March 12, 2023
JOHN 4:4-29, 39-42
REV. SHANNON JORDAN
We continue our Lenten Sermon Series exploring a variety of heart to heart conversations. Last week we heard about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. We heard about Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee coming at night to speak to Jesus. This morning we will explore another heart to heart conversation, Jesus and the woman at the well. John is intentional about contrasting a Pharisee male coming at night with a Samaritan woman meeting Jesus during the day. Hear the word of the Lord:
Now when Jesus learned 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 worshipped on this mountain, but you say 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 worshippers 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?’
The story of the woman continues in verse 39:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’
Can you think of a time that you were really thirsty and didn’t have access to water? Have you been on a hike and run out of water? Playing a sport? We are all told about the importance of staying hydrated, but sometimes it may not be as easy as we think to do so. I have visited many older people in the hospital who haven’t stayed hydrated enough and it has caused infections that have even gone as far as to cause delirium or dementia-like symptoms, even though they are normally mentally sharp as a tack. We all need water. Water is life. Drink your water!
I had a Hebrew Bible professor, David Hopkins, who was also an archeologist and had a dig site in the country of Jordan. He talked about how when we read about water in scripture to pay attention. Water was not an abundant resource. He said 30% of the time Israel was in drought conditions. Access to water was critical. He encouraged us when we saw a reference to water in scripture it is like taking a highlighter to a story.
We can easily name how water is important to Bible stories. The creation story in Genesis. Noah and his ark. Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. We know that Isaac’s servant found Rachel at a well, and that at the very well in this story, Jacob found his wife, Rebekah in Genesis 29. I did a quick count of Psalms that had references to water, rivers, streams, oceans, and a third of them did. Fifty. Water is important.
In the New Testament, we remember Jesus’ baptism by John. And we know that many of the stories are by the river Jordan or the Sea of Galilee. We know just a bit earlier in John that Jesus turns water in ceremonial cleansing jars into wine at a wedding. Water in scripture is cleansing and water is powerful and water is unpredictable.
It is with these images of water and weddings and marriage—images of God pursuing in relationship with God’s people over generations—that we come to this heart to heart conversation.
Jesus has done the unexpected and cut through Samaria. John tells us that Jesus is tired—weary. He sat on Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman approached. The text tells us she came at mid-day. This, as you have probably heard in other sermons, a very unusual time to come for water. Usually, women came to get water earlier or later in the day when it was cooler. Usually they came with others to get water because it was hard to get the big jugs of water on your head without help. She came alone. Custom would indicate that a man in Jesus’s position would get up and move away from the woman because you didn’t approach a woman who wasn’t in your family and he would have moved to give her access to the water. But not only did he not move, but he broke the normal boundary by speaking to her and asking her to give him some water. She is clearly surprised and calls him out for his words. The act of using her water bucket would have been shocking. She says, “How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
I love this theological questioning! I love that she names his actions as being out of the norm. I love that Jesus then gives her the respect and honor of entering into this theological debate. He did not dismiss her. He did not ignore her. He did not belittle her. He showed her the respect of a conversation like he did for other disciples. This was Jesus exhibiting boundary breaking love. In this exchange, the writer of the Gospel of John is making sure that future generations know that Jesus was human because of this human thirst and that he would engage with women as disciples. They were worthy of deep faith-based conversations. This was an important discussion at the time John was written.
We hear the familiar story of Jesus sharing that the water of the well falls short of living water. He entices her with promises of living water and the woman asks for it.
In a rapid change of topic, Jesus asks her about her husband. She responds that she has no husband and Jesus says she is right, that she has had five husbands and the one she has now is not her husband. I want to remind everyone not to make the same assumptions about the woman who had been married five times and was currently living with another man as if it were today. In that era, she had either outlived her husbands or they had divorced her. She didn’t have the power to end the marriages. Regardless, Jesus makes a point that the woman understands—he is not an average person at the well, but a prophet.
Then, in a fairly surprising turn for when the Gospel of John was written, she, a woman, is recorded having a theological conversation or debate with Jesus. She asks why her people were looked down on and excluded from good standing because of where they were worshipping.
This would have been a key question for the people hearing the Gospel of John—because by that time the Temple had been destroyed by Rome and no one was worshipping in the Temple. Jesus says that true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. That is what matters. Not where we worship but how we worship.
The woman continues their heart to heart and finds a place of agreement between the Samaritans and the Jews—that the Messiah would come. Jesus responds with his first “I am” statement in scripture… “I am—the one who speaks with you.”
The disciples come back from getting food and we can imagine the break in the heart to heart at that point. The woman puts down her water jar and goes to the city. She tells people to come and see Jesus—that he could be the Christ or Messiah. They leave the city and come to find Jesus.
A few verses later, the Gospel continues saying that many Samaritans came to believe. The passage then has Jesus continuing to Cana in Galilee where he had turned water into wine, highlighting again the wedding and water themes of this section, just in case you missed it!
I titled this sermon Thirst because I see thirst in several forms in this passage.
- We see the obvious, Jesus physically thirsty.
- We see the woman thirsty for something that has her going to the well alone.
- We see her thirsty for theological answers.
- We see her thirsty for justice and religious acceptance and belonging. Who is right? The Jews or the Samaritans?
- We see her thirsty for acceptance by God. Does God love me if I don’t worship in the right place?
Jesus answers with living water.
We are all thirsty. I believe we are all thirsty for this living water—living water that fills us up and allows us to experience Jesus’s boundary breaking love. Living water that overflows and allows us to meet the needs of others. I also believe that we mask that thirst with poor substitutes.
On Wednesday night about 60 of us continued our discussion of The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, a book written by Marc Shultz and Robert Waldinger. We talked about what we think brings us happiness and what actually does.
As a group we created a long list of things that culture might tell us we need to be happy, when studies show that after basic needs are met—food, water, shelter, etc.—that what makes the biggest difference for us to be happy are good relationships.
If you think about it, the FPCA mission statement is about relationships. The mission statement is that we want people to experience the boundary breaking love of Jesus by practicing radical hospitality, forming deep relationships, and joining in shared ministry. We see in this story what Jesus’s boundary breaking love looked like. Jesus broke through social, religious, and gender boundaries. Jesus broke through tradition and the status quo. He took on the long-standing religious establishment by speaking to this woman and in turn impacting the whole area.
We are thirsty for answers. We are thirsty for belonging. We are thirsty for purpose. Engaging in God’s mission here at FPCA is opening ourselves to God’s living water.
When you make the time to be here on a Sunday morning. When you connect with your pewmate. When you talk to someone between services or at one of our faith formation classes. When you serve others together, you form deep relationships and share God’s love. It is through these connections that our thirst for belonging and purpose and connection is quenched.
Are you thirsty for God? Are you thirsty for belonging and understanding? Are you thirsty for justice? I invite you to come to the water and drink. Amen.