The Third Sunday in Lent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 4:5-42

THE GOSPEL FOR LAST SUNDAY TOLD US THE STORY OF NICODEMUS COMING TO QUESTION JESUS. THIS WEALTHY, DISTINGUISHED MAN, A TEACHER OF ISRAEL, SNEAKS THROUGH THE CITY STREETS IN THE DARK SO HE COULD QUESTION JESUS WITHOUT BEING SEEN. HIS QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION WITH JESUS APPEARS TO LEAVE HIM EVEN MORE UNCERTAIN ABOUT JESUS THAN WHEN HE BEGAN. IN CONTRAST TO THE STORY OF NICODEMUS, JOHN NOW TELLS US THIS STORY OF A WOMAN WHO COMES OUT IN THE BRIGHT LIGHT AND HEAT OF THE NOONDAY SUN TO DRAW WATER FROM THE VILLAGE WELL, WHERE SHE UNEXPECTEDLY FINDS JESUS SITTING ON THE WALL OF THE WELL. THE CONVERSATION SHE HAS WITH JESUS IS THE LONGEST RECORDED CONVERSATION IN THE GOSPELS THAT JESUS HAS WITH ANY SINGLE PERSON. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN NICODEMUS, WHO SOUGHT OUT JESUS, AND THE NAMELESS WOMAN, WHO WANTED NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MAN AT THE WELL, IS POWERFULLY INTENTIONAL. A LITTLE BACKGROUND IS HELPFUL TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IS GOING ON.

JEWS AND SAMARITANS WERE BITTER ENEMIES, AND JEWS GENERALLY STAYED OUT OF SAMARIA AND SAMARITANS STAYED OUT OF JUDEA. TO TRAVEL THOUGH THE OTHER’S TERRITORY RISKED BEING ATTACKED AND BEATEN, OR EVEN KILLED, BECAUSE OF THE ANCIENT ENMITY BETWEEN THEM. THE JEWS SAW THE SAMARITANS AS A MONGREL RACE, WHO, OVER TIME, HAD INTERMARRIED WITH THE ASSYRIAN CONQUERORS AND HAD THUS BECOME UNCLEAN. FOR A JEW TO STEP ON SAMARITAN SOIL MEANT THE JEW BECAME RITUALLY UNCLEAN. THE SAMARITANS RETURNED THE HATRED BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THE JEWS HAD KIDNAPPED THE ARK OF THE COVENANT TO SET UP THE WORSHIP OF GOD IN JERUSALEM, RATHER THAN ON MOUNT GERAZIM IN SAMARIA. JESUS, WITH HIS DISCIPLES, DID NOT HAVE TO GO INTO SAMARIA TO GET BACK TO GALILEE, BUT HE INTENTIONALLY CHOSE TO DO SO, AND, TIRED AND THIRSTY AFTER A LONG JOURNEY, HE SAT DOWN TO REST ON THE WELL WHILE HIS DISCIPLES WENT OFF TO BUY FOOD.

THE VILLAGE WOMEN WOULD ALL GO TOGETHER TO DRAW THE WATER FOR THE DAY IN THE COOL OF THE EARLY MORNING, SO A WOMAN COMING TO THE WELL AT NOON MEANT THAT SHE WAS AVOIDING THE OTHER WOMEN. NOT ONLY WAS SHE A WOMAN, A SAMARITAN, BUT AN OUTCAST FROM HER PEOPLE; AND SHE IS THE ONE JESUS CHOOSES TO ASK FOR A DRINK. SO SHOCKED IS SHE THAT JESUS SPEAKS TO HER THAT HER RESPONSE IS, “HOW DARE YOU, A JEW, ASK ME, A SAMARITAN WOMAN, FOR A DRINK?” THE DIALOG MOVES FROM THE REQUEST FOR PHYSICAL WATER TO JESUS OFFERING THE SPIRITUAL LIVING WATER OF ETERNAL LIFE; BUT THE WOMAN IS STILL FOCUSED ON THE PHYSICAL WHEN SHE ASKS FOR THIS LIVING WATER, SO THAT SHE WOULD NOT HAVE TO KEEP MAKING THE DEGRADING TRIP TO THE WELL ALONE. IT IS ONLY WHEN JESUS TELLS HER TO GO GET HER HUSBAND AND RETURN THAT SHE BEGINS TO REALIZE SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON.

