A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
Last week our lectionary text invited us into a conversation between Jesus and the Jewish leader, Nicodemus. He was a rather important leader in the community. It's probably safe to assume that he could go anywhere he wanted any time he wanted and as long as he didn't make the Romans mad, no one was going to give him a hard time. He’s what you might call “privileged”. Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus in the dark of night. The conversation they have isn’t long because Nick can’t quite wrap his head around the point about being born again that Jesus is trying to make. He remain in the dark about it.
Now contrast that scene with the gospel scene for today, which comes right after it. It’s not dark outside. No, it’s noon and it is in Samaria. Jesus and his disciples are traveling through this region—a place most Jews avoided because as the author says “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” But Jesus has gone out of his way to be here. He literally crossed a geographical border to be here.
Then the disciples leave Jesus at the well and head into town to get snacks. Now Jesus crosses another border—a symbolic border—to speak to the woman who arrives. Wells are meeting places for future spouses so for Jesus to speak to this woman at this place is breaking tradition. It seems inappropriate even to the disciples when they get back. That’s why they balk to find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman.
|The Samaritan Woman |
at the Well, He Qi
She arrives to fetch water and Jesus asks her for a drink. This begins the conversation and it is interesting to note that it is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone anywhere in the bible. It must be important.
She knows it’s weird for him to be addressing her so she responds, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
But he doesn’t drop the conversation. He goes on to offer her “living water.” Now that sounds pretty good to someone who carries a heavy jar back and forth from her home each day to get water. Is he offering to install a facet in her house? Great—somebody call the plumber. We can’t blame her for thinking literally. But that kind of water leaves you thirsty again. Jesus is talking about a gift from God that will satisfy her deepest spiritual thirst.
Unlike Nicodemus who remained in darkness, this woman comes to enlightenment pretty quickly. She sticks with the conversation. You could say that nevertheless, she persisted. And she realizes this guy might be the Messiah so she asks him. He responds: “I am he.” In the original Greek, it is simply “I am”, which is the very way God responded to Moses. The disciples haven’t even gotten such a divine self-revelation out of Jesus but here in Samaria, this unnamed woman has. Perhaps Jesus mustn't have thought there was a glass ceiling for divine revelations. Anyone who believes women or foreigners or people of other religions or races are of less importance to God hasn’t read this story (or the rest of the bible for that matter). It’s an extraordinary moment!
Which is why she launches into a theological conversation. It may seem odd to us but she is asking about the pressing question that divided the Jews and Samaritans of her day—the hot-button religious issue that made them hate and fear one another: Where is the proper place to worship God? Is it on the Samaritan's mountain or the Jews? Jesus’ response shows that God’s presence is much wider than they thought, for God will not be confined to one mountain or another, one temple or another, or even one group of people or another.
To tell you the truth, is not a very pro-travel-ban answer Jesus gives. He boldly proclaims wideness of God’s grace. He says the time is coming when all people will worship God in Spirit and in Truth. All. People.
This is good news and this woman "gets it" probably because she is one of the excluded Jesus has come to include even though he has to break the rules to do it. She gets it and she gets fired up. That’s why she leaves her jar behind and runs back to town to tell others the good news. While the disciples are standing around wondering whether or not it is appropriate for Jesus to be speaking with a Samaritan woman, she’s out doing evangelism.
Apparently, she’s good at it because she realizes when you are given living water, you’ve got to share it. It is not for having a private spiritual experience you can savor alone. No, when you drink of deeply of the living water God gives, you want others to experience it’s life-changing effects, too. She goes to her townspeople and she somehow convinces them they need to check it out. I told you she was persistent.
So here they all come to meet Jesus at the well: More Samaritans converts along with the female evangelist. It's not necessarily what the disciples had in mind when they signed up to follow Jesus. But that's what they get and it seems the revelation is bright enough to enlighten them, too, because they continue on with him in his mission. The darkness cannot overcome the light, which has come in Christ. Even Nicodemus will eventually figure this out.
The question this story begs is what does it ask of us? We who live in the light, who have been given living water as a pure gift from above—how are we called to share it as the woman at the well did? How are we to worship in Spirit and in Truth? How are we called out of our comfort zones about what is right or traditional or appropriate to really share God’s abundant gifts with all people? How can we have moral courage and persistence and a compassion that is much bigger than our own? Indeed, how can we have a border-crossing love like Jesus?
I don’t know. In these divided political times, these challenges seem increasingly impossible. But we believe that with God all things are possible. So let us ponder this story anew. Let's let it go to work on us—this unusual story of the wideness of God’s embrace and the value of all people. Maybe, just maybe it will open our hearts and the Spirit will blow where it pleases. Amen.
@2017 Laura Gentry