19-3-17 A & C
Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well
We can easily think of two other Samaritans connected with Jesus. There was the Good Samaritan of the parable (Lk 10) and the only one of the ten Lepers healed who thanked Jesus (Lk 17). And now there’s this woman. They’re all very positive pictures.
But Samaritans were outsiders: Jews and Samaritans didn’t get on at all. Samaritans were very unorthodox Jews. Their Passover was celebrated on Mt Gerizim near Nablus / Shechem – not in Jerusalem. They revered different scriptures; only the Torah. Yet even that was a version with about 6,000 differences from the Jewish one. Samaritans were hated outsiders. Yet in the Gospels, these outsiders seem to understand and receive the truth about Jesus very clearly. So how are the gospel-writers looking to affect us with these stories? To be tolerant, for sure; but how do they explain why we should? What’s John trying to tell us through this story?
Today’s is a story which calls up very rich associations. And we shouldn’t expect anything less of John’s Gospel. First, we’re told that the encounter happens at Jacob’s well in Samaria. Jacob also had something to do with another well. He met his future wife Rachel by a well in the land of the people of the east Gen 29. Samaritans are ethnically at least partly from the East. When Assyria conquered Israel, they forcibly populated it with settlers drawn from cities in an area we now call Iraq. So it’s no wonder the indigenous and settler populations had an ancient, deep hatred for each other. But I digress. The point is that this is foreign soil for Jesus too.
So today’s gospel presents us with Jesus, another lone Jewish man in a foreign land, meeting a lone foreign woman at a well named for Jacob. This woman will also provide water from the well to drink. Marriage will again be a significant topic. And seasoned listeners will know that the other, earlier well in the Jacob story Gen 29 had a large stone covering its mouth; a stone which had to be rolled away to provide the gathered flock with its life-giving water. John evokes that ‘stone rolled away’ image deliberately; John always has lots of irons in the fire.
We’re told it was about noon. Do you remember last Sunday’s encounter between Jesus and his visitor, Nicodemus? It was night time then. Today’s story happens in broad daylight. Jesus isn’t hiding this meeting with an outsider like Nicodemus did. Such a meeting would have caused great scandal among the Jews. (cf Jn 8.48 they accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and having a demon). It sure shook his disciples!
So a focus of this story is Jesus’s ministry among people considered to be “outsiders.” Jesus does some extraordinary border-crossing in this story. For a start, he enters Samaria, then he starts a conversation with an unaccompanied Samaritan woman, and finally, he even accepts two days’ hospitality from the Samaritan community. None of this was thinkable in decent Jewish society.
Jesus asks this woman for water. In today’s Psalm 95, it’s God who provides life-giving water. In today’s story, this ‘heretic’ woman gives water to Jesus. Later, she will take the water of life – the good news of Jesus – to her village. By this stage in the gospel, her only equals as witnesses to Jesus are John the Baptist and Mary.
And another extraordinary thing; Jesus and this woman have a serious theological discussion. She knows her traditions. She’s waiting for the coming Messiah. In the synagogues, men and women sat separately. Here at the well, Jesus and this woman sit and speak together about the things of God. These are big changes.
And as a theologian, she’s no slouch. She misunderstands Jesus at first. But that’s no surprise. Pretty well everyone in John’s gospel looks rather silly when they first do theology with Jesus. This woman makes much faster progress than most. She moves from scornful sounding doubt:
12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”
to a partial understanding, but still feisty:
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
and on towards the truth
25 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.”
and once he’s identified himself, she rushes to her city to share the good news.
28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
The really exciting thing about this story is that the most unexpected person can become the bearer of the greatest news of all – that the divine gift – living water; eternal life – is something an outsider can bear for the world. Something that the Stations of the Cross reminds me every Lent is that we’re all foreigners really. And yet we can be the means by which people can discover what those Samaritans soon proclaimed: 42“we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”
The beginning is breaking down barriers – being open to laying aside our preconceptions and our certainties. That’s the heart of our Lenten study series this year. People who are treated as foreigners in their own land – Aboriginal Christians – are introducing us to a Jesus we never knew.
What do you think will be next? Let’s have a few moments of silence to ponder that question, then I’ll lead us in an anonymous prayer.
This prayer can be a model for the children’s prayers.
Have them draw around one hand on a sheet of plain paper.
Go over what each finger can represent
When they pray:
- thumb – friends and family
- index finger – people who help you learn about God and Jesus
- middle finger – leaders in our community and the world
- ring finger – people who help persons in need
- little finger – ourselves
Have the children write these categories on the fingers. If time, pray together using the five-finger prayer.
Image of the invisible God,
Word made flesh,
waiting in the noonday lull
at Jacob’s well.
Are we all
the woman with her water-jar,
bent on the chore of the moment,
angry memories in our bones,
our thirst for God
hidden in the business of the day?
Do you meet us gently too,
quietly leading our thoughts
towards the deeper waters,
where our souls find rest?
we would rather forget.
“Lord, you have probed me,
You know when I sit and when I stand,
You know my thoughts from afar.”
Is the woman,
sure and strong,
sure but unsure,
strong but so weak,
seeking but afraid to find
our Saviour so close by?