Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background The contrast between last week’s story and this week’s story is striking. This week we encounter the next important character in John’s gospel story of Jesus, the Samaritan woman. She is the complete opposite of Nicodemus. Nicodemus is named. The woman is not. She is identified by gender and place. Nicodemus is an authority in the religious sphere. He is respected. The Samaritan woman is looked down upon for many reasons. Insider versus outsider. Nicodemus comes in the middle of the night. The Samaritan woman will encounter Jesus in broad daylight, at noon. Nicodemus walks away still confused and unable to commit. The Samaritan woman walks away proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Nicodemus cannot move beyond the confines of his religious structure. The Samaritan woman engages Jesus in theological debate.
What amazing things we learn about Jesus through the lens of this juxtaposition! Let’s not forget the history involved in this story that gives us more glimpses into what John is doing in this story. Jesus encounters a woman outside of the social boundaries at Jacob’s well. This well was known throughout Jewish history as a landmark built by Jacob and a meeting place for history to be made. Do you remember these stories? You may need to go back to look up what happens at the well. 😉 We are reminded of relationships created in this place.
Water is referenced as something living, not stagnant and not literal. If we were a Jewish audience, we would immediately be making connections to scriptures past that promised new life, the gift of the spirit to come. The water comes from a spirit filled place. The Samaritan woman gets this, the unlikely character. When she gets this, Jesus recognizes her circumstances. This is not a circumstance of shame but of someone who has been through everything. Women were dependent on the men in their lives. She has probably been married five times through widowhood or abandonment. Jesus sees her. Truly sees her. It is not shaming. This recognition of her is a seeing of who she fully is. He compassionately names her situation and still offers her living water.
This story is about a faith that is built on relationship, dialogue, growth and change. John’s gospel invites us to the place of building relationship, where we can challenge Jesus. We are invited to ask questions. Nicodemus thought he had all the answers and didn’t get it. The Samaritan woman knows she doesn’t have the answers and walks away with new life, so much so that she doesn’t need her jug any longer. She is satisfied to proclaim the Messiah and all because she was willing to engage Jesus and be truly seen by him. What are we thirsty for?
Quotes of the Week “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” ― Wallace Stevens
“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence.” ― Kahlil Gibran
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.” ― C.S. Lewis
“Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.” ― Anne Lamott
John 4:1-42 (NRSV) Now when Jesuslearned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but yousay that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just then his disciples came.
They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Questions for the Week
Are you thirsty? Do you yearn for something?
When has Jesus surprised you?
What questions do you bring with you as you seek truth?