The Woman at the Well

ALM Carol gave us this sermon on Sunday 12 March 2023. Here it is for you again:

Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me. Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth Thou sendest clear. Open my mouth and let me bear tidings everywhere; open my mind that I may read more of Thy love in word and deed. Amen

Imagine the scene, it’s high noon in the rocky desert region of Samaria. The arid landscape is practically shimmering beneath the burning sun. Jesus and his disciples, weary and thirsty from a day’s journeying, the disciples are sent into the city for food and Jesus waits for them in the withering heat, taking a seat near the town’s well – the one made famous by his ancestor Jacob.

He notices a lone woman emerge from the city gate and make her way toward the well, she is carrying a large earthenware jug balanced on her shoulder. Jesus knows what an odd thing this is. Ordinarily women came to the well early in the morning, when the day was still cool, to draw water for the day – and of course, to socialize and gossip. If we could ask the woman at the well, perhaps she would tell us about how a series of husbands had cast her off – which was easy for men to do in those days – or maybe they all just died. (We don’t know!)

Perhaps this woman would like to tell us what it’s like to be a perpetual outsider: a marginalized woman in a marginalized people group, the Samaritans: a woman doubly excluded, like so many in our world today, I am sure we all know of someone. Or she might have a few choice words to say about the women of the town, who fall mysteriously silent and exchange meaningful glances when she comes around the corner. She might tell us how one day she just stopped trying to fit in and resigned herself to being the subject of everyone’s gossip.

But then one day… one day everything changed. One day when she went to draw water from Jacob’s well, she discovered she wasn’t alone, was there someone waiting for her at the well: a dusty traveller, looking weary? His sandals and tunic were covered in brown dust from his journey, and he looked thirsty and tired. And then he spoke to her, which he shouldn’t have done: a Jew and a Samarian, a man and a woman, alone at the well. “Woman, give me a drink,” he says. To me, this is not a promising start to a conversation! But it quickly turns into a genuine and authentic meeting of two persons of two passionate hearts and minds.

The conversation culminates in a revelation of secrets from both sides. As it turns out both Jesus and the woman of Samaria have plenty to reveal. We all need someone to confide in, to trust in difficult times. Maybe it’s the first time in a long time that someone has encountered her like that: seen her, really seen her. Jesus meets her with respect, listening carefully to her. She is spiritually thirsty, and Jesus takes her spiritual inquiries seriously. When she hears what Jesus is offering, she is immediately ready for the living water that he promises. “Sir, give me this living water that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water from the well.” Specifically, in this setting, Jesus is thirsty to reveal himself to the men and women who most need to hear the good news of reconciliation – in this case, the outcast Samaritans, long separated from the Jews.

This is the point of Jesus’s emphasis, in the story, on his coming to bring reconciliation between Samaritans and Jews: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” Jesus thirsts for all people to be true worshippers of the Father. Jesus thirsts to share the secret of who he is with all peoples. And he chooses as his missionary to the Samaritans– the woman at the well at noon.

How one chance meeting changes everything. A woman with no name and a hurtful past, whose secrets she thought she had to hide, are laid bare in the bright noonday sun. The well at noon on a hot day in Samaria becomes, for half an hour, a place of grace and encounter, where this woman’s deepest spiritual and emotional thirsts are quenched in Jesus.

And Jesus, who thirsts to reveal who he is to God’s people, but who is not having an easy time of it with the Pharisees and the Jews of his day, has found another disciple in the Samaritan woman. He has found in her someone with eyes to see and ears to hear: a woman ready to see God in him.

Jesus goes to where the outsiders are and waits patiently for their arrival. He engages with those who are outside of his own social and religious group, and shows no signs of disgust, discomfort, or judgment at the secrets they divulge. Jesus makes no assumptions about this woman’s past, her choices, or her personal morality. Instead, he encourages this woman to acknowledge the truth about herself and to see for herself who she really is – not by accusing her or damning her, but by compassionate listening.

He goes out to meet her where she is, he encounters her with her authenticity and honesty, he respects her and listens to her, he offers her living water, free of charge, no strings attached. Now that is a model of ministry.

Not everyone wants the water Jesus is offering. Not everyone wants to hear who Jesus really is. But this woman does! Her spiritual thirst gives her open ears and an open heart. She becomes one of the first Christian missionaries: a woman! from Samaria! of all people and places! … who can’t wait to set down her water jug; who can’t wait to run and tell the people that she’s met the Messiah and, by the way, he’s practically on our doorstep. Come on, let’s go and see..

We Pray

Lord, this morning, this space is Jacob’s well, where we encounter one another with eyes to see and ears open, listening, to each other. We have come because we still believe that promise of living water, “gushing up to eternal life.”

Open Lord, God, give us and all who thirst for you that living water of your Spirit: water of refreshment, water of healing, water of cleansing, water of life. Amen

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