For this Sunday's sermon, I am trying something a little different. I'm making use of a video as part of my message. Check it out for the full effect. The Gospel reading is from John 4, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We continue this morning our time in the Gospel of John. Last week, we got to listen in on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, who wondered how a person could be born again. This morning, we witness Jesus at a well, a Samaritan well, a well belonging to a people rejected and outcast by the Jews. Though the Samaritans claim the same heritage as the Jews, being descendants of Jacob, yet they are considered a different people, an inferior people. But this morning, Jesus stops at this well, the Samaritan well, the outsider well.
And at the well, he finds a woman, there at midday - alone, because everyone else draws water in the early morning. Jesus asks a drink of her - a Samaritan, a woman, an outsider among outsiders. Jesus asks her to give him a drink, beginning a conversation that will have dramatic results. And this unnamed Samaritan woman at the well proves to be one of the most remarkable characters in John's Gospel. This woman, as we shall see, is known by Jesus and comes to know him better than his own disciples do.
But before we examine this story in the Gospel of John, let's hear it in her own words.
The woman at the well is so different from Nicodemus, who encountered Jesus in our Gospel reading last week. Nicodemus was a person of authority, privilege, and power; the woman at the well is none of these things. She is an outsider among outsiders. Yet her story begins very much like Nicodemus’. Both of these characters misunderstand and misinterpret the words of Jesus, trying to understand spiritual matters in earthly terms. Nicodemus was confused how anyone could be born again, how a grown person could return to the mother’s womb. Likewise, the woman at the well does not understand what Jesus means by “living water.” At first, she thinks he means running water, water of higher quality than stagnant water. But Jesus corrects her: “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. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Though the Samaritan woman at the well initially shares Nicodemus’ confusion, she moves beyond it in a way that Nicodemus never does. When confronted with the promise of living water, she tells Jesus, “Give me this water.”
This is her first revelation. She desires what Jesus offers; she is bold to ask for it. Now Jesus can move their conversation further, turn it from what is offered to the identity one who offers. He reveals that he knows her, understands her. He knows, as she says “everything she has ever done.”
And notice what happens. Because Jesus knows the woman, she knows something about him: she calls him a prophet. To be known is to know, to come to a deeper understanding. To be known by Jesus means knowing Jesus more fully.
Now, faced with a prophet, she asks him a religious question, a question which drives to the heart of her outcast status. The Jews worship in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans worship on this mountain. They worship the same God, but their differences drive them apart. She is outcast, excluded from Jewish society, for these religious differences. Now she wants Jesus to resolve them for her. She wants the one who has included her to include her whole people.
Once again, Jesus turns her mind from the earthly to the spiritual; for the place of worship, Jesus says, does not matter in the end. It does not matter where God is worshipped, but how God is worshipped. A God who is spirit will be worshipped in spirit and in truth. And among those who worship in spirit and in truth, there are no divisions, no exclusions, no outcasts.
Once again, the woman moves beyond her initial question to a deeper understanding. And now is her second revelation: her mind turns from prophets to the promised Messiah, the one who will “proclaim all things to us,” just as Jesus has been proclaiming to her.
This moment is striking: throughout the gospels, for various reasons, people come to see who Jesus is. They are driven to a confession of Jesus as the Messiah. Yet Jesus never takes this title for himself except here, with the woman at the well. When the woman at the well wonders aloud about the Messiah, Jesus definitively tells her, “I am he.”
To be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known. Too often we read this story as a morality tale, a story about a sinful woman - some even call her a prostitute - who is redeemed from her sin. But this story has nothing to do with morality; sin is never mentioned. This is a story about identity. This is a story that teaches us the miraculous power of being known, truly known, fully and completely known.
Jesus knows the woman at the well, and she comes to know Jesus as the source of living water, eternal life - the Messiah.
Because she has been known and has come to know, the woman at the well leaves Jesus to proclaim the good news to her people. The women who followed Jesus are often credited as being the first apostles, because they were the first to spread the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Perhaps the woman at the well became an apostle even before those women who went to the tomb. The woman at the well proclaims the good news, the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the one who knows everything she has ever done.
If you read on in this chapter in John’s Gospel, you will find that the Samaritans are compelled by the proclamation of the woman at the well. They ask Jesus to stay with them, and many of them come to believe.
This is the miraculous power of being known. Because one woman found that she was fully known, her life was changed. She could not help but share this good news with everyone around her. Because one woman found that she was known, many came to know Jesus the Messiah, the Christ.
To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known. Each one of us is known by God, precious children in God's sight. Each one of us is known, and to be known is to be loved. We are constantly surrounded by God’s love. And loving the one who has first loved us, we come to know this man, Jesus, who stopped at a Samaritan well at midday to perform a miracle. Amen.