A Sermon Preached
The Third Sunday of Lent March 23, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
She is nothing, if not practical. The woman, whose name we do not know, goes to Jacob’s well in the light and the heat of the day, jar in hand. She has been left before – five times, by five different husbands. We don’t know if the cause is death or scandal or the simple matter of a husband saying to her, out loud: “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” We don’t know. But, whatever. Whatever the combination of circumstances, they have happened to her. Five times. And now she lives with a man who is not her husband.
So she goes to the well in the heat of the day, when everybody else will be home eating lunch, keeping cool. It’s easier that way, less awkward – fewer eyes avoiding contact with her. It’s easier for her to be inconspicuous…maybe even intentionally invisible…that way. It’s all very practical.
She didn’t expect anyone to be there, least of all Jesus. And she certainly didn’t expect him to ask her for a drink of water – which is entirely impractical – she is a woman, he is a man; she is a Samaritan, he is a Jew. But it happens. He sees her. He sees her there, and he asks her for a drink.
When she protests his breaking of the rules, he says something about living water. And she responds, ever practical: “You have no bucket, and the well is deep.”
“You have no bucket, and the well is deep."
“I will give you water that will make you never thirst again,” he answers. “I will give you water that gushes up to eternal life.”
Her practical nature persists: “Give me this water, so I don’t have to be thirsty. Give me this water, so that I don’t have to keep coming back here to draw from the well.”
He sees her. And he knows who she is. He knows about the five husbands, and the one she lives with now, who is not her husband. And still, he sees her. He doesn’t decline contact. He doesn’t shame or embarrass her, as the ones who abandoned her, as the ones who avoid her.
His seeing her allows her to see him – first as a prophet drawing her away from practical rules of Mountain versus Temple, speaking instead about worshiping in Spirit and truth. And again she sees him, now more fully as who he is, now as Messiah: “I am,” he tells her. “I am he.”
Now it’s the disciples who find themselves all caught up in issues of practicality. They have come back with the food they went into the city to buy, and here he is…talking to a woman?...and not just a woman, but a Samaritan woman?! (Can you not hear the slapping of foreheads and murmuring as they try to hold themselves back from the questions they really want to ask him? Can we not leave you here at Jacob’s Well for just a little while, to go buy lunch, without something like this happening?!)
But she is not there to hear it. She has gone, this Samaritan woman, abandoned five times, whose name we do not know. She has gone into the city, knocking on the doors that probably would have been closed to her, a day before, an hour before then. She tells people who would have avoided her about what she has found, about the one who has found her. “Come and see!” she says. “He saw me, and he knew me, and – is it possible? Is it possible that he could be the One?”
A practical person would have taken the jar with her. After all, the well is deep. It wouldn’t have been too heavy, had she carried it empty with her, brought it back later to get the water she had originally gone to the well for in the first place. A practical person would have brought it along to keep it from being lost, or stolen – after all, a woman abandoned five times and now dependent on a man who is not her husband, probably doesn’t have many possessions to spare. And this one is important, right? Her water jar is the thing that allows her to get what she needs.
Still, she goes without it. She leaves her water jar there, at Jacob’s well. She hurries into the city to tell the others, ignores her fear of awkwardness (does she even feel it now?), ignores the need she used to have to pass people by inconspicuously, ignores whatever those feelings are that might have caused her to hesitate a day before, an hour before now. Because he saw her, and he knew her, and…is it possible he could be the One?
Whatever might have prevented them, now doesn’t. They leave the city, on the word of the woman whose name we do not know, and they go to him. And they believe him, those Samaritans. They believe him, and they ask him to stay, and he does. He stays for two more days.
And now those people who would have ignored her, instead, they talk to her. (Would that have happened before she saw him at the well?) They say to her: “We came because of what you said. And now, we have heard and know for ourselves that this is true.”
What would it take? What would it take for you to leave fear and practicality behind?
What would it take to leave your own water jar there at the well?