by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Third Sunday in Lent — with some notes and more “food for thought.”
Jesus 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 worshiped 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 worshipers 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 labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
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 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 Savior of the world.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
Jesus is on the move from Judea (around Jerusalem in the south) to Galilee (in the north). John 4:1-2 tell us that he was starting to attract the attention of the Pharisees because of how many people his disciples were baptizing. Some also theorize it was because Herod, who was the tetrarch of Galilee, had arrested John the Baptist and Jesus was heading north to take his place. Whatever the reason, he is hitting the road … and between Judea and Galilee is Samaria.
Relationships between Jews and Samaritans ranged between avoidance to open hostility. Samaritans often harassed Jewish pilgrims passing through their land … so much so that often Jews would take a weeklong journey on the other side of the Jordan River rather than the three-day journey that went through Samaria.
That Jesus would engage a Samaritan woman is unlikely bordering on scandalous.
A few things to chew on:
*Water is life. We are made of water and we cannot live without it. And this is especially true in the desert where water is literally the difference between life and death. So when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, it is no small thing. He is asking for life. This is not just a conversation about having a drink.
Jesus says, “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.” What he is offering is freedom. Freedom from having to worry about standing in that place between life and death. Freedom from anyone ever having the power of life and death over you again.
In one form of our Prayers of the People, we pray “for all who have commended themselves to our prayers; for our families, friends, and neighbors; that being freed from anxiety, they may live in joy, peace, and health.” That’s the life Jesus is inviting us into. A life free from anxiety. A life of joy, peace and health. That’s living water.
*Jesus’ disciples “were astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’” At least two things are happening here.
First, Jesus is breaking a purity taboo. He refuses to let conventions tell him whom he can be in relationship with. If God’s love is ever to be meant for some and not for others, you would think the Samaritan woman would be on the outside. But God’s love is for everyone. And Jesus will not be bound.
But something else is happening here. Unlike Nicodemus, who in last Sunday’s Gospel comes to Jesus with his questions, the disciples stay silent. It’s not clear why. Perhaps they were afraid of challenging Jesus. Maybe they were confronted with their prejudice and were ashamed. Whatever the reason, it was a missed opportunity for learning. What wisdom might have emerged if they had the courage to offer the unasked question?
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped 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.
Tradition held that the Temple in Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God. For the readers of John’s Gospel, this presented a crisis, because the Temple had been destroyed. The question that runs throughout John’s Gospel is “where does God dwell now that the Temple is destroyed?” And John’s answer is consistent throughout – God dwells in the gathered community.
This week, pay attention to when you gather in community. Look for the presence of God “when two are three are gathered.” Seek out the sacred in community. And give God thanks and praise.
(Thanks to Lilli Cloud for the idea of including a writing prompt each week for those who journal).
For Jesus to get to Galilee, he had to go through an unsafe place where he had every reason to expect hatred and hostility. And yet, if he hadn’t gone through there … if he had taken the long way around … this transformative conversation would never have happened. What are the places – physical or otherwise – where you fear to travel? Imagine what conversations might happen if you were to go there.
No Secrets Hid
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!
We crave being known. We fear being known.
We crave being known because we need to be understood. We need to be loved.
We fear being known because we fear we will be misunderstood. We fear we will not be loved.
The Samaritan woman at the well cried out of Jesus “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” She had been known. And that’s what led her to wonder if he was the one who would save her.
There’s a prayer we pray at the beginning of every service. It’s called the Collect for Purity. It begins like this.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid.
What amazing words. Think about what we’re saying there!
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid.
We open our worship. We come before God first by acknowledging that we come before God hiding nothing. Our whole heart lies open before God. Every desire we have, God knows. Every secret we have … even the ones so deeply nestled in our hearts that we don’t tell them to ourselves … they are not hidden from God.
God knows everything we have ever done. Or even thought.
When we stand before God in worship, we do it in a way unlike any other way we stand in any other place. We stand before God as who we are, fully, completely. All desires known. No secrets hid.
We stand before God and God sees us as we are. Every … last … little … bit.
And here’s the even more amazing thing.
We do it together.
This isn’t a prayer that we pray in a corner of our room. This is a prayer that we pray as a community gathered together. And what that means is that we believe we are called to be not just individuals that stand before God this way but a community that stands before God this way. A community that stands before God with completely open hearts, with all desires known and with no secrets hid.
As terrifying and as liberating as at once that is, we are a community that stands before God and stands with one another as who we are. A community that hearkens back to Eden before the fall. A community where we can be naked – completely open and vulnerable – and yet not ashamed.
We stand with Jesus. We stand together. We are known. We are loved. Thank God.
Collect for Sunday
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.