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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from god our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
My mother hated camping. One could easily imagine that she didn’t like struggling with zippers in sleeping bags or sleeping on the ground. She grew up with a wood burning stove in the kitchen, so she was used to stoking the fire to cook. Some people don’t like mosqitos or wood ticks. But growing up on a farm, she was used to a lot of unpleasant beetles and insects. No, what my mother didn’t like about camping was carrying water. Apparently, my father brought her camping once, and although she was relieved to see the sign posted at the campsite, “Hot and cold running water, ” she was not pleased to discover that “running water” meant running to the faucet with your own bucket to collect the water and then running it back to your campsite. Of course, my stoic, Norwegian father pointed out, it could have been worse. The water could have only been hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
For better or worse, women have historically been the bearers of water for their homes. It is still true today in much of the developing world. Women young and old journey alone to empty places where the waters flow. Their daily task prevents them from receiving paid work or going to school. They head out early in the morning before the blistering sun is high in the sky and then journey home again. So it would not have been a suprise for Jesus to meet a woman at a well in Sychar. The surprise was that he found a woman there at noon, in the heat of the day and that he spoke to her. But my friends, I do not believe that this chance meeting was mere coincidence. No, I believe that the Story of Other Good Samaritan is tale of God seeing us, knowing us and meeting us where we are- and then using us as instruments of his gracious love.
St. John artistically contrasts this morning’s story of woman at the well in the light of the noontime sun, with last Sunday’s story of Nicodemus and his night visit to Jesus. The Pharisee had a name, a profession and privilege. The evangelist states that Nicodemus was teacher and leader of the Jews. In contrast, the woman at the well is merely described as a Samaritan, and as St. John notes, Jews did not share things in common, personal things with Samaritans. She was a woman, and in the Jewish world men did not speak with women in public-especially rabbis. And although most theologians have chosen to portray the Samaritan as an immoral, loose woman, I believe she represent a tragic, lost figure. She has had five husbands and all have either divorced her or died before a son was born who would take care of her. Even now she was living with a man who was probably a former brother-in-law or uncle who was required under Jewish law to take care of the widows in the family. Stranger things happened in the ancient world. In fact in St. Matthew’s gospel, the Jewish Sadducees challenged Jesus with the story of a woman who had seven husbands. Unlike Nicodemus who was searching for answers, the Samaritan woman wasn’t searching for anything more than the water necessary for another day.
And why should the woman have expected anything more from life? Many people in the world lose heart spend their time and energy collecting only what is needed for the day. They don’t know what to search for beyond those basic necessities. Of course, when you’re a child, you dream of the possibility of second Christmas morning. You’re pleased to read the sign outside the department store. “Five Santas, no waiting.” When you’re young you dream of the future and look to companionship and marriage, and hopefully, you will meet the person God has created for you. But for many people, somewhere along the line, there is a sudden reality check. You are reminded that work is not an occupation you need to enjoy. As I was told when I was young, that’s why your job is called work. In your middle years, you become disillusioned and you learn to complain that your grown-up children don’t visit enough; and when they do, you can’t wait for them to leave. Finally, when you’re very old you long for nothing more than another day of grace. Jeanne Calment, at 120 years old, was asked to describe her vision for the future. She replied simply, “Very brief.”
The woman at the well didn’t have any dreams or hopes for her life. Instead, she simply chose to attend to daily tasks of bearing water from the well. She wasn’t proud or arrogant in her ways- simply complacent. She could never truly leave her burdens and past behind. And so at noon, when there were the least number of eyes watching, she followed her daily routine of sojourning to Jacob’s well to draw water. It was a time when no one would be there to speak to her, and no one to judge her- an hour when only mad dogs and Englishmen ventured out. But as she drew near to the water, she saw an exhausted, man resting by the well. Jesus was there. As she lowered her wooden bucket into well, the woman was startled by his voice. “Give me a drink.”
