March 12, 2023
It’s Not About the Water
In both these stories we know it’s not about the water -though water plays an important role in the biblical story. When Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac he finds her at a well. Jacob meets his wife at a well, and Moses meets his wife at a well. And, of course, the Jordan River looms large as the river that must be crossed to get to the Promised Land and it is the place of Jesus’ baptism.
But today the Israelites are having a crisis of faith because this journey to the Promised Land was so much harder and uncertain than they had bargained for. The water had run out. And in the Gospel the Woman at the Well is asked for a drink & comes to faith in Jesus.
We don’t know why Jesus decided to take the more direct route back to Galilee that went through Samaria. Most Jews traveling to and from Galilee took a route further to the east, to avoid the Samaritan territory. Samaritans were considered renegades to the faith. -Not to mention somewhat traitorous since they had refused to help rebuild the Temple after Jerusalem’s citizens had returned from Babylonian Captivity. But here Jesus is, even stopping at the edge of a Samaritan town to get some food and perhaps a drink.
It’s noon, not the normal time for women to come to fetch water. But this woman with no name shows up. We don’t really know why she is there at this time of day. Most women come when it’s cooler. The conjecture has always been that she must be avoiding the other women. Maybe she has a reputation. Five husbands, and a 6th man with whom she lives—I’m sure this would not go unnoticed in a small mid-eastern village 2000 years ago! Had she been widowed? -Or divorced? We don’t know. Maybe some combination of the two.
You notice there is no condemnation from Jesus, no judgement, (that, despite Matthew’s quotes about divorce.) Just a recognition of her circumstances. Also, there is no mention of children, so perhaps she had been cast aside by husbands for not giving them children. Whatever the cause of her situation it had to make for some painful history. She surely had been acquainted with tears.
There must have been more to the conversation than John tells us. -They are still talking when the disciples return. They are shocked to see him talking to a woman, and a Samaritan to boot, but they keep their composure.
Jesus, as he often does, becomes the vehicle for grace for her. –And the brokenness which she feels becomes the crack through which light comes, -both to her and ultimately to her community.
When Jesus tells her that “The time has come when it doesn’t matter where you worship God. As long as you worship with pure hearts and true lives”, he is letting her know that she is accepted by God, both in her life circumstances and her cultural tradition as a Samaritan.
Jesus is making it clear that the Grace of God transcends even the boundaries of formal institutional religion. –It is a gift of God that can move in our lives in ways beyond the bounds of preconceived human notions.
This woman, in a man’s world, this foreigner, this person with a history, then becomes an evangelist! –She goes back to her little village and because of her excitement and enthusiasm she gets folks to come out and meet Jesus. They even prevail upon him to stay another two days in their town! Whatever her reputation before, it had to be different after that!
One of my favorite stories of renewal is one told by Rachel Remen an MD and pioneer in holistic approach to medicine and the mind body connection tells of an angry young man she had as a patient some years ago. He had been a promising young college athlete until he developed bone cancer in his right leg. The leg had to be amputated just above the knee. The surgery saved his life but ended his ball playing career. He was bitter and depressed with the overwhelming feelings of the injustice of what had happened to him. He then dropped out of college, started drinking too much and had a car accident in short order.
When he first came to see Dr. Remen he was closed and sullen, still raging inside.
She gave him a pen and asked him to draw a picture of his body. He drew a sketch of a vase with a large crack in it. He drew it so intensely and hard that he ripped the paper. –It was a vase that could not hold water, could not function in any intended way. –An apt picture of how he saw himself.
Over the next months of physical and emotional therapy he began to release some of his anger and bring in articles of other people who had been victims of terrible accidents or illnesses.
He told Dr. Remen: “Dr.’s don’t really know what it’s like.” So she offered him a chance to talk to young patients who came to the hospital with crippling injuries or surgeries.
He began to be a regular volunteer and help many new patients come to terms with their own feelings. –he could relate in a way that Dr.’s couldn’t. More and more Dr.’s referred their angry patients to him. In the end one of those patients convinced him that he had a gift and encouraged him to go back to school and study psychology. He did.
A couple of years later he came back in to see Dr. Remen and she pulled the picture of the broken vase he had drawn that first meeting out of her file and asked if he remembered it.
He said, “Yes, but it’s not quite finished yet.”
She gave it to him and he took a yellow marker and filled the crack with bright yellow and then drew lines radiating from it.
She looked a little puzzled and he said, “See this crack, where it is broken is where the light shines through.”
What had started as a painful frustrated expression of his brokenness had now become a symbol of his calling, his gift to the world.
There was a certain grace at work in his life that, even without formal religious connection, had manifested itself in his healing and wholeness.
In John’s story Jesus breaks the religious barriers and customs of his day -but more than that- he becomes the instrument of God’s grace!–To this woman and to this village he offers a healing of heart and soul.
Maybe you would say it was just coincidence that he met this woman at the well..,
But maybe God works in the little coincidences of life to let Redemptive Love shine through us!
When you have experienced God’s Grace it changes you –whether you are like the Woman and the Well or like the young athlete who had his leg amputated. –God can provide a healing that goes beneath the surface of things. It renews the soul.
John records this story for a church that has become increasingly diverse near the end of the first century. He wants folks to know: that Jesus crosses all the boundaries; Jesus sees more than skin deep, sees beyond the cultural traditions, and even beyond the taboos.
Like a jeweler looking at old tarnished silver, God is not put off by encrusted layers of dirt or brine that dull the beauty and corrode the surface. God asks not just what you were but what you will be!
John tells this story not just to let us know what happened once upon a time –BUT to say that this Christ, this one who bore God’s presence still brings the water of life, the water that quenches the soul’s thirst—and all are invited to drink from this well.
Remember, in the play or movie, “The Miracle Worker” when Ann Sullivan takes Helen Keller to the pump and begins pumping water over her hands and over and over again spells out the word W-A-T-E-R. It was a moment of realization and of unlocking the doors to Helen’s real potential… Helen later said It was her “soul’s birthday.”
I think that is what the woman at the well would have said about meeting Jesus at the well that day—and what John would have us understand is that for those who truly meet Jesus it is still true!