John 4:3b-30, 39-42
Our second reading is the story of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well of Jacob. It is perhaps the best known of the stories we will hear during this Lenten season about people that Jesus encountered on his way to the cross
You all know my story. I have told it so many times. I’m sure you don’t need me to repeat it again but, then again, perhaps it’s a story worth repeating.
I was one of “those women”, you know, the kind of woman that proper ladies don’t associate with, the kind that is a social outcast. That’s why I was at the well during the heat of the day. I was avoiding the times when I knew the other women would be there. At that time of day, there shouldn’t have been anyone there.
But there was. Jesus. That’s how I met him. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but even then I knew he was something special. Somehow he knew all about me. He knew my deepest, darkest secrets and yet he not only spoke to me, something that all proper protocol said he should not do, but he spoke to me with kindness.
He began by asking me for a drink of water. At first, I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if this might be some kind of trap to humiliate me and expose my reputation. But then he said that if I knew who it was that was asking me for water, I would ask him for “living water.” I had no idea what he was talking about. That’s when I began to worry that I might be talking to someone possessed by an evil spirit. I was careful with what I said after that. I didn’t want to set him off. I asked how he expected to be able to draw water with no water jar.
Instead of answering he abruptly changed the subject. He told me to go and get my husband. “I don’t have a husband,” was all I said but he proceeded to tell me he already knew that. And he knew a lot more than that. He knew all about my past. It was then I realized he must be some sort of prophet or seer.
After that, we somehow got onto the topic of the religious differences between Jews and Samaritans. We worship on the mountain, they worship in Jerusalem. But Jesus said that God wasn’t the God of the Jews or the God of the Samaritans. He said that God was Spirit and that everyone, regardless of who they are or what nationality they come from, must worship God “in Spirit”.
I was totally and completely confused and I told him so. I just didn’t understand what he was saying. Finally, I gave up. I said to him, “I know that someday the Messiah will come and he will be able to explain all this to me.”
He was quiet for a moment and then he answered, “I’m the one you’re waiting for. I’m the one who can help you understand.”
And that’s when his disciples showed up and the looks they gave me spoke louder than any words they could have used. I knew I had to get out of there. I was in such a hurry that I didn’t even realize until I was almost home that I had left my water jug behind. But that didn’t matter. All I could think about was the possibility that he might be the Messiah. I had to find a way to talk to him again.
By the time I got back to the village, my mind was racing. How could I manage to talk to him again? I had to get him to stay in our village. So ignoring all proper protocol and behaviour I ran straight into the center of the town square and started shouting to anyone who would listen, “You have to come and meet the man who is sitting by Jacob’s well! He is some sort of prophet or seer. He knew all about me without me even having to tell him anything. You have to come!”
A few people turned their heads to listen. Some even looked like they might consider going to the well. But it wasn’t enough. I had to do more. So I took a deep breath and said the words that scared me more than anything else. “I think he might possibly be the Messiah!”
That got their attention. I think they were shocked to hear me speak at all! I had always avoided conflict in the past. One of the town officials came up to me and asked, “What makes you think that?” He didn’t even seem to realize who he was talking to until after he had said it!
“Look,” I said “don’t take my word for it. Come and see for yourselves.” And they did. Once the first of the town officials went, everybody else followed. I stayed in the background, but I went back to the well with them. We sat there for hours listening to him. Before we even realized what was happening it was starting to get dark.
Several people invited Jesus and his disciples to stay with them. It took some convincing but in the end, they stayed with us for 2 days. It wasn’t nearly long enough but in those 2 days, it was more than my own life that was changed.
This is the part of the story you likely have not heard. By the time Jesus left many of the people of our village were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah. Some left to follow him. I wanted to go with them but Jesus told me that I was needed here. Because I had been the first one to speak with him, he told me that people would be coming to me to ask questions. If anyone else had told me that, I would have laughed in their face. But I didn’t. He told me to stay, so I did.
So much has changed since then. Jesus treated me with respect and I realize I needed to start respecting myself. I told the man that I was living with that if he could not respect me enough to marry me, he needed to leave. He left.
But that’s OK. You see Jesus was right. People began coming to me to talk about him. At first, it was really intimidating. I had no idea what to say to them. I was still trying to figure out who he was. I knew he was something special. I knew he was much more than just another prophet or seer. But did I truly believe he was the Messiah? He was certainly not the type of Messiah we had been expecting. We had expected a mighty king or military leader who would free us from the Romans.
I began spending more and more time in the temple, listening to the scriptures and even, when the opportunity arose, asking questions. At first, when people came to talk to me I just shared what I had heard from the rabbis. But I began to realize that was not enough.
So when people came to me with questions I began sharing my own struggles with those same questions. When people asked how I knew he was the Messiah, I began answering honestly that I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure but when I listened to him speak there was something inside me that changed. I was no longer afraid of the future. I was no longer ashamed of who I was. I felt loved in a way that I had never felt before, not like the kind of love I had received from the men in my life or from any person, not even my own mother. It was a love that went beyond that. And it didn’t come from someone else. It was there inside me.
As I tried to explain these things to others it started to make sense to me. I realized that when Jesus talked about the “Living Water” that would become a well springing up inside me he was not talking about water but about love … about God’s love. And I began to realize that not only was that love springing up inside me to quench my own thirst, but it was bubbling over so much that I had no choice but to share it with others. That’s when I realize that no matter who he was for anyone else, for me, he was my Messiah. Other people who had seen the change in me began to change themselves. They began to discover their own wells of Living Water. He was much more than my Messiah. He was their Messiah too.
It was around that time that some of the people who had left the village to follow Jesus returned. They told us how Jesus’ words and teaching had upset the authorities who didn’t want people, like me, thinking we could ever be healed or forgiven without going through all the rituals that the temple insisted on. They determined that he was a threat to their way of life and when they couldn’t discredit him they found a way to have him charged with plotting against Rome and having him crucified.
When they told us this we were in shock. How could he die? He was the Messiah, the one who would bring about God’s peace. How could he have been crucified? It just wasn’t possible!
But those who had brought us the news of his crucifixion told us it didn’t end there. Three days later, it was discovered that the tomb in which he had been buried was empty, the grave clothes neatly folded up and left behind. His disciples and those closest to him swore that they had seen him, alive and somehow changed into a more radiant and ethereal being. He had told them that they must carry on his message of hope and love.
And that’s what I try to do. I know that he is still my Living Messiah … my Living Water … that flows out from me helping to bring God’s peace. He is not the Messiah we expected who would bring about military peace. But he is the Messiah we needed and we still need it.