John 4:1-42 After Epiphany
Elizabeth M. Deibert 24 January 2015
What we read at the beginning of this service from Luke 4 is Jesus’ statement of his life’s purpose. He is quoting Isaiah when he stands up in the synagogue and says, 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
From the start of Jesus’ ministry, it is clear that his purpose is to reach out to people who are down and out. So our reading from John is one of the many examples in which Jesus shows what it means to live according to his principles of love. In this story, we see Jesus reaching out to a woman, who was considered beneath him. We see her responding with surprise but enthusiasm to his message. We see her going to share the news with others, and the others seeing for themselves that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Because this is the longest continuous dialogue in the whole Bible, I have asked Mary, today’s liturgist, to narrate, so that Richard and I can dramatically read the words of Jesus and the woman in this gracious encounter. Listen well for the Spirit is speaking to her church.
NRSJohn 4:1 Now 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-- 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water… (Long dialogue here between the two, ending with Jesus saying, “I am He, the one who is speaking to you.”)
"Give me a drink." 8 (His disciples had gone to 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 Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common 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 no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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." 15 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." 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 the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 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 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. 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" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." 26 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?" 28 Then 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?" 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." 32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." 33 So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 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. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering 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 everything I have ever done." 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 what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." (Joh 4:27 NRS)
There are four points that give this story its power. One, that Jesus, was unwilling to abide by cultural norms, which told him to ignore this woman. He should not value her or show her attention for three reasons: she was a woman, and men did not speak publically to women when their husbands were not around. She was a Samaritan, and Jews did not speak to Samaritans. And she was an unattached woman, living with a man, not her husband, and she had previously had five husbands. Three strikes. She’s out. But not in the mind and heart of Jesus. No, she is not out, but very much, in. He surprises her with his interest in her. He is not just polite – you know how you sometimes are polite but not really interested in a person. No, Jesus engages her and lets her know she has nothing to hide, for he truly knows her and loves her still.
Second major point: She feels the love. She is surprised that he’s speaking to her. She’s surprised that he knows things about her history and there’s no condemnation. She’s surprised to hear about living waters, about drinking and never being thirsty again.
Think about it. There was no running water at home, the thought that she could have all she needed was wonderful. From scarcity to abundance, even though we know that his words about living waters have spiritual overtones.
Third major point: She goes to tell others. She’s not even totally convinced herself that he is the Messiah, but she’s convinced that sharing the story of her encounter is valuable. She enthusiastically shares. Now the trouble with us, compared to the Samaritan woman, is that we think we have to have it all figured out about Christ before we share anything. We are reticent to say anything because someone might question us, might doubt us. But by sharing, she finds the confirmation from the others that she seeks.
Final major point is that the other Samaritans come because of her words, but they stay because of Jesus. They tell her, it is not because of what you said, but because of what we have heard for ourselves, and it is scandalous that John puts in the mouth of the Samaritan nobodies that Jesus is truly the Savior of the whole world. As outsiders, they feel the inclusion. They announce the inclusion. Yes, John’s Gospel is the latest to be composed, so it does reflect the fact that Christianity is spreading far and wide, and separating itself from Judaism.
So what about you? Can you put yourself in the place of the woman? Or do you think better of yourself? No matter your station in life, faith begins by seeing the love of Jesus, by seeing Christ our God as the Savior who can ultimately feed your soul, quench your thirst, satisfy your deepest longings. As St. Augustine said, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” As we sang with the kids – Fill my cup. Let it overflow. This week, as I sat with Sue while Bob lay dying, she said, “I don’t know how people walk this journey without faith.” And the Brinkmeyers likewise said, “We don’t know what we would do without the support of the church’s love and prayers.” Faith begins with recognition of Jesus as the bread of life, the cup of salvation, and the living water. The most interesting man in the world, the man who advertises Dos Equis, tells you “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Jesus, who is truly the most interesting man ever says, “Drink of me. You will never be thirsty again.”
Second question for you? Are you welcoming and kind like Jesus in your dealings with all people, especially those whom the culture would tell you to ignore or scorn. Jesus is the great Equalizer, showing the supreme value of every human person. Jesus invited the Samaritan woman to be authentic, not to hide who she was. He received a gift of water from her and offered her the gift of living water. As people who have been fed and nourished by Christ, we are called to share this Love with others, that they too may experience Jesus, the joy of loving hearts, the fountain of life, gushing up to human fulfillment.