Lent 3A: A Samaritan Woman

Readings

  • Exodus 17:1-7
  • Psalm 95
  • Romans 5:1-11
  • John 4:5-42
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

There is a part of me that thought that maybe I could let this week’s gospel stand on its own.  Maybe the message is abundantly clear and I don’t need to really touch on it.  This fleeting thought that maybe I could look at the old testament reading or maybe the epistle passed through my mind, and then I realized that so far, in Lent, I have been drawn to the gospel reading strongly as I delve into my studies.

I know you’re probably getting tired of hearing this, but this is another story that I love.

But, this time, it’s personal.

I must admit that I haven’t always loved this story of the Samaritan woman, let alone felt any kind of kinship with her.

At a very early age I learned to recognize her as a ‘loose woman,’ full of shame and immorality – saved by Jesus.  To be truthful, in a young mind this was the rescue of fairy tales.  Jesus offered something beautiful to a poor soul, and it resulted in good things.  Just like all the other Jesus stories I learned in Sunday school.

At another stage in my life I would look at this story with the disdain of someone who had become all too familiar with poor decisions, bad luck, and a life full of closed doors.  To hear the interpretation of my childhood filled me with anger about justice for women and with a distaste for Jesus’ blatant racial and sexist micro-aggressions.  It was at this time in my life that I had deep empathy for this woman, and I could easily imagine myself standing at the well looking at Jesus with hand on hip and an expression that said: “Are you kidding me?!”

At this particular stage of my life, I read this story differently yet again.  Which serves to remind us that we all understand the words of the Bible through our own experiences and lives.  Those lenses colour and cloud what we are seeing and hearing.

It is in this particular stage of my life, however, that I find myself preparing this sermon, and though I am using my thoughts and words to express thoughts and discoveries related to this story, I live with faith that God will speak through me and help you to come to your own place of thought and discovery.

Maybe you have always understood this Samaritan woman to be some kind of immoral woman in need of Jesus, or maybe you have known her to be a woman hard done by the society and culture in which she lived, or maybe you have some curiosity about her and her story.

There are a few things that are key to this story.

Jesus is sitting at a well in the heat of the noon sun.  And this woman approaches to draw water from the well at a time of day that is illogical for this kind of work – she is a widow, likely divorced because she was incapable of having children, and seeking the quiet of this time of day to avoid contact with anyone from the village who were already likely avoiding her so as to avoid her bad luck.[1]

And Jesus initiates a conversation.  This seemingly simple action is full of impact.

A man speaking to a woman who was not family?  A Jew speaking to a Samaritan?  A man of faith fraternizing with the kind of woman that makes the disciples think: ‘What do YOU want?’ and ‘Why are you talking to HER?!’ Shock just from looking at her.

It seems like the more people change, the more they stay the same.  The lenses of our experiences and knowledge can lead us to make so many judgments, so quickly.  Just from looking at something.

But God’s Son came to the world not to judge it, but that the world might be saved through him.[2]  So, Jesus initiates this conversation.  A conversation that invites the Spirit’s movement.  A conversation that gives birth to a deep faith through curiosity and mutual vulnerability.

Mutual vulnerability comes when each person is willing to risk being known known and seen – truthfully, openly, and without judgment.  It is where the truthful conversations are found, and where connection, understanding, and empathy thrive.  Mutual vulnerability is the result of looking at the world through the lens of love.  Rather, looking at the world the way God does.

In this particular story Jesus offers this woman a safe space and power in the situation.  Literal power in that she has the clay jar to fetch the water that he would like to drink.  And she has the power to leave the situation should she choose, and the power of questions.  Jesus exposes his own curiosity and interest in her in such a way that she is safe to expose her own curiosity and interest.  He holds a space of patience and love, without judgment.

And it speaks volumes.

Because this woman at the well, who at first seems to dismiss him with disdain, sarcasm, incredulity, or all of the above, shows herself to be a woman of many questions.  These are the kinds of questions that are asked to point out the obvious.  These are questions that are truly curious – based in a genuine interest to know and learn from another.

This is important because it is through these questions that they both come to share their stories with each other.

It is in this conversation in this space of mutual vulnerability that a strong woman is free to ask an interesting question about a “religious issue that divides and alienates the Jews and the Samaritans from one another: where is the proper place to worship God, up on the mountain, or in the Temple in Jerusalem?”[3]

This Samaritan woman is my hero.  She is unflappable – Jesus points out her life of multiple husbands and she doesn’t react.  She is knowledgeable – she knows purity laws, she knows the ancestry of Israel through Jacob, she knows about the reason for the Temple, she knows what the Messiah means.[4]  She is the counterpoint of Nicodemus, the religious leader who comes to Jesus in the dark of night.

This Samaritan woman, so full of questions, standing in the bright light of the day, shares her stories, and asks a deeply theological questions that goes to the heart of this woman’s vulnerability: ‘Where is my God?’

The answer is incredible: Not on a mountain, not in a temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus, the Living Water, the Messiah, Immanuel – God with Us – is standing right in front of her.  And her God is loving her.

In one sense, this theologian, the Samaritan woman, is given a new way to see the world; a new lens through which to understand.

She expected to find God in the world and discovered God standing right in front of her.  God’s love washes over her, removing shame and sin, and the Spirit moves.

This learned woman is reborn at the well and becomes a prophet.

All because of a conversation.

The simple beauty of this deeply layered conversation is that we get to learn that a shared experience of mutual vulnerability leads to a new understanding that can rock our world in such a way that we are reborn in God’s love and witness to the Spirit’s movements.

Would that we could experience that all the time!  Truly, my hope, is that you may experience such mutual vulnerability through something as simple as a conversation this week.  May you discover God standing right in front of you.  May you be washed in God’s love and reborn again and again.

Please pray with me:
All-knowing and all-loving God, we thank you for your gift of love in our lives.  Nudge us with enough curiosity to enter into conversations of all kinds with all those around us in this Lenten journey.  Help us to create safe spaces and to be brave enough to share our stories with someone who wishes to share their stories with us in the name of mutual vulnerability and new understandings.  We lift to you all who are hurting, shamed, or are being avoided.  Make us bold to see the world around us through your lens of love.  Always.  We ask all this in the name of the one who first initiated the conversation and shared himself with others, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Taylor Burton-Edwards. “Preaching: Notes for John 4:5-42” Third Sunday in Lent.  Discipleship Ministries: Worship.  The United Methodist Church.
  2. Bruce Epperly. “The Adventurous Lectionary: Third Sunday in Lent, March 23, 2014.”  Living a Holy Adventure.
  3. Karoline Lewis. “Holy Conversations.”  Dear Working Preacher: March 12, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
  4. Kathryn Matthews. “Focus Scripture: John 4:5-42 – Weekly Theme: Finding Refreshment.”  Sermon Seeds: March 19, 2017.  United Church of Christ: God is Still Speaking.

This week’s image is entitled, “Christ And The Samaritan Woman At The Well,” created by Angelica Kauffman, in 1796.  The image is public domain and is shared for your contemplation.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Karoline Lewis.  “Holy Conversations.”  Dear Working Preacher: March 12, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
[2] John 3:17
[3] Kathryn Matthews.  “Focus Scripture: John 4:5-42 – Weekly Theme: Finding Refreshment.”  Sermon Seeds: March 19, 2017.  United Church of Christ: God is Still Speaking.
[4] Taylor Burton-Edwards.  “Preaching: Notes for John 4:5-42” Third Sunday in Lent.  Discipleship Ministries: Worship.  The United Methodist Church.

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