Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Samaritan woman at the well: 3rd Sunday of Lent

            I want to share a few thoughts on the Gospel passage of the woman at the well.
            Whenever we read or hear from the book of John, we should approach the text remembering two facts.  First, John’s purpose of writing is to inspire belief in Jesus Christ.  Granted, this is not unique to John, as this is the basic purpose for Matthew, Mark and Luke too.  But John does so in a very deliberate manner.  For example, he uses the word belief, believe or other variants ninety-eight times.  Matthew, Mark and Luke use this word thirty-five together.  In the word choices John makes it is clear he has a focus about belief.
            Additionally, John (and other sacred authors) never writes anything willy-nilly.  Names, places, times, numbers and settings are recorded purposefully and contain important meaning.
            For instance, we are not told that Jesus met a person at a well.  Rather, John specifies it was a Samaritan woman.  Jesus, then, does not meet a random individual, but a specific person.  And in simply talking with this woman Jesus breaks down barriers.
            It was illegal for Jews to approach another woman in public, especially if it was another man’s spouse.  The disciples’ shock was in part due to this understanding.  And this wasn’t any woman, but a Samaritan woman.  We learn in this passage—“Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.”  The Samaritans and Jews hated each other—they were hostile enemies.  Jesus breaks down boundaries in gender, society and politics by simply talking with this woman at the well.
            Through their interaction, Jesus slowly inspires belief.  He meets her where she was at and begins a conversation in a human way.  Give me a drink.”  After inquiring why he would ask for this as a Jew, Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  He begins to bring the discussion to a spiritual level, but she doesn’t understand this immediately.  She notes, “…you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep…” and then later asks for this living water so she doesn’t have to come to the well anymore.  She remains at the human level.
            We then come to an odd point in the conversation.  Jesus asks her to call her husband, to which she responds that she has none.  Jesus answers, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”  Here Jesus is not simply talking about a man but a nation.  The Samaritans descended from the tribes of Israel (the northern tribes).  They were defeated by five different nations, intermarried with them and left the covenant of God (the Husband) to worship pagan gods.  Over time the Samaritans—once part of God’s family—even went to war and slaughtered their former family members.  This is why the Jews and Samaritans hated each other.
            Through this statement the woman’s understanding grows and she recognizes he is at least a prophet. 
The Samaritan woman came to believe.  We can see this in the ways she addresses Jesus.  She first calls him a Jew, possibly in a derogatory manner: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”  She then addresses Jesus as sir—a term of respect.  Next, a prophet.  In her last statement she circles around the truth: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”  Jesus affirms, “I am he.”  She returns to her town, sharing her experience with Jesus.  The whole town is converted and now Jesus is recognized as savior: “we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
What does this passage mean for us?  It means that Jesus will break every barrier to find us.  He will meet us where we are no matter our race, gender, social status or church-going rate.  As the ultimate gentlemen he will lead us to greater relationship with him through a dialogue, letting us set the pace as we grow in faith. 
And then he expects us to share our experience with him to others.  Imagine if the Samaritan woman kept her experience to herself.  A whole town would have missed the opportunity to have faith in Jesus!  This woman was not educated, didn’t have all the answers or provide a systematic presentation of theology or Christology.  She simply shared her experience with others about Jesus.  We must do the same.
As we continue our journey of Lent towards the cross and resurrection, may we let Jesus find us.  May we be open to his gentle encouragement to go deeper—from the human to the spiritual.  And may we share our experience of him with others.

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