Your pain; Your fear; Your scars; Your hate; Your doubt; This world. I saw these words in an ELCA post on facebook as I scrolled down my home page. I stopped and stared at the words for quite some time noting how true and relevant they were in relation to our Gospel reading today.
The story is about many things, but primarily it is a story about God’s wide embrace of people…people with imperfect lives, marginal people from the other side of the tracks, people with no power, people when at first glance seem undeserving of the love of God.
Our story tells us that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” Later we hear that the disciples were “astonished” that Jesus was speaking with a woman. These lines are not quite strong enough to give us a full understanding of how big of a deal it was that Jesus (a man and a Jew) and the woman (a Samaritan and a female) were talking in public at a water well.
Not only did Jews and Samaritans not share things in common, many flat out hated each other. When the woman says to Jesus, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem,” she would have been thinking about how some Jewish people burned down to the ground their house of worship 150 years earlier on Mt. Gerizim.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman would be like two people from rival gangs meeting each other in the public square, like a member of the Taliban encountering an American solider, in Shakespearian language, it would be like a Montague encountering a Capulet.
This is why right away after Jesus asks her for a drink of water she says to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And Jesus, God in the flesh, the One who transcends all boundaries says back to 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.”
And so begins the longest theological conversation Jesus has with anyone in all of Scripture. It is such a remarkable conversation for many reasons because we get to see Jesus’ acceptance and care of the woman, and the unnamed woman’s journey to faith in Christ. We first meet her during her daily routine of gathering water and then see her at the end of the story being the first evangelist to her own people, inviting them to come and see this One who knew her completely and still loved her.
What is clear about the woman’s trip to the well at noon is that she is an outsider, not only to Jews, but also in her own community. If she was not an outsider, she would have gone to the well with all of the other women in the cool morning hours of the day. Going to the well by herself at noon in the heat of the day would be like sitting all by yourself at a lunch table in a corner. For whatever reason she was not accepted in her own community.
Perhaps it was because she had 5 husbands and the man she was with now was not her husband. We don’t really know, and we also do not know why she had so many husbands. Did they all die? Did some divorce her? Was she with the man now so she would not need to live on the street?
Whatever the story, notice that Jesus does not condemn her for it and neither should we. He doesn’t tell her to repent, to go and sin no more. He accepts her as she is, an unmarried Samaritan woman, who day after day walks alone to the well to gather water to live.
It’s as if Jesus is saying to her…God is bigger than: Your past; Your pain; Your fear; Your scars; Your hate; Your doubt; This world. Jesus knows everything about her and loves her anyway. Jesus offers the Samaritan, outsider woman, living water, his very self, that leads to eternal life and he gives her the freedom to worship God wherever she is in Spirit and in truth.
What I find so amazing about this woman and what Jesus does for her is that she goes from an outsider to one who leaves her water jar behind and bursts into her village sharing with anyone who would listen to her about the man who met her at the well. “Come and see…” she proclaims. She no longer cares what people think of her.
Christ loves her and it is enough for her to go right back into her community, a community that has shunned her, and share her joy. The water, the new life, Jesus gives her really did become in a her “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She becomes a channel through which the living water flowed out to others, inviting them to come and see the One who gives life.
Perhaps even more amazing is that people listen to her. They go out to the well to meet Jesus and they ask him to stay with them, and he does. Jesus goes into the “enemy camp,” so to speak and chills for a few days. The result is that people’s lives are changed, barriers are broken down, and they begin to understand that God loves and includes them even though they are Samaritans…outsiders.
Jesus knowingly breaks all of the social and cultural rules of the day by talking with the woman and then staying in the village with the Samaritans and I like to think he does it with a smile on his face.
God is much much bigger than the lines we like to draw to stereotype, to hate, and to exclude. John 3.16 says, “For God so loved the world…” not…just the Jewish people, just the religious people, just the ones who seem to have it all together, just the ones who follow rules.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he went through Samaria and stopped for a rest and a drink at the well. He was telling the whole world that God’s grace, God’s living water was for everyone. Through this conversation at the well we are to know that God so loves the world, and we are in the world.
Like the Samaritan woman, you and I are to recognize that God is bigger than: Your past; Your pain; Your fear; Your scars; Your hate; Your doubt; This world. We can try and give God all kinds of reasons why we are somehow undeserving of this unconditional, grace-filled love: I don’t know the Bible well enough, I haven’t gone to worship as much as I should have, I’ve done bad things in my life…really bad things, I’m an addict, I doubt, I don’t know what I believe, I’ve hurt others, I’ve hurt myself…
The freedom of love is someone knowing all about you and loving anyway, like Jesus loves the woman at the well, like Jesus knows and loves you. God takes all of you, not just what you think is good about yourself.
Too many of us think that past mistakes, pain or loneliness, sin, anger, doubt, even unbelief is greater than God’s love. It’s not. We hear it so clearly in Romans: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.8).”
Isn’t it exciting to think that you and I become the channels of living water for Christ’s love to flow through us to others by the ways we care for one another and the ways we invite others to come and see. “Come and see what God has done for me in my life. Christ accepts me, loves me, and it changes me. Jesus accepts you, loves you.” And this love becomes in you living water that gushes up to eternal life, which is yours because Christ has given it to you.