WHETHER SHE DID HAVE FIVE HUSBANDS, OR LIVED WITH A SERIES OF MEN, TO INCLUDE HER PRESENT PARTNER IS NOT IMPORTANT; BUT HOW SHE HAD BEEN LIVING MADE HER AN OUTCAST AND SHUNNED BY THE VILLAGE. HER SUDDEN AWARENESS THAT THIS MAN IS MORE THAN HE SEEMS, LEADS HER TO A DISCUSSION OF WHERE ONE SHOULD PROPERLY WORSHIP GOD, TO WHICH JESUS REPLIES THAT IT IS NOT THE PLACE THAT IS IMPORTANT, BUT THE SPIRIT AND TRUTH OF WORSHIPING GOD; AND THE TIME OF SPIRIT AND TRUTH IS COMING. THE SAMARITANS, LIKE THE JEWS, WERE WAITING FOR THE MESSIAH, SO THE WOMAN SAID, “I KNOW THE MESSIAH IS COMING. WHEN HE COMES, HE WILL PROCLAIM ALL THINGS TO US.” TO THIS NAMELESS OUTCAST WOMAN OF SAMARIA, JESUS PROCLAIMED, “I AM HE, THE ONE WHO IS SPEAKING TO YOU.”

WHEN THE DISCIPLES RETURNED AND FOUND JESUS TALKING TO A WOMAN, THEY WERE SHOCKED, AND THE WOMAN FLED BACK TO HER VILLAGE WITHOUT HER WATER JAR. THERE SHE TOLD EVERYONE WHO HAD REJECTED HER WHAT HAD HAPPENED, AND IN HER DESIRE TO BELIEVE THE UNBELIEVABLE SHE ASKED EVERYONE, “HE CAN’T BE THE MESSIAH, CAN HE?” THUS, THE OUTCAST AND REJECTED WOMAN BECAME THE FIRST EVANGELIST TO THE SAMARITANS.

IN THIS SEASON OF LENT, AS WE DELVE DEEPER INTO THE WORD THAT GOD HAS FOR US, WE MIGHT WELL ASK OURSELVES WHO IS IT THAT WE REJECT AND CAST OUT BECAUSE THEY ARE DIFFERENT FROM US IN CUSTOMS, DRESS, OR EVEN BEHAVIOR. JESUS CUTS THROUGH THE ARBITRARY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US WHICH CAUSE US TO REJECT ONE ANOTHER, AND, WITH HIS LOVING PRESENCE, EVEN ELEVATES THE SINNER TO THE ROLE OF EVANGELIST. FOR WHEN JESUS SPEAKS TO OUR HEART BY THE PROMPTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE BARRIERS OF RACE, COLOR, WEALTH, GENDER, EVEN THE BARRIERS OF OUR OWN SINS WHICH KEEP US FROM ONE ANOTHER ARE SHATTERED FOREVER, AND WE TASTE THE LIVING WATER OF ETERNAL LIFE OFFERED BY THE ONE WHO SPEAKS TO US. SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS, INDEED, BUT IT COMES TO JEWS, SAMARITANS, GENTILES, TO MEN AND WOMEN AND CHILDREN, TO THE RELIGIOUS AND TO THE SINNER, WHEN WE HEAR AND BELIEVE THE WORD OF LIFE WHICH COMES TO US IN JESUS. IN CHRIST, AS PAUL WROTE, WE WERE RECONCILED TO GOD THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, AND, IN CHRIST, WE ARE RECONCILED TO EACH OTHER AND TO ALL PEOPLE.

SO THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF SYCHAR CAME OUT TO JESUS AND ASKED HIM AND HIS DISCIPLES TO STAY WITH THEM FOR TWO DAYS; A MOST IMPROBABLE INVITATION, BUT JESUS MAKES THE IMPROBABLE POSSIBLE. WHEN WE, LIKE THE PEOPLE OF SYCHAR, ASK JESUS TO ABIDE WITH US, TO COME IN TO THE HOUSES OF OUR SPIRITS, AND BE WITH US, THEN WE, LIKE THE PEOPLE OF SYCHAR, COME TO KNOW HIM FOR WHO HE IS. WE COME TO KNOW HIM NOT JUST BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TOLD US ABOUT HIM, BUT BECAUSE WE COME TO KNOW HIM PERSONALLY. IN KNOWING JESUS, ALL THE FALSE BARRIERS OF THE WORLD ARE BROKEN, AND WE KNOW THAT HE “IS TRULY THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.”
AMEN.

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