Gospel: John 4:5-42
1st Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Before I went to seminary I worked at National Frozen Foods Factory in Albany testing and grading vegetables. One of my favorite co-workers was a woman named Lenora. She had a dry sense of humor. Hilarious. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, and asked her pastor once about whether women could be pastors, because she knew I was going in to the ministry. She reported back to me that her pastor told her, “Women can't be pastors because no one will listen to them.” My first thought was, “Ok, so if someone will listen to them and accept their authority, then could they be pastors?” And I knew people who would listen to female pastors, including myself, so that argument didn't hold any water. I know we can't help who will listen to us and who won't, but that doesn't mean we don't have the Holy Spirit or gifts to share from God. That someone doesn't listen, seems to me, is their problem. They are the ones missing out and the only ones who can incline their ear. Even God was ignored in the wilderness of the Exodus. The Israelites often didn't listen to God. It wasn't a comment on God, but on the heard-heartedness of people.
Very few people would listen to the Samaritan woman because they perceived barriers between her and them. It always seemed to me that the barriers we put are up are so random and artificial and have nothing to do with anything that is permanent or good. Most women would have gone to the well at daybreak to draw water. That she is here at noon, means she is probably not welcome amongst the other women. There are barriers keeping them apart. That she has had five husbands and now may be “living in sin” means that she was probably an outcast. Even if we know better, we start to wonder what's wrong with her that she can't seem to stay in a good relationship.
So when Jesus came to the well, and the Samaritan woman approached, there should have been a number of barriers keeping them from talking to each other. He is a single guy, there at the well. In the Bible, wells are places where the patriarchs like Jacob met their wives to be. They are the singles' bars of Bible times. However, Jews and Samaritans don't date, so that is clearly not Jesus' motive in speaking to her. He as a man should not be talking to her as a woman. He as a Jew should not be talking to her as a Samaritan. He, as God's son, the Creator of water, should not need to ask for water from her. He, a man, should not be talking to her, a woman, about important topics like their ancestor or about where people worship and how they worship.
There are even more barriers between them and she doesn't shy away from telling him the key one, that she doesn't have a husband. She has no man to mediate her life in a world where she is not considered a full person. Maybe she know's Jesus is different from others who have judged her, since he already is talking to her when there are so many boundaries. Maybe she told him this to test him and see if this will be the place where the conversation is ended. Where does this man draw the line? Is he willing to ignore even this great barrier in order to have this conversation?
As the conversation between Jesus went on, I couldn't help but think of an egg hatching. Inside that egg, the chick is safe, but the shell is a barrier. It keeps the chick from seeing and hearing and touching and feeling this world. It keeps out danger and infection. But the chick can't stay in the shell forever. The woman has been living this life inside the egg, but Jesus lives in another universe, one of freedom and danger and hope and new life, one of broken barriers. I hear the first crack of the barriers between Jesus and this woman when Jesus first speaks to her and asks her for help. The barrier is beginning to come apart. I hear a few more cracks when Jesus doesn't run away when she admits she has no husband. In fact when he begins telling her everything she's ever done, and it isn't all good, and he's still not scared, she is starting to see some daylight through the shell. And finally when he says, “I am he,” (meaning the Messiah) the pieces of shell are laying all around her and she's standing there stunned in the full light of day.
In this world that Jesus lives in, the barriers are nothing, the egg shells are getting in the way. Jesus goes around the area, ignoring the shells and inviting people to come out where they can see the fuller picture, the way God does. Maybe this woman even showed some readiness to come out of the shell when she pointed out Jacob's well, that Jews and Samaritans have a common ancestor in Jacob. She is ready to hatch, ready to dispose of these barriers between people that are not serving her or anyone else.
She is standing there stunned in the daylight, this Spirit reality that Jesus has been telling her about. And she experiences joy and freedom. She leaves her water jar behind. To me, this means, her needs were met. She didn't carry around this empty vessel, this symbol of all that was lacking in her as far as society was concerned. She left it there, because she was filled—she was filled with that living water Jesus had been talking about. And to prove it, she becomes a spring. Everyone she was avoiding, she goes to them and behaves the same way Jesus does with her. There are no boundaries in this new spirit reality. Nothing is going to stop her telling that he told her everything she had ever done, just as she knew the Messiah would. In verse 25 she says, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” This “all things” is the same word she uses later when she says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.” The word for “everything” is the same “all things” that the Messiah will tell us. She knows because of how he treats her even when he sees all things about her that he is someone different and maybe just maybe different enough to be the Messiah.
So now the woman begins the fulfillment of what Jesus was saying at the well, that those who drink the water that Jesus gives will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. She went back to her people who had rejected her, and began gushing. There was no stopping her. As a result many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman's testimony and came to see for themselves whether Jesus was Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus did not choose her for abundant life because she was deserving or a good person. Jesus was there and she was open to it because she knew the pain of all those barriers. She had suffered. But her suffering did not beat her down. She persisted. Through her suffering, she continued to have hope. And hope does not disappoint us. It was not her good works, but her faith, a free gift of God's grace, that gave her hope in her suffering and made her the first that Jesus admitted to that he is the Messiah.
Jesus comes to us at the well, at the bar, at the water cooler, at the park, on the street corner, every single day, in the people that we meet who are in need. They may say, “Give me some food,” or “Give me a drink.” We are invited by the scriptures to see Christ there within them—If you remember in Matthew 25 Jesus says, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” In that way, Jesus promises to come to us in the people in need all around us. And people are longing for more than just food and drink. They are longing for connection and respect and honest conversation. They want to break down the barriers that aren't serving us or them and be people together with a common ancestor and story, without judgment and shaming. They want to be seen. And we want to be seen. And we all want to hatch into the real world that God has made where there aren't barriers between us.
Jesus was thirsty and tired. He asked for help from someone that others would never have accepted help from. He never got that drink of water as far as we know. Hopefully, while she was gone gushing to everyone that she found the Messiah, he dipped in that water jar and got his own drink of water. We know the Samaritan woman was fed by this encounter. Her soul was fed. She was reborn. But it wasn't a one-way street. Jesus, too, was fed by this encounter. He told the disciples he had food no one knew about that nourished him and that was this interaction. The Savior of the world was nourished, fed, and saved by a disgraced woman as she was nourished, fed, and saved by him and their conversation, as well.
Several of us joked this week about putting on the church sign the quote, “Sir, you have no bucket.” We got lots of laughs every time we imagined what people would think driving by. But when I imagine the lack of a bucket, I see empty hands held out and how courageous that is. It is courageous to admit we can't meet our own needs. It is courageous to show a willingness to trust someone else to help. It is courageous to allow ourselves to be connected to others, to risk being hurt or misunderstood, in order to open ourselves to joy and fulfillment. Even Jesus held out his hands for help, here at the well, and many other times in his ministry. This year, when I read this story, I wondered about something, so I looked it up. Sure enough, it is also in the Gospel of John that Jesus, on the cross, says the words, “I thirst.” In fact these are his last words—words of need, seeking help and connection, courageous openness to others, breaking down barriers, still shattering egg shells on the cross and waking people up to Spirit reality that is way more real than these artificial barriers we keep up, these shells of protection between us that actually harm us.
Jesus is tap, tap, tapping on our barriers and egg shells, calling us to be born, to truly live, to step out into the light. It could be something scary tapping out there so maybe we should try to stay here forever. But this cramped space isn't doing it for us anymore and there is a longing in our hearts to connect and explore and gush forth.