Thank you to Sarah Renfro for inspiring this sermon.
This is a long gospel. My research revealed it to be the longest ‘recorded’ conversation Jesus had with anyone in the bible. Recorded? Was there someone present with a microphone? But it is long, and it is between Jesus and someone who is the wrong gender, from the wrong place and who has lived the wrong life. I love that Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah to this Samaritan woman.
Last week we read about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, the high-status religious elder who crept over to Jesus in the darkest part of the night. After talking to Jesus, he just might believe… but it isn’t until chapter 19 of John’s gospel that he comes out into the open to assist with Jesus’ burial. Contrast that slow conversion with today’s reading. Jesus meets with this low status woman in the bright sunlight, and after their conversation, she believes and runs off to proclaim him as the Messiah.
Today we have such a human interaction, at least at first. Jesus is hot and thirsty, so he asks for a drink of water. He doesn’t care that she is a woman alone or that she is a Samaritan. But this woman has her defenses up. She talks back to Jesus. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
As soon as he offers her living water, she gets interested. She would love not to have to go to the well anymore. But Jesus is making a play on words, something he does a lot in John’s gospel.
Jesus starts asking about the woman’s personal life when she would rather talk about an easy way to get water. He asks about her husbands, and she is shocked that he just isn’t judgmental. He knows that she has had several husbands and now lives with someone. We don’t know the details of her history. The thing is it doesn’t matter to Jesus. He just knows. He knows her history, he knows her soul, and he has mercy. He doesn’t ask her to confess or repent. He just accepts her.
This shocks the woman. She recognizes that Jesus is a prophet. One of the main issues between Jews and Samaritans is the question of where to worship. So, she asks for clarification on the proper place to worship and he tells her all that matters is to worship in spirit and truth.
She asks if he might be the Messiah. He answers clearly and simply: “I AM.” Holy cow! This is what God said to Moses! She is having an encounter with the divine who doesn’t judge, threaten, or dismiss her!
She runs back to tell her village. She confronts everyone shouting, “Come and see!” Her neighbors hear the truth of her witnessing, and they rush to the well. Jesus stays with them for two days and many believe.
This is the Jesus I love. To me, this is the heart of his ministry: the constant outreach to the outsiders of his time. The divorced woman, the Samaritan, the tax collector, the woman of questionable morals. His focus is not on the church leaders, the righteous, the wealthy, the fine, upstanding folks. Because of this, his ministry is so startling to the people of his time.
Think of what he is saying: The poor shall inherit the kingdom of God. The weeping shall laugh. The last shall be first.
This gospel shows so vividly that the ministry of Jesus is for everyone. Jesus purposely had his disciples go out of their way to walk through this Samaritan stronghold. Samaritans are reviled by Jews. He needed to teach that his was a ministry for more than the Jews.
Just last week we heard John 3:17: “God sent his Son into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” In bible study, Lorraine always used to talk about how inclusive that sentence is. Jesus is here to show mercy to the whole world.
Way too many religious folks embrace an ethos of “We’re forgiven, you’re NOT.” “We’re in, you’re out.” Or maybe they look forward to a rapture where THEY will be lifted up, leaving the rest of us poor sinners behind. Have they read this passage? Have they paid attention to the actions of Jesus? He’s befriending and embracing those very sinners they revile.
Jesus waits for all of us at the well. Thank you, thank you Jesus for the mercy and forgiveness you teach us. Give us strength and courage to daily embody your loving, accepting ways. Help us to worship you in spirit and truth. Amen.