“Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway.”
Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel of the conversation with a man under the cover of deep darkness, and of the grace that those moments can offer. Today, we hear of a conversation with Jesus at the polar opposite time of day: at noon. The sun is the highest and the hottest. The light is the greatest.
Last week, Jesus met a man at the center of power, at the center of temple life in the ancient Jewish world, a Pharisee, a man with a name: Nicodemus...by night. Today, Jesus meets a woman on the edge, on the fringe, a Samaritan, who doesn’t even worship at the temple in Jerusalem. And her name is not even mentioned.
It’s a wonderful and very stark contrast from last week’s Gospel to this week’s. Christ in both places...and all places. And always “staying” (abiding)! [that’s another sermon...]
Honesty is a powerful theme in these Chapters 3 & 4 of John. Jesus’ conversation today with the Samaritan woman draws us right into this theme and others: honesty, changing of ways, even beliefs, place of worship, letting go and moving out...
The woman at the well has, for years, been assumed to be a prostitute or a harlot, even as we have no concrete evidence that this is the case. Some have assumed that since she has had 5 husbands, that it must be her fault and she gets around. But in recent years, many scholars and theologians have wondered and asserted differently. Maybe she’s lost 5 husbands, to disease or war. Or, in that day in age, a man could permissibly divorce and literally throw his wife out for just about any reason...often for not bearing children. And being cast out, especially again and again, made a woman ritually unclean to the whole community. [There’s a youth group exercise with a Hershey kiss…] One scholar was even so bold as to state: Jesus is not slut-shaming this woman, so let’s not ever understand this passage in that way again. She doesn’t disgust us; she inspires us with her witness in bringing her whole community out to meet this Jesus.
...but it starts with her being an outcast. That’s why she’s at the well by herself, at the least favorable time of day. If we had to draw water from wells in the Middle East, we’d probably all want to go in the morning or the evening when it was cooler. She’s been cast out of the comfortable times and circles of people. She’s been relegated to noon-time.
And this woman was hurting. No question. She could have been grieving, she could have been physically battered and bruised. And even if promiscuity or a certain sexual recklessness was part of her story — which many of us can relate to today, being careless and hurtful to our own bodies and others) — even if it was that, well, she no doubt had a painful story.
She was “at the edge”. A nameless woman, a Samaritan, and divorced and chewed up -- the imagery of “other” couldn’t be more blunt for the first hearers of John’s Gospel. It always helps, when we’re talking about Samaritans, to think of who your Samaritan is today -- Muslims, atheists, evangelicals, Hillary Clinton supporters, Donald Trump sympathizers, Russians, LGBTQ, rich people, poor people, certain family members or friends you can’t stand/stomach…
[a word about jumping to extreme-KKK, rapist, terrorist (getting off the hook?) vs. thinking about someone at work, church, cul-du-sac...)
it’s always helpful when we talk about Samaritans to draw our own lines, honestly (and deeply personally), and remember that Jesus is always there on the other side too, on the other side of the divisions that we make among ourselves...talking with the 5x-divorced, Samaritan woman.
And the site of this extra-ordinary meeting is this ancient well, Jacob’s well, a place still supplying water, just as it did centuries ago for Jacob and his flocks! Since the 4th century this has been one of the KEY baptismal texts for Christians. Many baptismal fonts in Europe and the Middle East, Northern Africa (and in some of our churches too) are designed to resemble a well. There is still water coming from the well: this is the place where Jesus meets us. (Beautiful, new fountain at our entrance today: baptismal, cosmic, in memory of loved ones, in thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness and love!)
Jesus reaches out to this woman—and to all who are on the outside and hurting, all whose histories are messy and painful—and Christ offers healing, peace, truth and love.
“Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway!” she proclaims.
Just as there is grace in the darkness—as we were reminded last week—there is incredible grace and hope in bringing things to light...in bringing our stuff out into the open before Christ. It starts in the dark, down deep in the soil, as the Spirit nudges us and stirs us, to be honest, and what a catharsis when it comes out. Growth happens. A new chapter begins — letting go of the past, moving outward into God’s future. Out of the deep, peaceful darkness (Nicodemus) certain things come to light (the woman at the well). Ah, Gospel of John!
Every Sunday (Luther even encourages daily) we offer our confession, splashed by the well waters of eternal life, and receive God’s mercy. It’s like “we’ve had 5 husbands.” We confess not just our sin but also our pain and sorrow: “Lord, we are grieving and hurting; call us back to you. We’ve had 5 husbands. Forgive us for what we’ve done wrong — for the things for which we must take responsibility. Comfort us in our pain and sorrow — in the things over which we have no control. Draw us to you, as you point us back out (not inward) to be your people to the strange and the strangers.”
Finally, you’ve just gotta love the scene of Jesus talking with a person who is so vastly different. (My Grandpa Hanske’s like this — he loves just chatting with strangers and he’s genuinely interested.) Jesus meets and talks in the midst of difference...
And then she goes back to her community from whom she’s estranged, and in a twist, actually leads them out! She goes and opens their eyes to see in a new way.
Our call here, our vocation, is to be like this woman at the well. We meet Jesus here, in this place, at this table, at this water well, and then we go and call others, “Come and see the One who knows everything about me...and loves me anyway!”
There is still water coming from the well. Forgiveness, new life, hope for a broken world. Living water gushes and cleanses us now and nourishes us for faithfulness into eternity. Jesus meets us and sees us plainly again this day, all our faults and blemishes, all our pains and sorrows, clear in the light of this day...and loves us anyway.
Now that’s worth sharing! Thanks be to God. Amen.
HOD: “For All the Faithful Women” 419, vss. 1,8, 2