Third Sunday of Lent; March 19, 2017; Year A
Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.1-42
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What if there was someone who knew everything about you, everything you’ve ever done, and still accepted and loved you anyway?
A few years ago I saw these words on an ELCA facebook post — God is bigger than: Your past; Your pain; Your fear; Your scars; Your hate; Your doubt; This world. What if this were true? It certainly is for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well.
Our Gospel 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.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” says the woman.
Not only did Jews and Samaritans not share things in common, many flat out hated each other. Jesus and the Samaritan woman would be like two people from rival gangs meeting each other in the public square or like a member of ISIS encountering an American solider.
Jews avoided Samaria at almost all costs. It was not geographically necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria on his way back to Galilee, but it was necessary in order to show what it means that God loves the world and all the people in it, even Samaritans.
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. Jesus knows this painful reality about her life and names it. We don’t know why she was married five times, and we can’t assume it’s because she was “that kind of woman.”
Most likely her husbands either died or divorced her. She could have been barren, not able to have children and that was reason enough for a man to divorce his wife. And the man she is currently living with is not her husband. It is possible she was with him so she would not need to live on the street.
Whatever the story, notice that Jesus does not condemn her 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 draw water to live.
She realizes Jesus is not an ordinary traveler and she takes the opportunity to launch into a deeper conversation that cuts right to the heart of the divide between Jews and Samaritans: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
I’m certain Jesus shocked her when he said neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, but wherever you are in Spirit and in truth. His answer led to her mention of the coming Messiah, and Jesus says for the first time in the Gospel of John, “I am.” As in, “I Am the One through whom all things came into being. I Am God.” Jesus chooses to tell her exactly who he is, which he has done with no one else up to this point.
Perhaps this is what made her drop her water jar and rush back to her village.
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, the “I Am” in the flesh.
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. And this changes her life. 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. He gives her the freedom to worship God wherever she is in Spirit and in truth.
The symbolism of leaving behind her jar at the well, shows us what it means to be reborn. Karoline Lewis, in her commentary of the book of John writes: “She leaves behind her ostracism, her marginalization, her loneliness, because Jesus has brought her into his fold. She leaves behind her disgrace, her disregard and the disrespect she has endured to enter into a new reality, a new life that is abundant life (p. 64).”
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.
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 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).”
What if there was someone who knew everything about you, everything you’ve ever done, and still accepted and loved you anyway? Well, there is, and it’s life changing.