So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The 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.) 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but 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.” The 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.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just 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?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do 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. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They 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.” (John 4:5-42)
I have just proclaimed one of the longest readings in the liturgical year. I will have to admit, after such a long and rich Gospel, I had the inclination to say ‘Amen’ and sit down.
But, this reading contains a lot of food for thought. Today, I want us to explore further the meeting of Jesus and the woman at the well and the new life He promised her and all of us if we follow His teachings.
During the course of his journeys, Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee, by way of Samaria. We are told that Jewish travelers preferred to make a detour that could take days to go around Samaria in order to avoid contact with Samaritans who were pagans and sworn enemies of the Jews.
This stereotyping by the Jews of Jesus’ day of the Samaritan woman, and all Samaritans, as unclean and to be avoided at all costs is a lazy way of lumping together all of those who come from a certain class, or a certain occupation, or a certain race, and attributing to each individual the same characteristics as the group. Although some things may generally be true of a group, it is not specifically true of each person in that group.
And such stereotyping – as prevalent today as in the time of Jesus – bring with it offenses against our fellow human beings that are cruel and abhorrent to the Christian life!
Prejudice. . . Discrimination. . . Segregation. . . Racism. . .
Our society cries out against such offensesâ€”as well it should! Regrettably, all of these negative attitudes were as much a part of the Jewish and Samaritan cultures as they are of ours today.
Prejudice judges a man’s character by his outward appearance. Discrimination deprives a person of the right to have all the benefits of the society. Segregation deprives a person of the right to belong fully to that society. Stereotyping deprives a person of the right to be fully the individual they were created to be. Racism deprives a person of the rights inherent at their birth.
Prejudice against anyone who is different divides, isolates, and ostracizes people. It is the mark of an ignorant mind that perceives itself to be enlightened., who thinks they are better than someone else. Prejudice has its root in ignorance, faulty sense of reality, and leads to further ignorance.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, we read:
For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7).
We are reminded that those who judge according to outward appearance are foolish – that we do not see people the way God sees them.
Jesus took the direct route to Sychar, which was a town near Jacob’s Well. Here, in this little inconsequential village, Jesus stopped, tired and thirsty in the midday heat. His disciples had left him alone to go buy food. Only a Samaritan woman was there, drawing water from the well. Jesus did not see the Samaritan woman as anything more or less than a human being at the well.
In this time, every drop of water used in a household had to be carried from the local well. I wonder how many times the Samaritan woman had trudged to the bottom of the steps cut into the rock, filled her heavy earthenware jars, returned up the steps, and carried the water home. The fountain was the hub of every village. The strong younger women of the household normally did this task, but the Samaritan woman was no longer young, and since she was carrying her own water, she must not have had younger women in her household to do this heavy task. Scripture suggests that she was drawing water during the hottest time of the day – maybe because she wanted to avoid meeting the townspeople. . . one might guess because of her multiple marriages, she was an outcast in her village, a woman discriminated against and possibly segregated from the rest of society.
Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for something to drink, and here begins the longest conversation recorded between Jesus and any person. Given the role of women in that culture, it is quite surprising that this conversation happens with someone who was a woman, and a non-Jew. The woman herself was certainly surprised when Jesus spoke to her, because Jews and Samaritans simply did not have anything to do with each other. The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us just how much these two peoples avoided one another, and how biased each were toward the other.
But, we are all of one blood; Acts 17:26 tells us
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth
One race cannot be better than another because all of us were born from the same ancestors.
“The Samaritan Woman” is not given a proper name, which is not unusual in John’s gospel – there are a number of people who are unnamed by John. Among these are the Beloved Disciple, the Paralyzed Man at the Pool, the Man Born Blind, and the Royal Official. These were real people with their own names, identities and stories, but leaving them nameless heightens the symbolism in their stories. We could all be one of those persons.
Once again, we learn that Jesus was different from all other men; he taught and lived a life devoid of the prejudices of his culture. Jesus never thought of the ancient enmity between Jews and Samaritans, and began talking to the woman about ‘living water’.
But the Samaritan woman had a feeling that Jesus meant more. She questioned him. Jesus explained that when people drink ordinary water, they get thirsty again. But He knew of a water that gave eternal life. Needless to say, this caught her interest, tired as she was of carrying water daily. She asked Jesus for some of this ‘living water’.
Jesus spoke to her as an intellectual and social equal, and she responded in kind. Jesus told her that very soon none of false rules that society had developed to divide and hurt others would matter, because the Messiah was coming, and he would change everything. In fact, he said,
“I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:26)
The story of the Samaritan woman, once again, shows us that Jesus cared about every person, regardless of gender, race, or station in life.
This teaching, that we are all brothers and sisters, equal throughout eternity, is a great part of the ‘living water’ which he came to give us, and to bring that love and caring for all persons into our lives is to drink of the ‘living water’.
The Samaritan woman was transformed by her meeting with Jesus – just as we all can be. She believed Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Anointed One. She immediately repented of her past misdeeds and went back to tell her friends and neighbors how she met Jesus and His offer of life-giving water.
In many ways, this story tells us that there is a well of grace ready to refresh all souls parched by sin and suffering. Jesus came to serve those who still need both physical or spiritual healing. He offers new life to all; He came to give ‘living water’, which is like a stream that bubbling within us and will pass from us to other people as we share His love, enveloping them in the spirit of Jesus.
The Samaritan woman does not appear in the Bible again. But Saint Augustine and most Biblical scholars later use this example to describe the spiritual thirst of the human heart for goodness and truth and unconditional love – that thirst is not fully quenched until people are in the presence of God forever.
Take a few moments and think about:
- Are you thirsty for that ‘living water’?
- And what attitudes and cultural prejudices may be stopping you from fully experiencing it?
- Are you ready to accept this ‘living water’, making the changes, in your life, great and small, that will allow you to drink more fully?
- Where can you find that ‘living water’?
- Are you willing to do what you must to receive the ‘living water’?
- Are you ready to
love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31)
- Are you ready to accept that ‘living water’?
A pastor/poet friend sums it all up in his ‘Spring of Life’:
O Love, thou spring of life,
well up in me.
Gush up from deep within,
receiving, glad, and overflowing,
giving life, the breath of God
that mortal life nor heart cannot contain,
life rooted deep beneath the earth,
above the stars.
Run deep, pure water of your grace,
pure flow of living energy,
that I may flow with love
each day, each breath.
O Love, thou spring of life,
well up in me.
 Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Spring of Life”, Unfolding Light
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Beyond, Worthington, OH; 19 March 2017