(watch here: https://youtu.be/objQmpYCY_w)
1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— 2 although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.’
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’
Again, we have an encounter between a non-believer and Jesus. Again, we have a transformation from such an encounter. Again, we are invited into the narrative as not only witnesses but also as active participants in our own relationships with Jesus. Time and time again, Jesus revealed himself to a variety of people in scripture and in so doing reveals himself to us. We enter further into our own relationships with him because of what we hear about his encounters with others. Make no mistake about it, Jesus revealed himself to them in order to reveal himself to us. Jesus is speaking to us through them! He is teaching us through them! So what is he teaching us in this encounter?
This season of Epiphany is all about the revelation of some unknown mystery, in this case the mystery of Christ. When we say, “I’ve had an epiphany,” it means an answer to one of life’s many mysteries has somehow been revealed. And nothing we did caused it to be revealed either. It was simply a gift from God, dropped into our lap, unearned and unmerited. Lucky for us, these answers or epiphanies happen all the time. God gives us random answers all the time. God wants us to have answers. Our God is a good and gracious God. He wants us to understand the greatest mystery of all—him. He sent his only Son to us so that we might better understand him and, as we hear from John 3:16, not perish but have eternal life. God is most perfectly revealed to us through the Son. More accurately, God’s love is most perfectly revealed through the Son. We understand God in radically new ways because of the Son. He’s no longer the vengeful, judging God of the Old Testament but rather a tender, forgiving, multi-faceted God. He’s a God that turns water into wine for no apparent reason other than to extend a wedding party. He’s a God that takes our worship very serious, so much so that He would cleanse our places of worship of anything that would distract us from dedicated, praiseful worship as He did with the temple’s moneychangers. He’s a God that wants to be known by our religious leaders, especially leaders who are consumed with his laws and ordinances as the Pharisees like Nicodemus were. He’s a God who reaches out to the outcast among us like the Samaritan woman from our reading this morning. God reveals himself, not to judge us or condemn but to love us and save us. God loves us! God has always loved us! God will always love! We are his beloved children! Every week I try to stress these very truths about our God. Our God is revealed to us because of love, plain and simple. Our God doesn’t owe us anything. He doesn’t owe us answers to any of the many mysteries of this world. But He so graciously and generously gives them to us. And He’s given yet another answer to us through this encounter with the unknown Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
This encounter is distinctly different from last week’s encounter with Nicodemus. The most apparent difference is that the woman isn’t even given a name. Why? Perhaps to better represent all women. Perhaps because her sins were far too great to allow her the dignity of having a name. Perhaps to illustrate how God sees us all as unnamed children. We tend to think her not having a name is a result of her great and mighty sin. After all, she had come to the well in the hottest part of the day at noon. All other women would have come earlier in the cool morning hours or later in the cool evening hours. But she chose to come at the hottest part of the day. Why? Well, we tend to think it was because she was a shunned, outcast member of the community. And we tend to think she was a shunned outcast because of her five husbands and the fact that she was living with a man to whom she wasn’t married. We attribute her marital history and current living arrangements to a deep sense of immorality. But historians are quick to note that all five of those husbands might have died of natural causes. The man with whom she was living might have been unmarriable, i.e. a brother or other family member. We’re simply projecting our own presumptions on her situation that just aren’t fair. That said, she did go to the well at a very untimely part of the day. And yet Jesus came to her! I don’t suppose it was all that comfortable for him to meet with her under that blazing sun either! But he met with her, a lone woman of suspicious Samaritan heritage and inconvenient timing. He didn’t judge her or condemn her. He loved her and blessed her, and us, with a wonderful lesson about living water. But was the lesson only about living water?
Recall how we’ve discussed the importance of seeing in these last few weeks. Jesus called out to his disciples, “come and see.” His disciples called out to others, “come and see.” Jesus knows, because of our sinful natures, we must see in order to believe so he beckons us to come out and see firsthand who he is and what he does. His disciples came and saw and were transformed into faithful believers. Then we heard how Nicodemus came to Jesus eager to see who he is and what he does but because he came with a whole set of preconceived notions and presumptions as a religious leader of the Pharisees, he had an even harder time of seeing who Jesus is. How we see Jesus is just as important, if not more, as merely seeing him. We must open not only our eyes but also our hearts and minds, our very souls. I think our encounter with the unnamed woman at the well teaches us something even further about seeing Jesus—when we see him is just as important as how we see him. The woman came to him when she was most vulnerable. She leaned into him when she felt the most alone. She could have run from that well or screamed and caused quite a scene but she didn’t. Instead she stayed and asked clarifying questions. Instead she recognized her need for him and went to him with an open heart and open mind. Instead she fully realized her situation and received words of forgiveness and assurance.
We all have wells of regret and despair. We all have wells of fear and doubt. We all have wells of pain and suffering. Few of us want to go to these wells yet we invariably end up at them. Our lesson for this morning teaches us that Jesus will meet us at these wells. Jesus will be there offering his living water of hope and joy. He’ll be there giving words of forgiveness and assurance. None of us is alone at the well. Jesus meets us when we fully realize our situations and how much we need him. None of us can do life alone. We all need help eventually. Let us go to him, lean into him, open ourselves to him. Let us go to him aware of our need for him. He will most certainly meet us there!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.