March 7th, 2023: Jesus and the woman at the well
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
Once again our lectionary has taken us away from the Gospel of Matthew that we will spend most of the year reading each Sunday. We have another story from the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel was the latest written and differs in many many ways from what we call the synoptic Gospels or Matthew, Mark and Luke.
John’s story this morning might demonstrate who Jesus is more than any other story about him. Jesus and the disciples have been traveling. They have been walking and Jesus is tired. He sits down by the ancient well while his friends continue on to purchase food.
As Jesus sits a woman approaches the well. We are told immediately that she is a Samaritan. And as the Gospel tells us Samaritans and Jews do not mix. But in today’s story they do. Samaritans and Jews had a common history but divisions over worship practices among other things caused deep resentments and estrangements. The woman alludes to these when she says to Jesus that her people worship on the mountain, but that the Jews say one must worship in Jerusalem. The temple worship of the Jews was considered to be the correct way to worship.
I like Jesus’ response - soon it will not matter where or how you worship. Things are changing. Jesus is changing hearts and minds and yes, even the way that God is worshiped.
We never learn this woman’s name but she will play an important role in Jesus’ work and in sharing the news of the kingdom.
It is tempting to compare this unnamed Samaritan woman with our main character from last Sunday’s Gospel. Last Sunday we heard the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a man, a leader, a Pharisee, a learned man, a pillar of his community, someone curious about this teacher he had heard so much about. A man who came to Jesus at night for fear of discovery and disruption in his life. Today our story revolves around a woman, an unnamed person, uneducated, dependent upon male protection for status. She encounters Jesus in the middle of the day. She has nothing to lose by telling people about him. Nicodemus did not really understand what Jesus said to him or who he was. The woman at the well understood. She came to belief and identified Jesus as the Messiah. And Jesus uses the I AM phrase with her for the first time. Why would he?
Nicodemus did not get this treatment and he was a somebody. The woman at the well was a nobody.
This may be where the heart of the good news can be found today. Jesus comes to the nobodies and reveals who he is and models love and acceptance.
Our society is not like that very much. Humans seem to have an insatiable need to be “somebodies”. None of us wants to be ostracized or left out or on the margins. We want to belong, we want to fit in, and for many of us we want to be “just like other people”.
People want to be famous. We believe in the cult of celebrity. We have celebrity this or celebrity that. We elevate actors or musicians or chefs to a point where their most ardent fans almost seem to worship them. Our social media platforms feed this. We want to have friends or followers (people we may never have met - may never met) we want “likes” to our posts. Or retweets or a tiktok video that goes viral. We want to stand out and be noticed. Perhaps no matter what it is for.
Our online or digital world feeds this insatiable monster.
Most of us will never be famous. Many of us may eschew an online presence and not worry too much about how many people are following us! But the sad reality is that there are so many people who are finding their validation in these flimsy ways. It is making people even more isolated and lonely and vulnerable to feelings of low self esteem or self worth.
In our world maybe most of us feel like nobodies and many of us are desperate not to. This story of Jesus and the woman at the well can be a source of reassurance and good news. Jesus made no distinctions between somebodies and nobodies. In fact most of the time Jesus spent his time with no one who was famous!
Jesus breaks the rules to speak to the woman at the well. He engaged her in conversation. He helped her grow in faith. He treated her as the beautiful child of God that she was. He took her seriously and then spends several days in her village teaching about God. He defied social conventions and did not care who he offended when he did.
Jesus shared the message that in the eyes of God we are all important. We matter and we are somebodies.