Third Sunday of Lent, Yr A–The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

John 4:5-42

O God of mercy, lead us into the way of all truth,
comfort us in our sorrow
and bring us to life everlasting. Amen.

The day was unbearably hot…
the sun directly overhead…
the heat was absolutely oppressive at this noon hour,
even the scorched earth begged for just a drop of water.

At this hour there are no locals to be found.

All the women know to come early in the cool of the new dawn to draw their water for the day.

And all those who missed the morning cool will just have to make do until evening when the sun begins to set and loses its heat once again.

However, one woman – a Samaritan woman – specifically chooses this time to come to the well.

She comes now because she knows she can draw water alone – she doesn’t have to endure the snide comments and finger-pointing from the other women.

But today as she approaches the well, her heart sinks.

There is someone there…sitting nearby.

It is a man,
and a Jewish man at that.
As a Samaritan and a woman,
she has nothing to say to him.

She keeps her eyes on the ground and goes about her business,
paying him no mind,
hoping he will just leave her alone.

Yet as she nears the well with her water jar, this man dares to speak to her.

“Give me a drink,” he says.

As she quickly glances at him, she notices that he looks tired and worn-out,
and there is a kindness in his eyes.

Although he makes a demand – “give me a drink” – it comes across as an invitation,
as a plea from someone in need who cannot help himself.

The woman is taken aback and doesn’t quite know what to do.

She responds by throwing up the barriers that are supposed to exist between them:
men and women don’t talk to one another in public,
and even beyond that what about the racial hatred and religious disputes that had existed between the Jews and Samaritans for well over a century?

“Why are you talking to me?” she asks.

Jesus then tells her that if she, in fact, knew who he really was, that it would be her asking him for water…and not just ordinary water that quenches your thirst, but a gift from God – living water that nourishes the soul!

But, she doesn’t understand…
“Sir, you have no bucket!”

He then tells her that he offers a water such that those who drink it will never be thirsty again.

Well now, that’s the best news she’s heard all day!

Can you imagine?
She would never have to come to the well again in the heat of the day to avoid those staring, judging eyes and the chatter behind her back.
She would never have to draw water again.

“Sir, give me this water.”

She is asking for his gift, but she doesn’t yet understand what it is that he is really offering.

She wants her life made easier so that she will never have to draw water again.

It is not until the next portion of their conversation that she begins to understand.

Jesus invites her to go and call her husband and bring him back to the well.

It is at this point that the woman has a choice.

She can decide that this man is crazy – he has overstepped his bounds of propriety, and she has the opportunity to go home and not come back to the well.

She could very well have said, “OK, I will go get my husband now” and then never returned.

But she doesn’t.

Somehow,
on some level,
she has already entered into a relationship with this man.

Whether it was his kind eyes,
his gentle manner
or his offer of living water,
she trusts this man.

So she responds in truth…
the truth that she came to the well at this hour to avoid…
the truth that she has been married five times and is now living with her lover.

You see, in her tradition, anyone who was married more than three times was considered immoral and deviant.

Somehow this man knows her history,
and yet he places no blame.
He just speaks things as they are.

“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”

It is here that she begins to see and to understand who Jesus is,
but again she hides behind the differences between them,
pointing out their religious disputes as to where people must worship:
Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem.

But Jesus continues to break down the barriers saying that place doesn’t matter:
true worshippers of God will worship in spirit and truth…such human-made barriers do not matter.

Jesus then reveals to this woman that he is the Messiah –
but she has already had a glimpse of that truth through his acceptance of her.

She doesn’t quite know what has happened to her,
but she knows that something has just changed,
someone has just offered her living water –
a life of healing and grace…
a place of belonging.

Her shame has melted away…
she feels a little spring beginning to bubble up inside…
a new life she hasn’t felt in a very long time.

So, she leaves her water jar right beside the well and runs off to the city.

She no longer needs the jar to transport the water –
the water is now inside her.
She is the new vessel transporting living water.

She returns to the city and tells the people there about this man who told her everything she had done – this man who had seen her in all her shame and had offered her new life instead of judgement.

They came.
They listened.
They entered into relationship with the one who offers living water.

And they came to believe in the name of Jesus – the Savior, the healer, of the world.

Like this woman, we too have a choice.

Jesus offers us living water that bubbles up within us, leading us into abundant life.

We may depart from here and hide behind any sense of shame and unworthiness we harbor.

Or, we can own the truth that we are God’s beloved and accept Jesus’ offer of living water –
ourselves becoming the water jar for others,
telling others that they are forgiven, healed, loved and renewed…
and inviting them to join us in worshipping God in spirit and truth.

What will be our choice?

AMEN.