12 March 2023: Third Sunday in Lent

Faithful Conversations #4

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95 (1)
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42 (Below)

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 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. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Long ago and far away, it remains a conversation that shines brightly in my memory. As Dr. Herman Larson, Concordia College history professor, entered his office, I was hesitant to even speak. In the course of a few minutes, he opened my eyes to history in a new way. Though forty-eight years past, I remember how he looked and spoke, where we were, what type of day it was outside, and mostly, the intensity of the exchange between this dignified elder and my eighteen year old self. Life’s chance encounters are on my mind this week as I explore the story of Jesus’ and the Samaritan woman.

Before getting into that, an observation about the Gospel of John. The style of John is dramatically different from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and focuses heavily on our “life in Christ” in a more personal way. This comes through a number of extended dialogues or conversations we observe between Jesus and individuals or groups — we get to observe those. Nicodemus (chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) are two such dialogues.

Back to the Samaritan woman. Among Eastern Orthodox churches, she is called by the name Photini and, in fact, is numbered among the Great Martyrs (you may want to explore more about her fascinating story). Though not named in John’s Gospel, her identity as a Samaritan is significant. Jesus and his disciples are traveling from Judea to Galilee and they chose to take the direct route through Samaria. The backdrop here is that Jews and Samaritans, though distant cousins ethnically, were enemies for a variety of reasons, but most notably their differences over the proper place to worship God. Jews viewed Jerusalem as the center of worship, while Samaritans believed it was Mount Gerizim. This argument among spiritual ancestors seems perplexing to us, but it was critically important two thousand years ago.

That Jesus chose to engage the Samaritan woman in a lengthy dialogue, then, must be noted. In that environment, she had three strikes against her: she was a Samaritan, she was a woman, and one who had experienced a number of marriages, although we do not know the details. In fact, as Barbara Brown Taylor points out in an article titled, “Jesus Talks,” Jesus talked to this Samaritan woman longer than to anyone else in the Gospels and, in fact, she is the first person he reveals himself to as “Messiah” (note verse 26). Both facts are startling and should grab our attention!

As you read through the exchange (or reread it several times as I needed to do!), think about how this encounter with Jesus impacted this woman. Unlike Nicodemus, she is not a curious scholar seeking to understand Jesus, coming to him by night. She simply came to the well for water. Rather, Jesus SEEKS HER OUT and speaks to her in the light of day and in an eye-opening fashion — imagine how great this made her feel! Like Nicodemus, her life was dramatically changed by this chance meeting. In contrast, however, she immediately became an evangelist for Christ and shared her joy with the people of Sychar (verse 39) who proclaimed that Jesus was truly “the Savior of the World” (verse 42).

Heavenly Father, like the Samaritan woman help us to be open to chance encounters that provide a window into your loving grace.  During this time of Lent, strengthen our faith that we may do your work among your people, even those who may be considered “outsiders” in our culture. Amen.

The image included with this post is “Christ and the Samaritan Woman,” by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), accessible through the Public Domain and Wikimedia Commons.  

And, for those of us that grew up Lutheran in the 1950s and 60s . . . . a bit of humor for our day! (Thanks to Charles Schultz for these gems).