The Samaritan woman stared at Jesus and said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me a woman of Samaria?” And then the two began speak in riddles. “If you knew of knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman sighed, “If he had this living water, why would he have asked for well water at all. He doesn’t even have a bucket.” The conversation was playful, and a little odd. But Jesus never insulted, criticized or challenged her. To her surprise instead, he spoke compassionately as if he knew and understood her sad pilgrimage in life and her dependence upon others. “Go, call your husband and, and come back.” There was nothing to be ashamed of in her life. And she responded truthfully, “I have no husband.” There were thousands of women in the ancient world who were under the guardianship of their next of kin. Jesus truly saw her, and it was his compassion and understanding which allowed her to say, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”
For the first time in years, she felt as if her life mattered. Gazing together into the wellspring of eternity, Jesus told the woman of her value, and she listened to his compassionate and knowing voice. Gazing together into the shimmering waters, Jesus saw her as she was created to be and she began to envision herself as Jesus saw her. Gazing together into the shimmering waters, Jesus saw her being transformed, and listening to his voice, the woman realized that before her very own eyes she was changing. “Why, is this happening?” she asked herself. Why, indeed? They even discussed theological truths, the coming of the Christ, and then, Jesus said openly to this other good Samaritan- a woman, “I am the Messiah. The one of whom you speak.”
Perhaps, you have experienced that deep longing in your own life. You know that something doesn’t seem settled, or perhaps, it all seems a bit out of control. The death of your father, the sickness of your daughter, the downsizing at work, your unfulfilled dreams have left you searching. But you don’t know exactly what you are searching for. You try to satisfy your needs with possessions, foods or relationships that ultimately do not satisfy and may bring about disastrous side effects. Or perhaps you feel as if you are simply wandering in an empty, parched land. You had not gone out to find such emptiness, but that is where you are standing today- anxious and ill at ease. I remember once browsing in a Christian bookstore one day, where I discovered a shelf of reduced-price items. Among the gifts was a little figurine of a bride and groom, their heads lovingly tilted toward one another. “Happy 10th Anniversary” read the inscription. To me, it appeared to be in perfect condition, yet its tag indicated Damaged. Examining it more closely, I found another tag underneath that read, “Wife is coming unglued.” It could have just as well said “Groom is coming unglued.” You are searching for something that will truly quench your thirsty and satisfy your hunger, but you’re not sure what it is.
The early church father Saint Augustine said it best, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are always restless till they find thy rest in thee.” When you find your longing is met, you are willing to leave everything else behind and move on in a new direction, with a new hope, with a renewed zeal for life. For I believe there is within the human heart a thirst for something that only Jesus can satisfy. Deep within you there is a thirst, a hunger, a desire, which only Christ can satisfy.
That my friends, is why the story of the woman at the well comes as such good news to weary souls. It is where the gospel touches your life and mine. Unlike Nicodemus who came seeking the Rabbi from Nazareth, Jesus went to Sychar searching for this woman. Most Jews would have gone around Samaria, but we read that Jesus went out of his way to reach Jacob’s well to find this woman. And there she was changed. That’s good news. It is a word of promise and hope, that in those empty places of life God is willing to go out of his way to find you.
Once the Samaritan woman’s thirst had been satisfied, her life was changed. Indeed, she was so transformed that day that she immediately rose and returned to the city to tell her neighbors of this prophet who had known her completely. She was so changed that her very life became the vessel of living water for others. She became an instrument of God’s good news. That is the invitation awaiting when God’s renewed meaning and purpose fill their lives.
Throughout our community, our nation and our world, men and women, young and old are restless. They are hungering and thirsting for the living water. There are families who struggle against oppression, poverty, despair, unemployment and sickness. There are those who struggle to keep the vision of a good life sustained by mere water. But how will they know of another possibility in life, if there is no one who will go out to tell them and to invite them to come and see? They cannot imagine another possibility for their life other than returning to the same well, day after day, to drink of the same water. They need someone to tell them that there is something more. As unlikely as the Samaritan woman may have been to tell her neighbors, she was given the words and witness to tell the good news of Savior of the word. Come and see.
Are you prepared for that task? Are you prepared to be the water bearer carrying the hot and cold running water of life to those who are thirsty and in need? You never know where you will meet the stranger. I am reminded thatour lives we cannot read like the sign outside one church. “We care about you. Sundays 10 am only.” We need to be prepared where ever God sends us. The woman at the well didn’t have all the answers. She wasn’t even sure of all the question, but she knew that this man, this Jesus could see her, and know her and understand her and whisper into her heart the possibility of a new life- and she wanted to share that joy with her neighbors. So she invited them to come and see.
My friends, do you know what you are longing for? The Samaritan woman walked away from Jacob’s well leaving everything behind. She left not only her earthen jar for water, but she left behind her past, her history, her regrets and her sorrows. And she began life anew. Is that what you are longing for as well? If so, come and see. Amen.