Around the Watering Hole
Grace United Methodist Church
March 27, 2011
John 4: 5-42 (NIV)
So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”….
…. 39Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And because of his words many more became believers.
42They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
A couple of weeks ago, I got a pretty funny email from my Mom. It was crazy headlines or stories found in real newspapers. I laughed for a good 10 or 15 minutes as I made my way through all the crazy news. As we get started this morning, I want to share a few of these newspaper headlines with you.
An advertisement: “Get 50% or half off, whichever is less.”
“Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.”
“One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers.”
“Alton attorney accidentally sues himself.”
“County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds.”
“Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons.”
“Fish need water, feds say.”
And this advertisement was found in the classifieds of one newspaper, “1995 Nissan Maxima, green, leather, loaded, CD, auto start, sunroof, 4-door, good condition, $4500. Not for sale.”
And another classified advertised this, “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
Or how about this crime report, “Dog Attack — Lower duck pond, Lithia Park, Ashland. Police responded to a report of two dogs running loose and attacking ducks at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. The officer cited a resident for the loose dogs. The duck refused medical treatment and left the area, according to police records.”
The subject line of the email containing those strange newspaper clippings was, “You just can’t make this stuff up!” And indeed, you can’t make that kind of stuff up. People do silly, sometimes simply crazy things, and no made-up story can even rival the real thing. This is exactly what happens as Jesus travels into Sychar in Samaria and makes a midday stop at the local well. As Jesus gets a drink of water and converses with the woman there, a question seems to lurk in the back of everyone’s mind, including the disciples. A question that goes a little like like this, “Jesus, are you crazy or something? Why on earth are you talking to a Samaritan woman?”
Here’s why the disciples and others would be so surprised by Jesus’ conversation with that woman. First of all, the obvious: Jesus was a man, and the Samaritan was a woman. And back in Jesus’ time, men just didn’t talk to women; especially not by themselves, and especially not women with whom they were unacquainted. It simply wasn’t done for all sorts of different reasons. On top of that, this woman, it seems, was particularly bad because of her widely known marital indiscretions. Then, to add insult to injury (at least as far as society was concerned), Jesus was a Jewish man and this woman was not just any woman, but a Samaritan one! You see, the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was extremely frigid. That’s because the Samaritans didn’t think the Jews were real Jews, and here’s why. When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, some of them managed to stay in the Land of Israel. When the exiled Israelites eventually returned after their time of oppression, it was believed by those who had remained in Israel that the exiles brought with them a now tainted version of worship. So the Samaritans, as they came to be known, felt that they were the only true Israelites, and that the Jews had it all wrong. The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was so bad by the time Jesus came along that Jewish people wouldn’t even walk through Samaria. They would plan their travels from place to place such that they would detour around Samaria and vice-versa.
So, when Jesus not only treks through Samaria, but pauses for a casual conversation with this “very bad” Samaritan woman, he’s tackling head-on some of the greatest prejudices of the day. He confronts the tragedy of racial prejudice, since the Jews would have nothing to do with the Samaritans. At the same time, he also takes on some gender issues. As I mentioned, it is not considered proper for a man to publicly speak to a woman, and to engage her in a philosophical conversation was unheard of. Still, with Jesus, there is grace. The woman has been married five times and the man she is now living with is not her husband. As she stands alone at that well in the middle of the day, an unusual time for anyone to be drawing water, it is clear that she is an outcast rejected by her community. Yet, Jesus is not judgmental. Jesus breaks all of the “rules,” all of society’s expectations, as he talks to this woman. And that is the message I want us to take home with us today. Jesus’ conversation with the woman from Samaria illustrates radical inclusivity. Jesus cared more about the person that the cultural mores that should have prevented him from having such a conversation. So should we!
If we are motivated by God’s grace, we too will take the initiative to break the ice in relationships where there is prejudice, hurt, and estrangement. We will seek to offer living water to stranger and enemy alike! Just like all of those animals, predators and prey, who were having a big party around the watering hole in that advertisement clip we saw earlier. We have to go to those places where we can encounter people who are hurting, maybe they are hurting because of something we’ve done, and we have to have a conversation with them. We have to build a relationship with them. Whether that’s around the well in Samaria, or the watering hole in Africa, the water cooler in the office, the coffee shop downtown, or even in the homeless camp where there are not only tents, but a lot of doubt and cynicism. We must go to the places where Christ would go and speak with the people Christ would speak to, and that means there are no limits!
There was a program called “Word and Witness” that ran quite successfully in the Lutheran church for a number of years. The premise of this program was that witness flows from the Word. The attempt was made to ground people in the Word and, at the same time, to discuss ways that the gospel can be witnessed to in daily life. It’s a logical idea and an important part of the life of Christian disciples. Once we really hear the Word of God through a faith encounter with Christ, we are going to witness. Look at the woman at the well: Her encounter with Jesus, the Word made flesh, transformed her and her relationship with her neighbors. She went to the well at noon so as to avoid her neighbors and their judgments. But after she encountered Jesus, she left her water jug and went to witness to her neighbors about Jesus. She wasn’t really taught by Jesus how to witness; she just did it! A spring of living water was already gushing forth in her life! When we truly encounter the Word made flesh, we are so transformed by grace that we must bear witness to Christ!
This world needs that kind of radical encounter and transformation. People everywhere need grace and forgiveness and acceptance. People need to experience the living water of Jesus Christ! Most people want to avoid the pain of being nobodies; they want to be recognized and cherished as somebodies who matter. There are so many who need to drink from the streams of living water, just as that woman standing at the well did. And this passage is good news for anyone who has ever felt humiliation or the pain of being a nobody, because Jesus does not turn away from this woman. We sit here today because we have felt the living water flowing through our bodies and refreshing us with new life. And just like Jesus who stopped at the well for a talk with a Samaritan woman; and just like that woman who went unhindered back into the community that had rejected her, we have to break the rules to share the living waters of Christ’s life with others. Jesus breaks the rules to talk with the Samaritan woman; he shocks even his friends! And as followers of Christ, as part of Christ’s very body, we have to imagine ourselves in Jesus’ role–the ones who break the rules to speak with outsiders.
So the question for us today is this: are the streams of living water flowing through us? Are we going to new places and meeting new people, and are we doing it for the right reasons? I mean, it’s perfectly acceptable to get out and head to the park on a beautiful spring day to meet some new people and have some fun. But we also have to go to the places that are a little risky. We have to interact with the kind of people that will cause others to pause, do a double-take, and ask, “Why on earth is Clair talking to that person?!?” We must drop our stereotypes and allow God to be in the midst of conversation with us and all those people we think we’ve figured out. We have been to the well, we have tasted the living waters, and we have been transformed forever. Now, we should be for others like an oasis of life in the midst of a barren and life-threatening desert. We have to gather with the strange crowds at the watering hole, and we have to offer the living water of Christ. And it can be as easy as one simple question, “Would you like a drink of water?”