Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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The Third Sunday of Lent; Year A
John 4:1-42
The Rev. Robin Razzino
In the Name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lately, our three-year-old daughter Anna has been insisting on looking through her magazines before bed, rather than listening to a story. Since she can’t yet read, she likes looking at the hidden picture puzzles and what the magazine calls “That’s Silly.” In these pages, you might find a drawing of a normal child’s classroom only the teacher is wearing roller skates, a student has a gold fish swimming in his lunch box, and it’s snowing in the reading corner. Anna loves these. She looks at the pages and then up at me with a grin, eyebrows raised, and head nodding: “That’s silly, right, mom.”
The Gospel we just heard starts out operating very much like these “That’s Silly” pages in Anna’s magazines – at least for the first hearers of this Gospel.
Jesus is a holy and devout Jew, what is he doing allowing himself to be seen alone with a woman. That’s silly.
Also this woman is a Samaritan. They are enemies of the Jews. Yet Jesus is talking to her and asking her for a drink. That’s silly.
And it’s 12:00 in the afternoon. Women don’t come to draw water in the middle of the hottest time of the day. That’s silly.
And then when it is all said and done and the conversation is over, Jesus has yet to have a drink of water and the woman leaves her empty water jug at the well. That’s just silly.
What is going on here?
The Gospel writer is dropping clues left and right that Jesus is up to his old…or new….ways again.
He is speaking again about earthly things – such as food and water – but speaking about them in ways that are entirely new, he is speaking about them, understanding them – the earthly things – in ways that are heavenly, defined not by us, but by the kingdom of God.
He is reinterpreting these earthly ordinary things – and opening up for us an entirely new way of thinking about them, about us, and about our relationship to God.
The story begins ordinary enough.
A woman is drawing water at Jacob’s well. That’s what women did then….chores, lots of chores.
Yet this woman seems to be weighted down with her work, her lot in life, her thirst.
I have always read this story as a story in which Jesus confronts a woman over her promiscuous behavior– asking after her husband knowing full well she doesn’t have one. And when she admits this to be so, he retorts, “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.”
I have always read that statement as pointed … bordering on mean.
But ….I think I have been reading this story all wrong – and missing the point entirely. I don’t think this story is about Jesus hanging out with yet another prostitute or tax collector.
This is a story about the life that Jesus offers us – the abundant life Jesus offers all of us – so much life that when we experience it, it gushes up within us, and overwhelms everything we ever thought we knew about how good life could be.
This story isn’t so much about the woman as it is about how Jesus uses this encounter with a woman to teach us about the abundant life he came into the world to give us.
This story is about gift.
Isn’t it sad how quickly we can miss the point… when we are so quick to point fingers? When we are distracted by evaluating another’s life rather than recognizing the life within us and the gift before us?
How silly is it – how sad – that we evaluate another’s circumstance before understanding how thirsty we ourselves may be? How heartbreaking is it that we might miss the point entirely, how we might miss that the answer to our thirst is deep within us and has been with us since the very beginning of time.
“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” Jesus says, “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
Those of us who believe in Jesus as son of God, as Word made flesh, as one with the giver of life and one with the creator of the sea and sky, those of us who believe - have these fountains of living water within us, water like that of the waters of baptism, ready to gush up, spill out, wash over and overwhelm us.
How many of us have a hard time believing this to be true – that we have this living water deep within us, or how many of us have a hard time accessing the water we know is within us, and/or falling prey to weak substitutes?
The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.”
What is it that the woman is demanding? And what demands will Jesus make on her through his answer?
One of the commentators on this passage writes, “Intrigued by Jesus’ offer of living water, [the woman] asks to have some – not realizing that if you want to take Jesus up on his offer of running, pure water, bubbling up inside you, you will have to get rid of the stale moldy, stagnant water you’ve been living off all this time (NT Wright John for Everyone 44).”
Living… maybe….or barely surviving - as the case may be.
The woman we meet at the well is the focal point of this story, yet unlike Nicodemus (who we met last week in the dark of the night) this woman isn’t named.
We know only that she is a she and she is a Samaritan; thus she already has two strikes against her: in her time and place, she is the wrong gender, and the wrong ethnicity.
Then we learn about her husbands.
As I mentioned earlier I have learned that many scholars point out that the five husbands could just as easily refer to a very heartbreaking past as it could any present promiscuous behavior.
In fact many scholars agree – especially since Jesus makes no mention of sin in his exchange with her – that she has probably been victimized over and over again.
She has either been widowed or divorced multiple times – and perhaps is or has been forced into marriages arranged or dictated by custom and culture.
We do know she is hurting and believing herself so unworthy as to venture out only when she won’t be seen by other women – in the heat of the day.
I can’t help but think of all of the things we have to encounter and overcome in our own lives – when I think of the five husbands.
What have been the things that have brought us down low in our own lives?
The death or illness of a loved one, addiction, cancer, the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship, periods of doubt in God?
What are those things that lead us to earthly wells when it is heavenly water we most need?
Pride? Routine? Fear?
Another writes puts the question this way:
“What holds us back from living into the future God has prepared for us and sharing the news of what God has done?
What are the jars we would like to leave behind, trading our past tragedies and present challenges for the living water Jesus offers? (DEAR WP 2014).”
Jesus Christ came that we may have life and have it abundantly.
This is the Gospel truth.
The Good news.
If we are not thirsty for it, the world is.
If we are lucky enough to taste and experience the gushing water of life within us, or to have overcome and withstood what our earthly life has tried to throw our way because we have recognized God’s care and love for us, then we have been - are being - challenged by Jesus - this morning - to share this good news with others.
If, however, we are experiencing a period of dryness and thirst, this Good News has been spoken for us. God is offering himself to us. Sip from His cup.
And be thirsty no more.