3rd Sunday of Lent A 2017
They should never have met. Jesus, tired from a long journey, takes a seat and a moment away from his disciples in the middle of the day. This is the only time in John’s Gospel that admits of such weakness in Jesus. The Samaritan woman comes to draw water in the midst of the hottest time of the day, well after the other women in the village had come. It is not an accident. She comes at this time to avoid them – their talk to her face or behind her back, their withering looks of judgment. We would still whisper today about a woman married five times and living with another man still. Imagine the scandal she must have been in the small, tight knit community. I picture her stooped, eyes downcast, trying to make her small enough to hide in plain daylight.
Jesus sees her at the well and asks for a drink. She is shocked. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans and men don’t speak to women so publicly. The startled woman asks what his plan is here for he has no bucket and the cistern is deep. But Jesus seeks more than water. He answers her mysteriously, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” A water so alive that it quenches thirst forever. She wants this water badly if only because she would not have to go to this darn well in the middle of the day.
She must feel she is getting away with something. This stranger is treating her with generosity and kindness. This is what life would be if no one knew her shame and her sin. But that illusion shatters when Jesus asks her to call her husband. She claims she has no husband, but Jesus fills in the rest. “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” He does know! Yet, he does not condemn or revoke his offer of living water. He knows her shame and still he cares for her; still wants nothing but the best for her! You can almost see her back start to straighten, her legs steady and her eyes lift. She is free to look Jesus, or anyone, in the eye.
She even dares to talk theology to one she believes a prophet. When she brings up the topic of a Messiah, Jesus acknowledges, “”I am he, the one speaking with you.” Then comes a remarkable transformation, the woman who came at noon to avoid anyone in town, now seeks out everybody and excitedly informs them she has found the one who could be the Messiah. Her past has not changed, but her dignity, her beauty and her breath has returned to her. Indeed, she even invokes her past to explain her encounter with Christ. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
I wonder how often shame and sin have stopped us from spreading the word of God? How often have we felt unworthy to tell the story of Christ because we felt unworthy of its promises? When have we felt our dignity diminished and feel the grace of God should skip us? Yet, all that disappears in a true encounter with Christ, the one who meets us where we are at, forgives us completely and continually reminds us of the beauty we have been created with.
If we are to be ambassadors for Christ, if we are to share the joy of our liberation, then we must shed our shame and embrace our dignity. We must accept and deeply believe that Christ loves us right now, with our imperfections, our sins and our regrets. He saw beauty and potential in the Samaritan woman despite her five and a half husbands. He wants us to give us our best despite our failings as well.
You are capable and ready for this job. Straighten your back, feel the strength return to your legs and lift your eyes. You too can tell the story of how loved you are. Now imitate the Samaritan woman and say to all “Come and See.” We do not impose our beliefs, we offer a place where they can know the forgiveness of their sins, even if it takes 24 consecutive hours. We offer a family of care and of true concern to our neighbor and the stranger. We are the home of living water which quenches thirst and promises eternal life.