Third Sunday In Lent Gospel Ponderings

John 4:5-42

Jesus 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 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 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.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

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 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.”

  • Notice with me that just last week we read about Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the cover of darkness.  Sunday March 19th we witness this Samaritan woman encountering Jesus at a well during the middle of the day, in broad daylight, none the less.  What does this say to us about Jesus?  Remember that for John’s Gospel light and darkness play a significant theological point.  As is often the case with John’s Gospel, there is a role reversal at play here.  The wise and learned Pharisee Nicodemus couldn’t grasp Jesus’ notion of being “born from above.”  Yet, a Samaritan woman, who sadly would have been looked down upon due to the prevailing culture and customs of Jesus’ day, easily grasped Jesus’ gift of living water.  What expectations do we need to let go of to be able to grab hold of Jesus’ message more readily?
  • For years and years preachers have done a huge disservice to this Samaritan woman at the well.  We’ve taken Jesus’ words to the woman, “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!” to mean that the woman is a prostitute.  Notice, however, that there isn’t anything in the rest of the reading that indicates this assumption.  Neither Jesus nor John offer evidence that the woman is a prostitute.  This unnamed Samaritan woman could have just as easily been divorced by her former husbands; she could be widowed. She could have even been childless and living with her brother-in-law after her last husband’s death, named a Levirate Marriage, but not recognized as a full marriage.  My point is that we are all too quick to make assumptions about the character of the woman.  Again, what assumptions do we need to let go of to have more authentic and life-giving interactions with Holy Scripture and with one another?  Are we truly listening to one another, or are we, more or less, making judgements about the other while we have a log hanging out of our own eyes?
  • Lastly, notice how the disciples quickly become confused when Jesus lets them know He has food they don’t know about.  “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.  For me, Jesus is helping the disciples get down to the right size.  It is easy for those in the know, those with power and authority, to have their egos swell a bit (or, a lot).  Jesus reminds His disciples that there is important work to be done, now in the moment, but that they have entered into the work process. The work didn’t begin with them; rather, the process of transformation has been occurring and continues occurring long after the disciples, and long after each of us.  Do we recognize that we have important work, important and life-giving ministries to offer in God’s name, but that the ministries aren’t about us.  We are simply the vessels.
  • Loving God, we come to You and recognize our dependence upon you as our Creator and Redeemer.  We thank you for the witness of the Samaritan woman at the well.  We know that she has a name and that her name matters to You, even if it wasn’t recorded in Holy Scripture.  We pray that we may allow You into our lives even when it might not be the easiest or the most popular thing to do.  We pray that, like the woman at the well, we may have the courage to engage you in holy conversation, that we may listen to you and to be willing to drop our water jars at the well to go forth and tell others of the love and compassion we have heard in You.  Amen.