The Samaritan Woman as Evangelist.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.’ 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.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 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.’ 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?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 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. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. 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 Saviour of the world.’
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Today’s Gospel reading may well be the longest reading you have ever heard read at worship. Which is why I asked David Barnes to help me find 3 readers to do a dramatic reading. Thank you Tosca, Liam, and Lucas—you did a wonderful job! Today’s reading was almost an entire chapter and the chapters in the Gospel of John are long! The entire chapter had to be read if for no other reason than the fact that Jesus talks longer to the woman at the well than he does anyone else in all the Gospels—longer than he talks to any of his disciples, longer than he talks to any of his accusers, longer than he talks to any of his own family. In the Gospel of John, she is the first-person Jesus reveals himself to. She is the first outsider to guess who he is and tell others. She is the first evangelist, John tells us, and her testimony brings many to faith. If I asked you for a list of miracle stories in the Bible, would this one be on your list? I doubt it. And yet, I believe Jesus performed a sign here.
Jesus’ choice of her is a curious one, because when this woman is described as an outsider, she really is an outsider! The woman at the well was a triple outsider. In the first place, she was a Samaritan. Let me give you a bit of history here in order that you may appreciate the bitterness between the Jews and the Samaritans. The region of Samaria originally had been the center of the northern Israel tribes. But then it had been overrun by the Assyrian Emperor Sargon who then shipped non-Jews from what is today Iran and Iraq into the region of Samaria. The mixing of populations was intentional and was designed to reduce indigenous nationalism. Not surprisingly Israeli and Assyrian intermarried. But the Judeans, who were centered around Jerusalem in the south, having escaped Assyrian conquest, wrote off their northern fellow-countryfolk as mixed-bloods, as half-breeds, as impure. Rejected as non-kosher and unclean, the Samaritans set up their own competing shrine on Mount Gerizim. In the second place, she was also, of course, a woman. In Jesus’ time, women were not what you would call liberated. They were not even allowed to worship with men, whose morning devotions included the prayer, “Thank God I am not a woman.” Women had no place in public life. Women were not to be seen or heard, especially not by holy men, who did not speak to their own wives in public. One group of pious men was known as “the bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman coming down the street, even if it meant walking into a wall and breaking their noses. She was a Samaritan and a woman; but that was not all. She was also a fallen woman. Respectable women made their trips to the well in the morning, when they could greet each other and discuss the latest Oprah book and exchange the latest gossip. But this woman was one of the people they gossiped about, and the fact that she showed up at noon was a sure sign she was not welcomed at their morning social hour. As Jesus soon figured out, she had been married as many times as Elizabeth Taylor and was living in sin at the moment, which made it all around less painful for her to go to the well alone, after the others had gone.
So, imagine her surprise when she comes in the heat of the day with her water bucket balanced on her head and sees a strange man sitting beside the well. He could be anyone. But when he lifts his head and asks for a drink, she is shocked to see that the man is a Jew! He’s no half-breed, no Samaritan. What in the world is he doing there? Has he lost his way? Has he lost his faith, to be talking to her like that? The Jews have endless rules about what they may and may not eat and drink. She knows that much at least, and she knows this man will be breaking the law if she lets him sip from her bucket. So, they talk about it, and what I find so fascinating about this long conversation is that they don’t seem to be on the same wave-length. For example, the woman, after a lengthy exchange with Jesus about water, finally asks for the water that Jesus has to offer, saying, “Sir, give me this water.” Instead of responding to her request for the water that he has to offer, Jesus tells her to go fetch her husband. It is an abrupt change of subject, to which she might object. She might say, “I thought we were talking about religion. Why are you suddenly getting so personal?” OR SHE COULD HAVE LIED. Instead, she looks Jesus right in the eye, and tells him: “I have no husband.” With that tiny bit of truth from her, Jesus tells her the rest of the truth about herself: “You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you are living with now is not even your husband!” What is important to note is that Jesus does not pull away from her. If anything, he gets closer. He still wants a drink from her, and he wants to give one too. The intimacy of it all seems suddenly too much for her; so she changes the subject back to religion again, trying to draw him back into an argument about Jews versus Samaritans. You can hardly blame her. If this strange man knows about all her husbands, there’s no telling what else he knows about her; and she decides she would rather not find out! So, she changes the subject in order to step back from him and cover herself up again. But it does not work. For when she steps back, he steps toward her. When she steps out of the light, he steps into it. He will not let her retreat. If she is determined to show him less of herself, then he will show her more of himself. “I know the Messiah is coming”, she says; and he says, “I am he.” It is the first time Jesus has said that to another living soul. It is the moment of full disclosure, in which the “triple outsider” and the Messiah of God stand face to face with no pretense about who they are. Both stand fully lit at high noon for one bright moment in time, while all the rules, norms, regulations, codes, restrictions, taboos, history, that separate them fall forgotten to the ground.
One of my primary responsibilities at the seminary was the placement and supervision of students on their internships. An internship is where you take everything you have learned in the classroom and apply it to a live congregation, to live people. It is the process which enables you to really test whether pastoral ministry is your true calling. For some, it is a make or break experience. And for others, they come to discover painful truths about themselves. One of my student interns, upon completion of a year-long internship far away from campus, reported to me how her internship was a transforming experience. During her internship, she fell in love. She fell in love with one of her parishioners. She fell in love with a parishioner who was married. So, during her internship, she had an adulterous affair. She suffered tremendous guilt and shame. Even though the relationship did not continue, the guilt and shame drove her to counseling. She found no relief. One day, wandering the streets, she happened to walk by a Roman Catholic Church. Something led her to go inside the church, and to make confession. She confessed everything. And she walked out of that church with that burden of guilt and shame lifted from her shoulders. She had found forgiveness. She had experienced being born anew and transformed. The Messiah is the One in whose presence you come face to face with who you really are—the good and the bad of it, the all of it, the hope in it. That’s why I love and stand by Calvary’s invitation to you—“No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, welcome…really”! You are invited to come before Jesus who shows you who you are by showing you who he is—who crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, drops all disguises and pretenses—speaking to you like someone you have known all your life, bubbling up in your life like a well that needs no dipper, so that you go back to face people you thought you could never face again, speaking to them as boldly as he spoke to you. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done”!
You see, that’s witnessing, that’s evangelism. Though not a likely witness, she is a witness. She is not even a convinced witness. As she invites others to come and see, there’s still doubt in her mind as she wonders aloud—Can this be the Christ? is literally, This cannot be the Christ, can it? Even so, her witness is enough—it is invitational (“COME AND SEE”), not judgmental. It is within the range permitted by her experience; it is honest with its own uncertainty; it is for everyone who will hear. How refreshing! Her witness avoids triumphalism, avoids selling someone else’s conclusions; avoids peddling packaged answers to unasked questions. Her witness carries no thinly veiled ultimatums and threats of hell, and no assumptions of certainty on theological matters. And because of her willingness to let her hearers arrive at their own affirmations about Jesus, they do: “This is indeed the Savior of the world.” And as far as I am concerned, that’s the kind of evangelism that everyone of us can practice. Now all you have to say to others is—“COME AND SEE”! And at Calvary, we add, “We welcome you…Really”!