Summary: Jesus spoke some of the most profound words that have ever been spoken on the subject of true worship, of worship as God intends it shall be— the kind of worship, Jesus said, that the heavenly Father goes looking for.
March 10, 1996 - Lent 3
If ever anyone lived on a dead end street this was the person. And by dead end I don't mean a nice cul de sac where the kids can play and the traffic can turn around. I mean dead end like going nowhere, like abandon all hope. I don't know how, but she had run through five marriages. Five separate stories of tragedy.
It could have been tremendously bad luck, and her husbands had all died. It could have been simply the result of a kind of society where wives were throw-away items, where certainly all women were second class citizens. But anyone who has been married that many times has become very well acquainted with loss and failure.
Maybe the biggest loss of all was this person's loss of any sense of self esteem.
This passage has been studied so thoroughly that we all know, or think we know, how women in the middle east always went for their water early in the day, together, in a community time of fellowship. While the little children played and the latest village gossip was passed, the women carried home their water from the well in the cool of the morning. The scene here is in the blazing light of high noon, when there was usually no one at the well and she could come and go in her loneliness without the added pain of feeling she was part of the gossip being passed along.
I don't know that she was a greater sinner than any of the other men and women of her village. But in her isolation she certainly had to be right up there among the greatest in terms of her pain and needs.
When she arrived at the well she was annoyed just a bit. For there on the curbing of the well sat a stranger. By his dress and his bearing she knew him to be a Jew. She had no idea that her life was about to change and that this man would be the most important person she would ever meet.
She had deliberately chosen this time to come to the well so she could stay away from people. This was a low time in her life. It was a time that she least expected to meet anyone, let alone someone very, very important. She certainly did not have in mind a challenge to her faith that would change her forever. She paused, not quite sure what to expect of this stranger.
The stranger surprised her by asking her for a drink. He looked a little tired, and he evidently was thirsty. The woman was not afraid to voice her surprise. "How come you even speak to me?" she asked.
Social rules were stronger then than we can understand in our society. Some things simply were not done. Jewish men would sooner suffer great thirst than ask a strange woman for a drink.
She let her water jar down and down into the deep well and watched it turn on its side and fill and sink. Then she hauled it hand over hand back to the well curb, and poured the cool water into the stranger's cupped hands. She was amazed that this Jew not only would speak to her, but drink from her water jar— she was ceremonially untouchable, and she made the jar ceremonially unclean. The stranger drank and drank, and then wiped his mouth.
Before he said another word this stranger had said a tremendous amount. He had said 'You are not worthless. You are someone who can help me. You are worth talking to.' He had said "I am not afraid to cross over barriers of gender and race that put people down.' He had even said 'It is all right to ask favors, and reach out to help and be helped by others.' And he said a lot more beside before he ever opened his mouth again.
But then Jesus DID open his mouth and say a whole lot. As a matter of fact, a part of this story is the longest conversation that is recorded that Jesus ever had with any one individual. And even though I hate to interrupt the flow of the drama, we do have to look at what Jesus told this one shunned and rejected woman. Actually he told her two things that stand out to me, and a third thing than was stunning!
He told her something about how people worship. Whenever sincere people seek after God they come under one of the ways Jesus described to this one woman. I'd love to say more about this— but there is more there than I can say now.
Jesus simply said "You Samaritans don't know ... we Jews have heard God's revelation and do know— but there is coming— and now is a higher, deeper way to worship!"