Exodus 17: 1-7
Romans 5: 1-11
John 4: 5-42
We have been asking the Teens some easy lead in questions over the last few meetings. Sometimes the answers are pretty straightforward and other times they make all of us pause and look at one another, considering the best way to respond to the response. One of those moments occurred a few weeks ago during a discussion about community. As the portrait of a community was painted the assertion was made that a Church is not required for a community to exist, the intent was there to assert that, even for Christians, the Church was not a “necessary” or “important” part of community. Afterward, the adults stood and discussed this viewpoint and wondered the best way to address the understanding. My initial reaction was to state that the “church” is not just the building, or the structure, where worship is contained. The church, could be all Christians in a community spreading the Gospel, right? But, as I have thought about this over the last few weeks, I think that answer is an escape from what truly happens in this place. I think it downplays the power of the Spirit within these walls. I think the community needs the Church and the Church needs the community.
As we begin this discussion, I ask you to consider some things. Why are you here today? Did you come to see your friends? Did you come out of sense of obligation? Did you come because you were curious? Are you here simply because this is what you are supposed to do on a Sunday morning? How do you feel sitting here? Are you skeptic? Are you disengaged and distant? Are you in tune and hanging on every moment? What do you expect to gain from this time spent in this place? Quite simply, why do you come to church?
The well. The well is the center of life in most towns during the ancient Biblical era. There was no running water and fresh water was very difficult to come by. But, towns typically had a water source that was proven and reliable. One that the women of the town would gather at each morning, filling their cisterns with the daily water needs,and engaging in conversation while waiting their turn to complete the task. They came early to gather the water for any delay in filling the jugs would mean a delay in their work. The well was a bustling place early in the morning.
Yet, our story is not in the morning. It is pointed out that the time is in the middle of the day. It is also made known that only two people are present, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The sun is hot and the rest of the town is likely well into their daily tasks. But, the Samaritan woman seems to be just getting started with hers and Jesus is resting from His journey. There is a tension here, before we even know the dialogue, before we even begin to understand the reasoning, we can feel the tension between these two people. Both, seem to be at the well at the wrong time. Yet, we have the feeling that this meeting is not merely a coincidence.
The woman arrives to find Jesus already there. He asks for some water and her reply demonstrates the barrier between the two, one is a Jew and the other a Samaritan. Why does this matter? We hear people described as belonging to these different people many times in the Bible; often to show the disagreement between the two. The twelve tribes of Israel split into the lands of Israel and Judah during the occupation of the Assyrians. During this occupation the tribes that moved north, ten of them, assimilated into the people that conquered them. They intermarried and practiced religious beliefs in conjunction with the beliefs of the Assyrians. The tribes remaining in the land of Judah could not believe this occurred and vowed to never assimilate themselves with people outside the Jewish faith. The two groups viewed one another with disdain. To give you some idea of the conflict between these two groups of people, it should be understood that the conflict still exists today in the groups currently referred to as Israel and Palestine.
In addition to this conflict in heritage, there is also a greater conflict in gender. This is a male dominated and oriented society. A woman would not be viewed as an equal and should demonstrate a certain amount of obedience and servitude toward a male in the society. But, there were safeguards and customs in place to prevent other males from taking advantage of another’s wife. First, the Jewish custom was that males did not talk to females in the street, not even their own wives. Second, Jesus is considered a teacher, and teachers were not allowed to teach women. Third, is a combination of heritage and gender, Samaritans were considered “unclean” by Hebrews and therefore should not be approached in conversation, especially if they are a woman. It is for these reasons, that we find the disciples to be surprised when they arrive and Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman. It is also, for these reasons, that the lady knew that the person she was talking with was different than any other person she could have met at the well that day.
There are so many things we can take away from this story. But, for today, we are just going to concentrate on a few of them.
Jesus asks for a drink. That is how the conversation starts. But, does Jesus ever receive the drink? No. It is the introduction of water into the conversation. Water is viewed as the lifesource of the world, especially during these ancient times. It allows plants to grow, animals to thrive, and is necessary for human life to subsist. Everyone must have access to water, for without it, they will perish. Jesus’ request for water is a reminder of how important water is and that it is a foundational element of life in our world.
