Woman at the Well

__Sharing Scripture and Communion, Lent 3__

_First Congregational United Church of Christ.
An Open and Affirming Church and Conference.
Santa Rosa, California, February 27, 2005.
The Rev. Robert F. Cramer, Eucharistic Minister._

__The ?why? Factor:__ Can this help people understand why it’s helpful to visualize Jesus as _human_ on earth even if we think of him as more than human, even divine, in some sense? Did Jesus actually have needs? Did he learn, did he grow from infancy through childhood to maturity as we do? If he didn’t do any of that, then how could he serve as _model_ for us?


John 4:5-42 is a long passage, full of insights and much too complicated even to read in a short service of communion. We can mention some highlights before settling into one interpreter’s thoughts about how interesting it is that, in this story, Jesus is shown to be needy himself, as well as to be able to relate comfortably to a person whose needs may seem greater if one merely zooms one’s eyes across the text.

The story is unique to John’s gospel. Jesus is in Samaria. Jews on the road typically avoided going into the territory between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north. Samaria had its own temple and its own beliefs. Relations between the two peoples were at best strained.

Luke also says Jesus once went through Samaria; but in Luke, he goes from north to south. In John, he goes from south to north.

__The scholars I work with__ believe the story of the woman at the well, which appears nowhere else in Christian literature, is John’s literary way of connecting Jesus with the very rich image of the water of life. The setting is familiar from Hebrew texts as the well used by Jacob and Rachel and Leah; there God had promised to be with them always.

John’s story offers a chance to tell those hearing about Jesus long after his life on earth that the God of Jesus loves and interacts with all people, no matter what their tradition. My biblical mentors pretty much agree that Jesus was radically inclusive, but they would like us to understand that passages like Matthew 25 (“go into all the world”) and John 4 most likely reflect the values of later generations of followers of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar says straight out that John is a literary and theological but not a historical or journalistic work.

Whether or not the author of the fourth gospel was the beloved disciple, as the writer of John claims, and whether or not the story is truly historical, it does preach well in our time, when divisions trump reconciliation most of the time.

Jesus, in John’s story, does exhibit radical inclusiveness by managing to be present when a woman living in shame about which everyone knows waits until noon to draw some water, when other women would have tried to get their day’s supply in the morning. It seems she would not have wanted to endure stony silence.

__In my work aimed at increasing biblical literacy,__ I often think of “the woman at the well” as giving rise to a couple of misunderstandings. For nearly the whole history of the Christian faith, many have confused the Samaritan woman with Mary Magdalene. But there is no evidence that Mary of Magdala was ever licentious or a prostitute. That greatly confuses our picture of Mary the disciple.

And I’m quite sure that anyone with a bit of exposure to church and Sunday school will “remember” that Jesus tells the woman at the well, “Go and sin no more.” He did not. The story where that occurs is a famous _floater_ — it doesn’t belong with the story of the woman at the well; and a great many scholars think it is so strange that it does not belong in any obvious place in scripture. Anyway, Jesus in our text does not tell the Samaritan woman not to sin any more.

__That is, in fact, the point__ with which we shall conclude this look at today’s gospel reading. Jesus, in John 4, is seen, as he is in so many other stories, being at ease, and being non-judgmental, in a situation many would have found bristling with scandal.

He relates one on one with a person who confesses a thirst, and in fact Jesus is open about his own thirst. Metaphor and plain reality merge but the message is that Jesus both gives and receives, and is grateful for the chance to learn about a person we wouldn’t expect him to care about, or respect.

Kirk Alan Kubicek, in notes for a meditation on today’s gospel, offers us these words. I have omitted quote marks from this long text. All that follows is Kubicek‚Äôs work.

_So it is when Jesus comes to the Samaritan woman at the well._ She is, perhaps, the most broken woman in the whole Gospel story. The very fact that she comes at noon to draw water, rather than in the early morning when the other women of the village would be there, suggests that at the very least she is ashamed. In all likelihood she is the subject of scorn and derision. People look down upon her because of her brokenness in marriage and in relationships.

So here she is trying to avoid being seen, and instead there is someone at the well. Not just someone, but a man. Not just a man but a Jewish man. In that time and place men and women were not to be seen in public together. And Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with one another.

So she is startled to see him there. She is even more startled that he speaks to her.

Jesus, we are told, is tired. As he addresses this broken, lonely and ashamed woman, he asks, “Give me a drink.” It is an invitation to be at risk. It is an invitation to cross boundaries and ancient taboos. But he is thirsty, and she has a bucket, and there is the well of their mutual ancestor Jacob.

_Notice how Jesus does not look down upon her_ as the others do. He calls no attention to her brokenness. Instead, he acknowledges his own brokenness. He is tired. He is thirsty. Those of us familiar with this story will recognize this thirst of his. Among his very last words on the cross are the words, “I thirst.”

What Jesus is seeking here is someone who shares his thirst. His thirst is a thirst for peace. What he calls God’s shalom. This shalom is in turn a thirst for justice and healing for all people, especially people like this Samaritan woman. Most of all, Jesus thirsts for dignity and respect for all people. Not some people. Not a lot of people. All people.

Like the Samaritan woman, we all come to the well over and over again to draw water.

But do we see the man sitting at the well? Can we hear what he is saying to us? Are we even aware he is speaking to us? Can we feel what it is like to be asked by Jesus to do something for him? Can we see how it is that Jesus does not look down on the poor and broken ones? He does not come with something to give them. He does not come pretending to tell them how to live their lives. He does not say, “Here, I have what you need. Take this and become like me.”

Instead Jesus says that the Samaritan woman has something that he needs. There is something she can do for him. Hearing this news she is liberated from all that weighs her down. He enters into a relationship with her first. He gives her value. He gives her purpose. He gives her new life by simply letting her know there is something she can do for him. We wonder if we might approach the poor and the broken hearted as he does.

As we move steadfastly toward Holy Week we remember that as the story nears its conclusion on the cross, Jesus is still thirsty. He is still thirsty today. And we are that Samaritan woman. We come to the well week after week. Week after week Jesus asks us for a drink. We know the kinds of things for which he thirsts.

_Are we ready to bring him a drink? Are we ready to talk with him?_