Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on March 19, 2017, the Third Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading is John 4:5-42.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today in this sermon we’re going to see Jesus daring to confront the status quo of his day on extremely sensitive issues like race, religion, politics, and the role of women. Sounds like the issues of today, doesn’t it? But this is 2,000 years ago. If you have ever wondered what could have gotten the Jewish leaders so upset that they wanted to put Jesus to death, you are going to find out today some of the reasons.
It is the gospel-writer John who gives us the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well. His account takes up most of the 4th chapter. I thought I would do you a favor today and have you sit for this story, as I tell it in my own words…
Let me set the stage. Jesus and the disciples take a short cut through the area that is called Samaria. Good Jews of that day stayed away from Samaria because they had been taught that these folks were racially impure and you just don’t get near them. This had been said for so many generations that even the people of Samaria began believing and acting as if this were the truth. Many there saw themselves as survivors, just eking out their existence from day to day, having no good hope for the future.
In case you think that I am just speaking historically, I have a personal story to tell. In 1995 I led a tour group to Israel. There was a temporary window of peace in the hostilities between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we were permitted to drive through this region in order to visit Jacob’s well. While so much of Israel is prosperous, with fine roads and houses and fields of crops, this area was dirt-poor with people living in shacks with no electricity. You definitely know that these people have little to look forward to.
John tells us that Jesus and his disciples take that short cut through Samaria one their way back to Galilee. It is a hot summer’s day. They stop off in the village of Sychar in order to get some water and food. The disciples head off to get the food and Jesus goes over to the well and sits down.
An unnamed Samaritan woman comes by to draw water. Now this is how the scene should have happened. He, a Jewish man and a rabbi, should have had no contact whatsoever with her. He should not even have looked at her, and she should have kept her distance, because she knew she was simply dirt in his mind.
Jewish rabbis in Jesus’ day were encouraged not to teach or even speak with women. Teaching a woman was considered “obscene.”
Jesus does speak with her and asks, “Will you give me a drink?” She is astonished and replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Then Jesus begins his teaching to her: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Here’s a little-known fact about this woman. She is the first person that Jesus tells that he is the Messiah. She said to Jesus, “I know that the Messiah (called the Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
This story is a vignette in the life of Jesus. But it reveals so much about the heart of God and the mission of the Church.
God loves all people, not just a select few. God does not even see barriers of race or culture or politics or gender. The good news of Jesus Christ is for everyone. Prejudice and bigotry have no place in the Church or in our Nation. Where it occurs, Christians should be constantly at work combating it.
Early in my ministry, I was pastor at a church that had a bus ministry. We would canvass the neighborhoods on Saturdays inviting families with children to ride the bus to our church. It seemed like a success with 3 busloads coming to participate in Sunday School and Worship. But I remember the day when a delegation from the Sunday School Department came to our Council Meeting. Here was their beef. They had signed up to teach when everyone coming was like us. “Now we have kids from the poor section of town, some have parents who aren’t even married, and do you see how they are dressed?” If you are going to do this bus ministry, bring them at another time on Sundays…” We continued that ministry, but at the expense of losing some teachers who had extremely strong feelings.
The woman at the well had quite a personal background, one she was not proud of. She had been married five times and presently she was living with someone who was not her husband. What impressed her about Jesus was how he treated her. While so many were prone to see her for all her faults and weaknesses, Jesus looked at her as a child of God who needed to be reminded that God loves her; she can see herself as one who has value because of that love.
This acceptance and not just the expected rejection is what propels her to tell everyone she sees in the village of Sychar what she experienced at the well. John says they even came from neighboring towns to meet and hear Jesus. Here is how John ends this vignette:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.” So, when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.” And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
In our day, now, may God inspire each and every one of us to tell others about how Jesus has come into our lives. And may we too break down barriers created by human hands that keep people from knowing the love of God for all people.