Rev. Rosemary Webb
19th March 2017
The Woman At The Well

I went to Samaria some thirty years ago, and there was tension, we didn’t feel very welcome, the people just seemed very tense, and the situation between Jews and Samaritans was even worse in Jesus’ time. Indeed, while we were at Jacobs Well the Jewish police were also tense, one started to hold his gun, as if he were fearing trouble. And certainly in Christ’s time the tension between Samaritan and Jew was no different to the tensions today between Jew and Moslem.

We might wonder why, even though it was a short cut, Jesus decided to travel through Samaria, but then Jesus’ life was full of surprises.

The Jews and Samaritans are related, both are Hebrew. The Samaritans from the northern kingdom of Israel, while the Jews are from the old southern kingdom of Judah, and that is where similarity ends for the Samaritans married outside their faith and lost most of their ethnicity. Each ended up with their own separate temples, they really didn’t agree.

So we have Jesus in an area considered out of bounds for Jews and, after sending the disciples off to find some food, went to the well for a drink, but he had no means of getting water. The well would be quiet at that time and a local woman, despised by her community because of her life style arrived to get water. Jesus had no qualms at asking her to help him. She was truly amazed.

Firstly, a man didn’t talk to a woman in public, certainly not someone like Jesus, a rabbi, a teacher, and particularly in this area – a Samaritan area. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t the thing to do. So it isn’t surprising that the disciples, when they returned, were somewhat astounded by what they saw.

At out Lent group last week we were given the passage ‘whoever receives this child in my name receives me’ in the context of reaching out to beggars, asylum seekers, the homeless and Muslims, the last category providing a different kind of challenge to us. Bishop Nick telling us we must build relationships with all faiths, that we have to receive them in the same way as the drug addict, the thief, for if we cannot receive them we cannot talk to them. And if we don’t do that how can we draw them to the truth.

I think it is true to say that for many people reaching out Muslims can be hard. A few years back I was walking into Redhill when I recognised the mum walking alongside me as being from the school so I just made a passing comment to her. We then walked into Redhill chatting. I learned she had been in Redhill for a number of years and now felt so much at home here that when she goes back to Lahore it feels strange and certainly too hot! A few days later she bought me a box of biscuits, when I asked her why, she said it was because I had spoken to her, that people like me don’t usually do that. I expressed my amazement saying how I was brought up in Leeds and had a number of Jewish friends, so why wouldn’t I talk to Muslims or indeed Buddhists Hindus, people of any other faith. I find that so hard to understand. If I think about it when I speak to any Brit for all I know they could be the greatest denier of God there is, we cannot tell if someone is a Christian by looking at them.

Jesus meets this woman, he knows she must be a Samaritan, but Jesus, God, isn’t going to ignore her, he knew he had to grab this opportunity it might not happen again; and as God, he knows far more about her than she could have ever imagined. When Jesus tells her to go back to her husband she replies she has no husband, to which Jesus responds by telling her how many husbands she has had. He knows the whole story even that the man she was living with was not her husband.

The woman is surprised that Jesus knows the truth about her. She is even more surprised that knowing all about her, that in the eyes of her neighbours, she is a sinner that he talks to her, accepts her. He didn’t shout ‘You dreadful Samaritan get out of my sight, there should be a wall between us and you, he was welcoming. She knows at that moment he must be special that he must be a prophet.

This encounter serves to remind us that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of inclusion not exclusion, a place of love and peace, not bitterness, denigration or exploitation. We are treated daily on the media to stories of how society marginalises people because of gender, sexuality, poverty, race and religion. Countries calling for the banning of people because of who they are. In that encounter, Jesus threw all those taboos out the window, not just for at that time but forever.

Jesus, in meeting with the women didn’t come judging, he accepted her just as he accepts us. Jesus showed the great love of both the Father and the Son, he was demonstrating how we are transformed by that love.

And so, in the gospel this morning, we see how a simple request for water starts one of the longest conversations and indeed perhaps the longest gospel reading, (I know I should know if it is, but I don’t)

The symbolism of living water which is used throughout scripture is that it is God given, divine help through the Holy Spirit which offers us fullness of life. God knows our fears and our hopes, he truly wants to quench our deepest needs with the living water – his spirit.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how often when we feel we are stressed do we turn to going out, chocolate, a glass of wine to make us feel better. I don’t think there much wrong with that, but we all know they aren’t the answer, they are a short-term fix.

Jesus offers to each one of us the living water that is the life-giving action of His Spirit in the deepest recesses of our being. God welcomes every person, for if God is the Almighty, the Omnipotent God, he is the father of each of us, we are all his children, there can be no exception.

This woman’s response was to run to the city and tell of a man, who knowing her history did not decry her but rather offered her a new life. The woman went without being sure that Jesus was the Messiah, but what motivated her was his acceptance of her without condition.

Lent is a good time to reflect on whether we have truly drunk of the waters of life and we share the water with others without judgement, not just individually but as a church. It calls for the church to stop quarrelling, stop being prejudiced but to reach out.

And to reach out is not just to wait for those we regard as outsiders to come to us but requires us to reach out, to meet people where they are, to bring to them God’s inclusive and deep love. We need to be as Jesus was at the well, to stay and talk, not to turn around and walk away. Not to think it is nothing to do with us.

At the heart of this gospel story is the deep inclusive love of God which can transform and offer new life to all people – are we willing to say Lord give me this water so that I may never thirst again, may have the strength to reach out to all regardless of who they are.

John 4: 5 – 42  Exodus 17