SERMON: The Woman at the Well

19.3.17 at 10 a.m. at St Mary’s

Jesus comes into the world to lead us all into communion with God and to bring us new life. He does not begin his mission by going to the rich, or even to the people of Israel, poor and broken as they are. Instead he goes to a woman of Samaria, from whose point of view I will now speak.

I am a broken woman who has been married and divorced five times and now I am living with another man. I belong to what the Jews say is a break-away group or sect. They say we are heretical because we worship God at Mount Gerizim rather than the Temple in Jerusalem. We follow the writings in the Pentateuch. We are children of Abraham, but we are despised. I have heard that on one occasion some Pharisees wanted to despise this young man called Jesus. They wanted to say he was a heretic and so they shouted: “You are a Samaritan and the devil is in you”.

Belonging to a minority group is hard. We feel powerless and valueless. Despair and anger are always there for us. And on top of this I personally feel deeply guilty, and I feel that nobody will ever really love me. Every day I have to go to a well to fetch water to wash and cook. Nowadays I go alone in the middle of the day, when it is often very hot. Why? I don’t go early in the morning like the other women in our village because they upset me and remind me of my shame and sadness.

Today when I reach the well I find a tired young man there sitting alone. He says that after a long walk his friends have gone to buy food. It seems that he is glad to be alone for bit because his argumentative friends really don’t understand him. As I begin to draw my water from the well this man asks me for a drink. This is quite unbelievable. I can tell he is a Jew from Galilee by his accent and dress. Jews never talk to Samaritans. And a Jewish man will never speak to a woman alone. But he is delightfully relaxed with me and puts me at my ease. He has an empathetic face and manner. I’ve never felt like this before. And so I ask him why he dares to ask me, as a Samaritan woman for water. Astonishingly, this man seems to know that I am a deeply broken woman. Normally I would expect condemnation but instead he is neither condescending nor moralistic. He is asking me for help. And so I find that I trust this attractive man immediately. I feel lifted up. I feel some self-esteem flow back into me for the first time in ages. This man knows how to approach me as a broken person, not from a position of superior aloofness but in humility, from below me. In my shame I have always found that people invariably just deepen my shame. But this man immediately gives me hope, and makes me feel valued, unique and precious, just as I am. These are things I have not felt for years. I feel I can grow as a person once again.

And then he says to me: “if you knew about the gift of God and who I am you then would have asked me to give you living water”. I’m very curious but not quite sure what he is driving at. But I’m enjoying the conversation so I tell him that he can’t draw water from this deep well because he has no bucket. But I am also thinking about stories in scripture about deeply significant meetings at wells, such as Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel, and Moses and Zeppora. These were meetings of love and that seems to be what is happening here and now, at this well. So I ask him “where will I find the living water?. Are you telling me that you are greater than our forebear Jacob who gave us this well and who drank from it together with his family and his animals?” He replies that if I drink this water from him I shall never be thirsty, and his water will be a spring welling up into eternal life. At first I am puzzled but I know that water is essential for life. Without it a person can die in the heat of a summer day here within a matter of hours. Without rain crops in this part of the world die and then we too die. And then I realise that this man is talking about water in a symbolic way. I see that this man has come to quench my profound thirst for acceptance, for encouragement, for giving me meaning in my life, for helping to overcome my confusion at what life has brought me in the past. I am beginning to realise that the waters he is speaking about are the waters of the light that he has shone to me. Suddenly I feel that these waters will take away my loneliness and give me life again. And so I begin to understand that water is a symbol of God’s spirit, it is a symbol of the life that God offers us, not just now but in eternity.

In this extraordinary encounter we are reminded of Jesus’ humanity. He reminds us that it is not our knowledge, or competence or possessions that are important but relationships, between you and me and everyone, whatever our background or origins may be. We are given hearts for relationships, to give and receive, to help and be helped, to receive the love of God, in relationship with God. And we are called to live this life ourselves and to show it to others.

But this promise of giving life to others can only begin to come, as with the woman at the well, after acknowledging our own brokenness and poverty, after accepting what we are. In a sense each of us is this Samarian woman. She represents each of us. We all have been wounded in love and have a history of broken relationships, which we often hide behind cleverness and power. We seek admiration, and we avoid our vulnerabilities which prevent the expression of love.

We are already in the middle of Lent and this can be a time to revisit our past in honesty, to look at it again, and then to present our inner wounds and brokenness to God. Painful and complex though this may be, by doing this may we start to discover an increasing thirst for new life in all its abundance. May God then offer us new and living water from the deep well before us, and may we share it abundantly. Amen.