5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” 13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him.
31 Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” 33 “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. 34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. 35 You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. 36 The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! 37 You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. 38 I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”
39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Sermon – by Rev’d Jo Joyce
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the key stories of John’s gospel. The gospel opens with the author’s intention to help people believe, and each of the stories he tells are to fit into this framework. But it’s not always easy to grasp what they might be saying when the situation feels so different to our own. We are fortunate to have water on tap to our homes, but it was not so long ago that people even here had to collect the water they used, and in many countries the women still gather at the well or local pump to collect the water for the day. I have helped with this during a visit to Africa and I can say it is Very Heavy trying to carry a large bucket of water on your head! Of course, water is vital for life and so there is no choice.
When I read this story of the Samaritan woman I wonder why she was there at that time of day? When people collect water, they do so early in the morning or in the evening, partly because it is cooler then but also because the water will be needed over the course of the day. I wonder if she was isolated from her own community because they disapproved of her personal life, or some have suggested maybe she was there to meet travellers, whatever the reason, she as a lone woman was vulnerable, she would have struggled to lift the water onto her head herself and going in the hottest part of the day would have been difficult, hot and unpleasant.
Culturally a for a man to speak to a woman alone in those circumstances was unthinkable, particularly for an unmarried rabbi with a reputation to protect.
So why was Jesus there? Especially with no means to gather water? It was the tradition at the time for travellers to carry a leather pouch to collect water in, perhaps the disciples had it with them, perhaps Jesus knew the woman was to come along, maybe that was where he had agreed to meet the disciples. We don’t know but the conversation that follows is fascinating as Jesus and the woman hesitantly begin to speak.
Notice that he makes himself vulnerable too. Rather than withdrawing 20 feet, as was the custom there then, shockingly he begins the conversation by asking for help. The woman unsurprisingly is a bit startled. The Jewish people and the Samaritans had held a bitter 500 year feud – the Samaritans had allowed the Greeks to use their territory as a base to attack Jewish territory, as a result the Jews had destroyed the Samaritan temple and the Samaritans had desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. It was a difficult and unpleasant situation. The English translation also misses that she asks why a Jewish man was talking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus is breaking a lot of cultural taboos with his simple request. But then he goes on to talk rather cryptically about living water.
Unsurprisingly she doesn’t understand – although the idea of living water sounds attractive. Then Jesus reveals that he understands more about her personal life than she could have known. My guess is that its now she begins to take more notice. Who is this man she has never met, who knows all about her? She draws the conversation back to the differences between Jews and Samaritans – we worship here, but you say we must worship there… My guess is she was perhaps embarrassed to dwell too much on her own life. But Jesus response demonstrates why he was comfortable to talk to her. The time is coming he says when all will worship, not in Jerusalem or in Samaria but ‘in Spirit and in truth,’ in other words, who we are or where we worship God will no longer matter.
Then we come the key point of the story, this is what it has been building towards. The woman says to Jesus that she is expecting, waiting for the Messiah.
Jesus replies; ‘I am the Messiah’ or ‘I am the one speaking to you’ (as it says in the Greek), but of course this phrase harks back to something far grander – for ‘I AM’ is the very name of God. If we look back to chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses having met with God in the burning bush asks for a name to give the people who ask him who sent him, and God replies ‘I AM who I AM.’ This extraordinary claim speaks deeply to the woman, who rushes back, excitedly, the first woman to preach the gospel, she tells all she meets, ‘come and see, is this the messiah?’ – and never be in any doubt – this is clearly what Jesus claimed to be, and, by the use of the phrase ‘I am’ he is indirectly suggesting far more.
When the disciples come back there is much to be thought on. Jesus is back to being cryptic, talking of fields ripe for harvest. I can just imagine the disciples rolling their eyes at each other – ‘why have we just gone to buy food if you already have it??’ But of course, Jesus was saying that the time for his ministry was now, people were hungry to know more of God. This chance encounter reveals it’s not just the Jewish people who were waiting and hoping, but that the Messiah was to come for all those who were expectant. The testimony of the woman was such that the people of the town persuaded Jesus to stay for two days, and many came to believe.
It’s an extraordinary encounter isn’t it? A brief conversation that changes the woman’s life and that of many of those in her town.
I wonder if we are expectant like she was? Looking for God in unexpected places and unlikely people? Prepared to trust Jesus and take him at his word for who he said he was?
Or maybe we feel cut off, or fear being cut off. Just as she was isolated from her own community, we too fear isolation. We don’t know why she was at the well that lunchtime, or if she was there every day. We do know it wasn’t normal for a woman to be out alone in the heat of the day. But we do also know that it was there when she was alone and isolated, that she met with God in a new way. When a brief conversation with Jesus changed the way she saw the world.
There is rightly a lot of concern at the moment about the virus and what it will mean for us as individuals if we are isolated, how things will develop, how we should worship. This story speaks into some of that – the day is coming when we will all worship God in Spirit and in truth, we don’t have to be in a special place, and sometimes God meets us in completely unexpected ways, sometimes when we least expect it and when we are all alone, God can come in.
But of course, this story is about far more than that. It’s about the amazing truth that God cares about all people. That a relationship with God is not just for those who are part of the religious ‘in crowd’ of the day but for all people at all times, that Jesus offers the water of new life to all who are thirsty, regardless of their background, no matter what they have done. This is a story of crossing cultural, gender and racial divides, of a God who cannot be pinned down to be the God of one people, worshipped in one way. But a God who cares and understands us whoever we are regardless of our gender, or our religious, cultural or racial identity. This story of the wideness of God’s love brings us hope and cause for celebration, but it also challenges us when we try to pin God down, or suggest that God is limited to our own particular people, place or culture.