This story from the gospel of John is amazing. I think it is one of the most important stories of the entire collection of stories we have about Jesus. Just imagine the setting. Noon. In the desert. Absolutely the hottest time of the day. The sun blazes, the ground is dry and baked solid, any bodies outside are parched. Nobody would go out at that time, everyone would stay in their cool stone homes and siesta until the day grew cooler. And yet, here we are, at the center of the village, a lone women, and Jesus. Neither of them belonged there. Neither of them should have been speaking to the other.
Jesus, a good Jew sits at the well, he is terribly thirsty, his throat is dry and scratchy; he has just arrived at this well after walking miles in the desert, in a foreign land, to get there. He sits at the well, but does not have a bucket or dipper to get any water.
She arrives, bucket on her head, dipper in her hand, a Samaritan woman. She may have spent her morning cooking over an outdoor fire, and washing clothes in her bucket of water. This Jewish man asks this Samaritan woman for a drink of water.
This is a scandalous encounter. Two circumstances make it scandalous. First, it is scandalous because they are a man and a woman, at a chance meeting at a well, and he speaks to her. She has a reputation, otherwise she would not be at the well in the heat of the day. The women would go to the well in the cool of the morning and evening. She was there in the heat of the middle of the day so she did not have to encounter the jeers and catcalls of the others in the village. The story says that she has had five husbands and she is living with a man who is not a husband. This status does not necessarily make her promiscuous, but what is true is that the only way for a woman to be protected in this society was to be attached to a man. To be unattached is certain abuse and maybe even death. And yet, a man could discard a woman by just saying so. We just don't know and should not make assumptions. But what we do know is that men and women just did not talk to one another in public. This is in violation of the Law they both lived by.
Secondly, he is a Jew, and she, a Samaritan. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans is notorious. They traced their lineage similarly through Rachel and Jacob, Sarah and Abraham, and Miriam and Moses, but a split had caused them to worship in two different places, the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim. Each tribe devoted to its own place of worship, and completely intolerant of the other. Intolerance is an understatement here. These tribes fought and killed each other over the proper place to worship.
A Jewish man, a Samaritan woman, and he asks her for a drink of water. She states the obvious. "Sir, you have no bucket, how did you expect to get that living water?" He responds by describing the spring of water that gushes up to eternal life, and that will quench the thirst eternally. There is no turning back from this scandalous encounter. She places her tentative trust in him, "Sir," she says, "give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty again." She already has a glimpse of that eternal life which is now, that new life that gives us glimpses of the kingdom. And instead of judgment from Jesus, Jesus knows who she is and shows her she has value, and she remembers the truth of whom she is, God's beloved, marked and claimed by God. This living water and living word, transform her. Jesus gives her freedom, and gives her community freedom to know who Jesus is, to remember who she is, and to remember whom they are. She goes away with such excitement she forgets her water jug. She says to the people who have been deriding her “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
Who does she think she is? The world has convinced her of the lie that she is worthless, that she is a throw away, that she is unlovable. In the living water of this well, Jesus reminds her who she really is. She is God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever. And that changes her life. This encounter, Jesus' words and the life-giving water have literally restored her to new life. She was dead, dead to her community, dead to her family, dead to herself. Until in the water, Jesus reminded her and she remembered she was God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever.
It happens to us too, all the time. We begin to believe the lies of the world, the lies about who we are. You are worthless, you can't do anything right. Your happiness is dependent on how much money you make. You will be successful when you have a good job, you will be successful when you command a big staff. You will be happy when you feel good, so go ahead, take the purple pill, change the way you look, drink the whole bottle.
We forget so quickly that we are God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever. But the living water is here to remind us that we don't have to be perfect, because we are perfectly loved. And when we miss the mark, we fall on our knees, ask for forgiveness, are reminded that we are human, and do it differently the next time.
And that changes our lives, just as it changed the life of the woman at the well. We are freed from the constant need to be perfect, or to be something that we are not, we are freed to be loved completely and absolutely. We are put back together, made whole, healed.
She leaves her bucket at the well, goes into the city and tells everyone about the man she met at the well, and that this man who said such amazing things, was the One sent from God.
Each time we come here, to this place, we encounter Jesus. Each time we confess all that we have done, and all that we have left undone, we encounter Jesus. Each time we come to this table to eat and to drink we encounter Jesus. Each time we put our hand in that water, and splash it on our face and hands, each time we baptize another child, we remember who we are, God's beloved, marked and claimed.
The woman at this well encountered Jesus, she received grace and love, and remembered that in her brokenness, she was perfectly loved. She received grace and love, and living water, and went to tell all that would listen that she met the One sent from God. May we be like the woman at the well and go out and tell everyone of the Good News of Jesus, the One who is from God. Amen.