St. Matthew's Episcopal

Living Samaritan Women

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Robin Jarrell

womanwellJesus 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.”                                                                                                                                                                                          John 4:5-42

I will continue my practice of summarizing the sermon for the previous Sunday because in these turbulent times, it is important to keep the Good News ever before us.

I’m holding an article in my hands that I want to tell you about.  When I start working on my sermon for the next week (after my Monday Sabbath), I look at the text, sometimes in English, sometimes in the original language.  I look for all kinds of things that might bore anyone who knows me to tears, but I continue to be utterly fascinated by the tiniest of detail in scriptural text.  I have often remarked that people don’t come into Christianity by means of any written word – even scripture – without the guiding focus of a real person.

But sometimes that real person has gone to be with the saints in light.  Still, the words that a person writes can be a guiding angel to help us see the light of God in ways we never would have come to on our own.  Meet my Christian guide for this week:  Born in South Africa in 1926.  She died just a few months after she wrote this article in her native home in South Africa after being exiled to the US for her political convictions.

I could not possibly tell you all the wonderful insights to be found in this amazing work, but I can share a few of them with you this morning in the hope that they will help us all understand our gospel passage this morning and answer the question, “who was this Samaritan woman?”

Many commentators have noticed that Jesus’ visit with the Samaritan woman comes directly after his encounter with Nicodemus which we learned about last Sunday.  Those same commentators like to draw “polar opposite” comparisons between the powerful and learned Rabbi Nicodemus and the lowly outcast woman drawing water from a Samaritan well.

The truth is more complicated, as it always is.  John’s gospel is full of image and symbol and draws heavily on metaphorical elements such as darkness and light.  If you recall, Nicodemus, although sympathetic to Jesus and the “rabbi come from God,” uses the cover of night for his secret visit because he does not want to draw the attention of his powerful and authoritative colleagues.  Jesus now, having made a very public declaration of his messiah status in Jerusalem has escaped into the heathen-filled (according to Jewish standards) land of Samaria.  At Jacobs’ well near the town of Sychar, it is Jesus himself who initiates the encounter from a Samaritan woman in the light of day.

What follows is an astonishing near-rabbinical debate where the woman displays a deep knowledge of Samaritan theology.  She knows that Jewish men regard Samaritan women as ritually unclean.  She knows the origins of Jacobs’ well that she draws from.  She knows that Jews and Samaritans have different holy mountains and she knows that the Messiah “the one called Christ” is coming.  She is also a woman of integrity and truthfulness.  When she tells Jesus she “has no husband,” Jesus does not condemn her.  Jesus knows that she is a woman who is an outcast in her own town because she has either been divorced and widowed several times and that her coming to the well at midday is her way of avoiding the pointing fingers of her neighbors.  It is also probably true that the reason the woman is coming to the well in the first place is that in order to survive (since she has no husband), she has had to resort to slavery.  Finally, the woman asks for the “Living Water” Jesus offers her.

And then Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to woman, explaining that in the future, God will be worshipped not on any holy mountain, but in “spirit and truth.”  When the woman returns to her town, she leaves her water jar behind – the symbol of her servitude – and she offers testimony to the people that Jesus in the Messiah.  John’s gospel honors the woman of Samaria by remembering her as a leader, teacher and evangelist whose great accomplishment is to offer testimony to her own students so that they may go to the source directly and see for themselves that Jesus is “truly the Savior of the world.”

The twin messages of Nicodemus and the woman from Samaria show that the gospel of Jesus as the Messiah is not just for those learned and elite in power, and not just for the lowly and outcast, but the Living Water is everyone – and everyone in between.

We owe a great debt to those who show us the way into the gospel so that we may know Christ more perfectly.  John does not give any of the very important women names in his gospel by cultural tradition.  But we can give thanks to one of the 20th century women of Samaria and our writer and gospel guide for this morning – Winsome Munro.



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