Text: John 4:5-42 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
5 So he came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. 36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
First, a bit of a recap of last week’s sermon. The point that I sought to make was simply this: You do not need to have a “born again” experience to be a “real” Christian. Many people have had such an experience, and I say more power to them. Most people, however, have not. And that’s OK, too. And then, when the word “personal” is attached to “Savior,” all manner of misunderstandings can arise.
This is an important point to keep in mind when reading this week’s Gospel lesson, as well, because the underlying drama of the story is provided by the misunderstandings and the enmity that was created when people took it upon themselves to decide who was in and who was out.
This week, we find Jesus and his disciples, oddly enough, in Samaria.
And we already know about the animosity that had existed between the Judeans and the Samaritans for centuries. As far as the Judeans and the Samaritans were concerned, the other group was as good as a foreign nation. Sarah Dylan Breuer writes, “Jesus is traveling through Samaria, a land populated by Samaritans, whom Judeans despised. It wasn’t always that way. But in 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dealt the Israelites a humiliating military victory, destroying the Temple that Solomon had built and bringing the leadership of Judea to Babylon in chains.
“The sting of that defeat didn’t lessen in the years to come. People were looking for someone to blame long after the Exile ended. Knowing that Israel’s safety lay not in superior arms, but in God’s protection, people tried to explain how it was that God allowed this to happen. People like Ezra and Nehemiah blamed those men of Israel who had married foreign women, and they demanded that all such men immediately divorce their wives, passing along the experiences of humiliation, abandonment, and exile. Many of the men, especially in Samaria, refused, and so they got this kind of treatment, reported as the words of Nehemiah:
“I contended with them and cursed them and beat some
of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of
God … Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign …
– Nehemiah 13:25-30
“And so began the enmity between Judeans and Samaritans that was centuries old by the time Jesus sat by Jacob’s well – a holy place for both Judeans and Samaritans – and was approached by a woman of Samaria.”
The underlying attitudes we encounter in this passage are exactly the same as in the cases where someone saunters up to you one fine day and grills you as to whether or not you’ve been born again: They believe that they’ve “got the goods,” and you don’t. To such people, you are a Samaritan, unwashed, defiled, unacceptable.
And yet, there sits Jesus. According to the customs and the mores of the day, he should be the one person who should not be there. What’s more, he talks to this Samaritan. He offers her the Living Water. He treats her as a fellow human being.
Scandal upon scandal!
Given the deeply-rooted prejudice and even mutual hatred that existed between Judeans and Samaritans, one would expect that Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, would not even give that woman the time of day, much less reveal to her who he was and what he was about. But then he would not have been the Jesus we know. He would not have been the Jesus who was and is the Son of God, the Messiah – the Messiah, not just for the Judeans, but also for Samaritans, and Gentiles, and everyone. Jesus does not build barriers; he breaks them down. He ignores the old taboos, he does not care about any risks to his reputation or even his personal safety.
The question, of course, begs to be asked: Why was Jesus in Samaria in the first place? The fourth verse of this chapter – the verse that directly precedes the beginning of this lesson – tells us “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” This may not be literally true – Jesus could very easily have done what all other Judeans did, and taken the six day trip from Judea to Galilee which went completely around Samaria – but he didn’t. He decided to go through Samaria, which only took three days.
William Barclay writes: “So, Jesus had to pass through Samaria if he wished to take the shortest route to Galilee.” “Had to”? It could have been even more pressing than that. The SermonWriter.com website tells us, “John says that Jesus “needed (Greek: edei, ἔδει) to go through Samaria” (v. 4)…If Jesus ‘needed to go through Samaria,’ the reason is most likely theological instead of geographic. The Greek words dei or edei suggest a divine imperative—a Godly mission.” And remember: Jesus never did anything by accident. It certainly seems to me that this encounter with the Samaritan woman was absolutely premeditated. How could this be, we ask. The only answer I can give is that Jesus is God. He knew all about Jacob’s Well. Better than any other rabbi, he knew his people’s history. He knew all about that woman. He knew her history, with all of its blemishes, bad choices, and mistakes. And he didn’t care at all about them. That’s why he went there. It may even be that he sent his disciples into town as much to get them out of the way for a while as it was to get food. Greater things were afoot.
