John 4: 5-42 3rd Sunday of Lent
The Samaritan woman, like so many other female figures in the Bible, is unnamed. She is only identified by her gender, her ethnicity, and her place in society. As a woman, she is already less-than. Samaritans were known to be in opposition to Jews. There are several reasons for this, they intermarried and were no longer a pure race. They also worshipped in different ways than the Jews, as we hear in this passage. The other thing we know about this Samaritan woman is that she is outcast even from the other women in the area. Collecting water at the well was women’s work and still is in many parts of the world. While men had “more important” things to do, like discussing politics in the city square, women travelled together with their jars to gather water for cooking, cleaning, and the family. They would go in the early evening, when the heat was not so great. However, this woman, is traveling by herself, at noon, in the heat of the day. Something in her life has prevented her from being part of the in-crowd. Jesus gives us a clue to why this woman walks alone. She has a history. Things done and left undone, some good some not so good. Guilt and regrets, fears, wounds, sorrows and secrets. She is a woman with a past generally seen as one of promiscuity if we look at the evidence. Five husbands and now living unmarried with a sixth man. Looked at but not seen. Labelled yet nameless. She remains unknown to everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jesus
How easily we forget that women of her day had very little choice or control over their own lives. If she is divorced it is because the men divorced her. She had no right of divorce. That was exclusively the man’s right. If she’s not divorced then she has suffered the death of five husbands. Five times left alone, five times nameless, faceless, and of no value, five times starting over. Maybe some divorced her. Maybe some died. We don’t know. Either way, divorce or death, is a tragedy for her life.
We don’t know the details of her past. Maybe we don’t need to. Maybe it is enough that she mirrors for us our own lives. We too are people with a past, people with a history. In some way we are all Samaritan women.
People like her, people like us, people with a past, often live in fear of being found out. It is not just the fear that another will know the truth, the facts, about us but that they will do so without ever really seeing us and without ever really knowing us. We all thirst to be seen and to be known at a deep intimate level. We all want to pour our lives out to one who knows us, to let them drink from the depths of our very being. That is exactly what Jesus is asking when he says, “Give me a drink.” It is the invitation to let herself be known. To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.
We all go down to some well. For some, like the Samaritan woman, it is the marriage well. For others it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others will draw from the well of power and control. Too many will drink from the wells of addiction. Many live at the well of busyness, denial, stress, regret, fear and lonliness.
We could each name the wells from which we drink. Day after day, month after month, year after year we go to the same well to drink. We arrive hoping our thirst will be quenched. We leave as thirsty as when we arrived only to return the next day. For too long we have drunk from the well that never satisfies, the well that can never satisfy. Husband after husband this is the well to which the Samaritan woman has returned.
There is another well, however. It is the well of Jesus Christ. It is the well that washes us clean of our past. This is the well from which new life and new possibilities spring forth. It is the well that frees us from the patterns and habits that keep us living as thirsty people.
That is the well the Samaritan women in today’s gospel found. She intended to go to the same old well she had gone to for years, the well that her ancestors and their flocks drank from. Today is different. Jesus holds before her two realities of her life; the reality of what is and the reality of what might be. He brings her past to the light of the noon day. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband.” It is not a statement of condemnation but simply a statement of what is. He tells her everything she has ever done. She has been found out.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus is more interested in her future than her past. He wants to satisfy her thirst more than judge her history. Jesus knows her. He looks beyond her past and sees a woman dying of thirst; a woman thirsting to be loved, to be seen, to be accepted, to be included, to be forgiven, to be known. Her thirst will never be quenched by the external wells of life. Nor will ours.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is the living water of new life, new possibilities, and freedom from the past. This living water is Jesus’ own life. It became in the Samaritan woman “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She discovered within herself the interior well and left her water jar behind. She had now become the well in which Christ’s life flows.
It’s not enough, however, to hear her story or even believe her testimony. Until we come to the well of Christ’s life within us we will continue returning to the dry wells of our life. We will continue to live thirsty. We will continue to live in fear of being found out. How much longer will you carry your water jars? Come to a new well this morning, Come to the well of Christ’s life, Christ’s love, Christ’s presence that is already in you. Come to the well that is Christ himself and then drink deeply.