I have a friend who reminds me a little of the woman at the well, from our reading today in John 4.
It’s not because of her past — my friend hasn't ever been married, and she doesn’t have any sort of bad reputation. She’s a very good person.
But she’s been burned by relationships too many times, and she’s just sort of given up.
She doesn’t really care much anymore about what people think about her, and she talks openly about how she feels more at home at the bar than, well, at home.
I think if Jesus came up to her one day, sitting at the well — or the bar — she might have the same attitude as the woman at the well.
She might act as if the world has just let her down. That she believes she’s nothing to anyone, and the world can think whatever it wants about her.
“It’s their problem,” she might say.
She has nothing to lose.
Yet, there Jesus is — and she doesn’t recognize him.
And he tells her that there’s a better life out there.
And she wants to believe it, but doesn’t feel as if she’s worth it.
And she protests, and she misunderstands him.
And Jesus tells her this:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty.”
And that makes her curious. She lets down her guard. She hopes now.
And it’s when she is ready to believe in something bigger, Jesus would tell my friend the story of her own life, from beginning to end.
That he understands.
And then what?
That protest and that misunderstanding would lead to a confession.
“I do know there’s hope,” she’d say.
And she might take it a step further: “I want to believe in Jesus. I know he’s coming.”
And then the revelation happens.
She is worth something. In fact, she’s worth everything to Jesus.
The woman at the well
This account of the woman at the well runs some 37 verses.
It’s packed with metaphor, wordplay and irony, as John so often employs.
We read the story and at first, the woman tries to deceive Jesus by saying she has no husband, when he asks where her husband is…
And we find out that’s because her fifth marriage has dissolved, as Jesus points out.
And it’s unfortunate to me that we read this story and make a judgement that the woman must be some sort of harlot.
Isn’t that the typical reading here?
We have no idea from the Bible or anywhere else that makes it clear that she did something that wrong. We don’t know if her divorces were her fault. We do know she’s living with a man who is not her husband.
All we know is that when the disciples show up, they are “astonished that he was speaking to a woman,” verse 27.
Why are they astonished?
Well, for one, it wasn’t really proper for men to talk to women in situations like these — alone, for instance. A little scandalous, actually.
And the woman wasn’t supposed to really be speaking to a man, either.
But more, see, she’s a Samaritan.
Good and bad Samaritans?
What is a Samaritan? We know the story of the Good Samaritan. So there must be bad Samaritans, right?
Samaritans, in a nutshell, lived in Samaria, and the problem with Samaria is that they’ve been seen as unclean by the Jews.
And that’s because they’re not purebreds, according to the Jews. They’re mixed race. And that’s unclean to a Jew.
They actually believe in the same God, but they don't worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. For them, the Holy City is in Samaria, in a place called Mount Garazim.
Now, if you read First Kings, you would see that Samaria was once part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and Judah, where Jerusalem is, was in the Southern Kingdom.
Those kingdoms fell apart, and now Samaria has all of those foreigners who were forced to assimilate into the culture to dilute it during the Exile, and others came back and married the folks who had moved into their old homelands.
And so if you wanted to get from Galilee, where Jesus was from —Nazareth is in Galilee, north of Samaria, which is north of Jerusalem — you wouldn’t dare cut through Samaria to get to Jerusalem, you would cross the Jordan River in the north, venture through Decapolis to the west, maybe cross the Sea of Galilee on a ship, then head south into Perea, cross back over the Jordan River, and make a beeline west back toward Jerusalem in Judea.
Or you could just make a straight shot through Samaria.
But that just wasn’t done in Jesus’s day.
And imagine that. Where do the disciples find Jesus? At a well — one of Jacob’s old wells in Samaria, talking to a Samaritan woman who has been divorced five times.
They’re not astonished that he’s talking with a woman divorced five times — how would they know that?
They’re astonished Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. An unclean person in the eyes of the Jews.
Maybe we can read into it, I don’t know.
But heres what we do know: The woman knows God.
She knows Jacob.
She knows of the coming of Christ.
You see, unlike the Jews, the Samaritans educated their daughters, not just their sons.
And she’s curious. She’s what we call today a “seeker.”
She wants to believe. She wants meaning in her life. She needs hope.
And so we begin to hear a series of confessions.
Within moments of talking with Jesus, she first confesses that he isn’t just a man; Jesus is a prophet.
She confesses to know the Law — that the Jews say they are to worship in Jerusalem, not on Mount Gerizim.
Jesus replies that we will worship God not on a mountain or in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth — that’s verses 21.
And then she confesses that she is waiting for the Messiah, “who is called Christ.”
She knows this! She’s waiting.
And then Jesus confesses, doesn’t he? He confesses who he is.
Then the disciples come in, and the woman runs off.
And what does she do? She witnesses.
She tells everyone who will listen in Verse 29: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah — can he?”
Meanwhile, the disciples are asking if Jesus is hungry. And Jesus starts talking in metaphor again.
He says “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” Verse 34.
And he adds in Verse 35: “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 harvest is Jesus’s fulfillment — it’s the whole reason he’s going to Jerusalem, to the cross!