In any case, the stage was set for an act of grace and mercy that would show this woman who had no hope, and absolutely no prospect of ever having hope, that her past did not matter, and that God still loved her, totally and absolutely; an act of grace and mercy that might perhaps be the beginning of the end of the six centuries of misunderstanding and hatred between the Judeans and the Samaritans. Regarding that Samaritan woman, Sarah Dylan Breuer continues, “It was noon, in the heat of the day, and the last time that most women would have wanted to do the heavy lifting and hard walk back to the village involved in getting water from the well. The other women went early in the morning or in the cool of the evening, when the work wouldn’t be quite as hard, and the drudgery of hauling water would be broken by the fellowship shared by the women around the well.
“A woman who chose instead to go to the well at noon must have been seeking specifically to avoid that company; she was an outcast even among Samaritans. She was used to the whispering in the village wherever she went, having been used and discarded by so many men of the village, and in a culture in which there was little if any privacy, and gossip spread news quickly. As oppressive as the noonday sun is, it doesn’t burn like the stares of the others in the village. So she goes to the well at noon, when she can be sure to be alone.
“But she isn’t. Jesus is there, and he speaks to her. Men spoke to women directly and in public like that if they were related by blood, or as a proposition, so it’s no wonder that there’s an edge in the woman’s replies to Jesus. But Jesus addresses her in the same terms as he addressed his mother (John 2:4). He meets a woman who couldn’t be more of an outsider, and he receives her as an insider, an intimate who has no cause for shame. He brings up her past, and her present, not to shame her, but to take away their power in showing how little they affect how Jesus and the God he proclaims receive her.”
That’s what “living water” is. The Spark Story Bible states it perfectly – “love that forgives and life that lasts forever with God.” Our past – even our present – does not define us in God’s eyes, and our future is assured. If that is not Good News worth proclaiming from the rooftops, I don’t know what is.
We read that this woman immediately runs back as fast as she can to her village and tells everyone who would listen about what had just happened to her. Now there was a certain amount of risk attached to that – she was already pretty much “on the outs” with the people there, and adding what could have been taken as ravings would have just made her situation worse. But she takes that risk, and brings others back from the village to hear the inspiring, life-changing words of Jesus for themselves, and many of them become believers on the spot. “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” In sum: In the space of a few moments, she went from being a person on the margins to a person central to the spread of the Gospel to her people. She took a great risk, and that risk paid off.
There are always risks that come with doing the right thing, in accepting those who are considered unacceptable, and ministering to others – all others – in Jesus’ name. Years ago, I bought one of those motivational plaques that showed a baseball player diving to steal a base. The caption read: “Risk. Sometimes the greatest risk is not taking one.”
So it is with us today, too. There are risks involved sometimes with following Jesus; yet, as we’ve all heard before, we are the only Bible some people will ever read, or, to put it poetically:
He has no hands but our hands
To do his work today:
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in his way:
He has no voice but our voice
To tell men how he died:
He has no help but our help
To lead them to his side.
In this holy season, let us pray for the wisdom, the insight, and the courage to be such people!
In the Name of God, the
Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
 Breuer, Sarah Dylan, “Third Sunday in Lent, Year A,” Dylan’s Lectionary Blog, SarahLaughed.net, http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/02/third_sunday_in.html
 Barclay, William, The Gospel of John, Volume One, The New Daily Study Bible, Lexington, KY, Westminster John Know Press, 2001, p.171
 “Biblical Commentary, John 4:5-42, SermonWriter.com, https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/john-45-42
 Spark Story Bible, Minneapolis, MN, sparkhouse, 2015, p. 422