Summary: A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, series A.

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3rd Sunday in Lent, February 24, 2008 “Series A”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through your Son, Jesus the Christ, you have revealed your will and grace for all people. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, strengthen our faith, and inspire us to overcome our prejudice toward those who differ from us, that we might witness to your redeeming grace in Christ’s death and resurrection. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is quite a story, and not just because of its length. At first glance, the story seems so simple, an easy story to grasp. Jesus is traveling through the heat of the day, when he tires and decides to rest by Jacob’s well. Being the noon hour, his disciples decide to go off to town to purchase some food and beverage.

Then comes this woman from town to draw water to carry back to her home. Jesus, being thirsty, asks her for a drink. It sounds like such a simple request, and serves to break the ice. As they talk, Jesus seizes the opportunity for ministry, to tell her about this spiritual sustenance called “living water,” which he can give to her.

The conversation continues, as they discuss religious topics, such as worship and the coming of God’s promised Messiah. They talk about her life, and the problems that she has faced over the years, including her present situation. And as a result of her encounter with Jesus, the woman’s faith is awakened. She begins to question whether Jesus might just be the Messiah, and goes off to tell others about her encounter with him, encouraging them to “come and see.”

As a result of the woman’s witness, many of the people in her community come to meet Jesus, and they, too, come to faith, believing that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Upon their urging, Jesus remained in their town for two days, where he continued to minister to the people, where even more come to faith in him.

At first glance, our lesson seems to be just a simple story about faith and witness. And, of course, on one level, it is. But when we look at the historical context in which this story was written, we find that it has a deeper, more profound dimension to it, a dimension that is easily missed by those of us who live in today’s culture.

The fact that Jesus initiated a conversation with this woman at the well was quite an unprecedented action, according to Dr. Raymond E. Brown, a leading scholar on the Gospel of John. In those days, men did not speak with women in public, especially men who were rabbis or religious leaders. In that society, women did not have equal rights, were not afforded the opportunity to engage in religious or theological debate, not permitted to speak during worship, nor even enter the inner court of the temple.

Although women had certain protections under Jewish law, more rights, I believe than did the women who lived in Afghanistan under the Telaban regime, our exposure to that society as a result of our nation being at war in that region, might help us to understand the impact of Jesus’ action. In fact, in verse 27 John tells us that Jesus’ disciples were astonished that he was speaking with this woman, though no one dared ask him, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Secondly, notice that this woman was a Samaritan. For the Jews of that day, the Samaritans, although not at “foreign” as the Gentiles, because of their intermarriage with the Assyrians, they were not considered “full-fledged members of the household of Israel,” either. Thus, they were religious and cultural outsiders whom the Jews regarded with a fair measure of suspicion and distrust.

As a result, the Jews of that day would not share meals, or utilize the same utensils that the Samaritan’s used. They were considered ritually impure. This distrust of the Samaritans was so widespread that the woman in the story is herself startled by Jesus’ initiative. She says to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

And finally, notice the time of the day that this woman came to the well. Typically, people went to the well in the morning and the evening to avoid the heat of the noon day sun. Why, then, did this woman go at noon?

Dr. Brown suggests that perhaps she was trying to avoid something worse than the noontime heat. Perhaps she wanted to avoid the burning glances of those from the town who had shunned her, because she had had five husbands, and was now living in adultery. According to Brown, although men could have as many wives as they could afford, women were only permitted to have one husband at a time, and only be married three times.

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