How surprising, it must have been when in her refusal to give him water, she is met with a reply stating that if you would have asked me, then I would have given you some. Something much greater than the water in this well, that must be retrieved each day. I would give you this foundational element in a way that opens a well in your heart and provides you nourishment each and every day without needing to drink. I would give you living water. In one sentence, in one instant, Jesus turns faith into the most important part of our existence and, with it, demonstrates that salvation is eternally found through the source of this faith, Christ.
Secondly, the Samaritan woman is not coming to the well at noon because she overslept. She is coming to the well at noon because she is avoiding the crowd in the morning. Likely, because she is unwelcome among the other women gathering water, and she does not want to listen to their ridicule and jarring comments about the way she has lived her life. Possibly, because she is ashamed of certain aspects of her life and decisions she has made. She understands that she is an outcast, even in a society that does not put much value on her life, she feels that she is worthless and unfit to be among the others. She goes to the well in the hottest part of the day because there will be no one there to tell her how bad and worthless of a person she is.
But, Jesus meets her there. After describing His ability to give her living water, He also reveals that He is the Messiah. He instructs her to get her husband and bring him back, and in doing so, draws a confession from the woman. It is the aspects of her life that most bring her shame and it is a reminder to her that she has made grave mistakes. She tempers her response, “I have no husband.” But, then Jesus reveals to her the truth behind her statement. She has had five husbands and is currently in a relationship that is not with a man to be called her husband. It is an acknowledgment of knowing those things that have caused her so much grief. We know nothing of her story, we have no idea why she has been married so many times, and why she now is living the way she is living. But, we know that is not the norm and against traditions of the time. We know that these things weigh heavily on her and cause her to be an outcast among her own people. We know these are the things that bring her shame.
Astonished at what she heard the woman runs from the well and goes to the town to reveal to the Samaritans the encounter she had just had with Jesus at the well. She exclaims, “He has told me everything I have ever done!” But, that is not what Jesus did. He only revealed to her that He knew those things which caused her the greatest shame and grief. He also made it clear, that despite these things, despite these sins, He still offered her living water. He offered her hope in restoration and in new life through living water that could cleanse her sins. But, something else is happening here. This outcast. This woman who avoided others at the well has become the evangelist! She has become the one heralding the Word of Truth and carrying the Spirit of Christ back to the people. Hearing her testimony the people come back to the well, to meet Jesus.
Meanwhile, back at the well, the disciples urge Jesus to eat. This is another basic human need. This is another requirement for life and another foundation for own existence. But Jesus refuses the food they offer and tells them he has food that they do not know about yet. That food is to “do the will of the one who has sent me and to complete His work.” That food is to do the will of God. Just as the living water provides life, the purpose of this new life brought forth by the living water provides fullness and richness, just as food may provide. There is satisfaction in doing the will of God. For doing the will of God, plants a seed in another to allow the well of living water to spring and for their own growth and fulfillment to occur. It is how the Word proliferates and Grace is shared.
It is no surprise that after this teaching moment with the disciples, the woman returns with others and that Christ teaches them for two days. In Samaria. In a land where he should talk. In a land where the people should not want to listen.
The Samaritan Woman brought a cistern to the well to be filled with water. Just like all of us have walked into church today with our own expectations and needs of what should occur in this place. She found something unexpected though, she found Jesus sitting near the well and in a conversation, she finds that her needs change. Her expectations and her wants are irrelevant because at the well, she found something much more important, much more exciting, much more life changing. She found Jesus. She found worth. She found forgiveness. She found community. I take that one step further, she made community! She revived the Truth and Spirit in the community that Christ was among them!
That is what Jesus said we needed to worship: Truth and Spirit! The understanding that Jesus meets us where we are! In the beating sun of a hot day in the middle of an open space at the well! Jesus is there ready and willing to tell us “everything” we have done wrong. Not to condemn us, but to set us free! The woman at the well leaves without her cistern because she has found something she did not come to collect. The path to salvation and the ability to set others on it.
My friends. This morning we gather at the well. We walked in that door with cisterns of ideas that needed to be filled in our own preconceived ways. But, I tell you to listen to your hearts because in this place Jesus meets you where you are and reveals to you your forgiveness. Around you are others who are realizing this Truth for themselves and are hungry to the will of God so they can be fed. To hear the Truth is not enough to be fed, it is to act in the Spirit. It is to run to the village that casts you away and to become the trumpeting voice of salvation, that is the provision of food.
Regardless of why you thought you came to church this morning. Jesus’ intention was simply to meet you here. To offering you living water and to make you hungry. The church should be the well for this living water and every town needs a well.