And who are the fields ripe for harvesting? He says look around!
The Samaritans — not just the Jews — ALL people are God’s children.
And those Samaritans now believe in the Savior of the World — Verse 42. Not the Savior of the Jews. The Savior of the World! All of them, everyone!
That’s why Jesus is in Samaria.
How it works…
As a result of her conversation, the woman at the well has moved from protest (Verse 9) and misunderstanding (Verse 15) to confession (Verse 19) and witness (Verse 39):
“Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (Verse 39)
That’s what witness does: People are led to Jesus on the basis of the a testimony, and their own experience of Jesus then leads to faith.
This is what we must do, too!
Where is our Samaria?
It’s the reason we’re here and living as Christians in a Christian community we call the church.
We don’t understand everything. We might question it — that’s a good thing!
My might protest, we might misunderstand.
But we keep at it. And when we break down all those misconceptions, we confess.
There’s always a confession.
It’s either a proclamation of our faith, or it’s an admission: “I had this all wrong. This is not how Jesus wants me to live. And I’m sorry I didn’t see that, but now I see…”
With that, we can’t help but be a witness to the power of Christ, to the Holy Spirit, and to God!
And others hear and see. And they go through the same process.
Just like Jesus shows us at the well.
He doesn’t just come out, perform a miracle and say “See, I’m the Messiah!”
He does confess this, but only after the woman comes to be curious about Jesus. She wants to know more. She wants to go deeper.
Way down into that well, where the Living Water is.
It reminds me of the Pharisee Nicodemus.
If you don’t know the story, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cloak of darkness to find out who Jesus is.
Like the woman at the well, he, too, is curious.
He’s seeking something deeper.
But unlike the woman at the well, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret.
Sure, he defends Jesus, and he later buys burial spices for his tomb.
But the woman?
Broad daylight. High noon.
Whose confession is bigger?
Nicodemus is quietly confessing his faith. He goes about a bit under the radar.
But the woman? She runs straight out to the village to tell everyone who will listen.
And it’s there that she confesses her faith.
And because of her confession, others are able to confess their faith.
Isn’t that beautiful?
I used to wonder why the story had to have a woman who was generally and unfortunately thought to be a harlot.
I never really liked how that set back women a bit, mischaracterizing them and giving others a feeling of superiority or righteousness.
Sometimes, the editors of the Bible are not too kind to women, but that’s a story for another day.
We’re all sinners. After all, isn’t that why we need a Savior? I know I do…
And I don’t know her past; I don’t.
It could have been anyone, though, couldn’t it?
Or couldn’t it?
I say that because think about the contrast between this woman and the Pharisee Nicodemus.
Think about the contrast that this woman represents: Jesus uses her to break down misconceptions and prejudices of race, gender and culture.
Compare that to Nicodemus: a highly educated, reputable, wealthy and powerful God-fearing teacher of Jewish Law.
Did Jesus come to save the Jews? No. He came to save all people.
We began this service today with a confession.
Do you remember? You can look back at your bulletins if you want to.
So in light of this discussion of the woman at the well and on what it means to confess our faith, today, I have some questions for you.
Why are you here today?
Why are you a Christian?
Why do you follow Jesus?
Why have you confessed Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promised to serve him as your Lord in union with the church that Christ has opened to all people of all ages, nations, and races.
Why have you committed yourself, according to the grace given in you, to be a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?
And finally, how are you living out this vow made at your baptism?
It’s probably impossible to be able to answer all these questions here today, let alone remember them all.
And our corporate confession may be that it takes a lifetime to answer them all.
That these questions are questions we will wrestle with and work to clarify throughout all of our years, alone, together and in prayer.
But more importantly — listen to this:
Our answers come not so much from what we say, but from how we live.
You see, we come together here on Sundays to drink of the living water.
We gather in fellowship through the week, visiting and helping one another, to drink of the living water.
We seek to help others and end the injustices of the world that Jesus called us to end because we drink of the living water.
Once you drink of the living water, nothing else can quench your thirst.
That’s what Jesus is.
And once you step into the stream of the Living Water, you become part of the flow.
That water runs; it does not stand still.
It gains momentum, draws others to it, and it gives life.
Our confession, just like the woman at the well, is that it doesn’t matter who you are: This Living Water is available to you right now.
It doesn’t matter if you’re man or a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a different religion or a different race.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a wealthy elitist or a poor citizen of a Third World country.
It doesn’t matter whether you can read, doesn’t matter if you can walk. The Living Water is available to those with different experiences, preferences and pasts.
And the Living Water is available to even those who sin and who are trapped in sinning.
Because the Living Water is available to everyone, always, and it is Good.
If you are in the flow of the Living Water, you will be able to answer those questions; and maybe that takes a lifetime, but you will.
For now, never hesitate to share that Living Water.
No matter how you feel about any of God’s children — all of us are God’s children, not just professing Christians.
We can’t offer them Living Water — only God can do that — but we sure can lead them to it.
We are the witness that draws others to the Living Water.
That is what we confess.