The Third Sunday in Lent (March 27, 2011)

Lessons:Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 St. John 4:5-42

Prayer of the Day: Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

4:5 So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

St. John 4:5-42, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Woman at the Well

She was just a woman at the well. If you were sitting there alone, and she came to draw water, wouldn’t you strike up a conversation? It would only be polite. These days we would hardly fault Jesus for spending time with that woman.

But those days were different. Jews weren’t allowed to fraternize with Samaritans. (Since the early sixth century BC a terrible animosity had developed between these two nations — and the Jews considered the Samaritans unclean: if a Jew came into contact with them, he or she would be considered defiled, and banned from worship until made ritually clean again by the priests.) Men weren’t allowed to speak publicly with women (not even one’s own wife), and that was doubly true for Rabbis like Jesus. And not only was this person at the well a woman, but she was drawing water from the well during the hottest part of the day. There must have been some reason why she was unwelcome at the well during the cooler early morning hours when all the other women walked there to draw water for the day and visit with one another. Was she some kind of an outcast? Was there a dark or painful story behind the reality that she was now living with her sixth husband? In those different days, Jesus went against the conventions of the time by speaking publicly with a Samaritan, a woman, one of questionable background.

Those were different days, weren’t they? Or were they, really? We like to think, in this post-Civil War, post 60s era, that the dividing lines between groups are not as rigid as they used to be. Yet a quick look around the worship area on most Sunday mornings in our ELCA confirms that there are precious few in attendance who don’t trace their ancestry to northern European Anglo Saxons. Sure there are exceptions. And we celebrate them for the hope that they offer to our movement. But in the average ELCA congregation, there isn’t much evidence that we’ve been at the well in the hot midday sun, sharing the good news with those the world tends to ignore.

The specter of our Lord at the well challenges us to imagine the ways in which we might reach beyond ourselves to make a difference in the lives of those unwashed, unwanted ones in our world. What boundaries have we created that separate us from those whose hearts and lives might be touched by our witness? What boundaries have others set that we honor, in effect closing us off from some who don’t yet know Christ, and who might be open to becoming people of faith?

Jesus’ example gives us a glimpse of what can happen when we set aside the artificial boundaries that divide us, and reach out to one another in the name of Christ. The neighbor we never seem to find time to talk with. The young person standing next to us in line at Starbucks. The newcomer at church who seems befuddled about how we worship together. The single-parent we sit next to at our child’s sporting event. The co-worker who seems especially troubled about something. Any of these may be the person Christ is wanting us to reach out to with a word of grace and hope and love.

The Lord has given us a great commission. May we be bold and faithful and creative, as we imagine how we might follow that commission, seeking to touch and heal those needs that concerned him so.


Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why was it unusual that Jesus spoke to this Samaritan woman?
  2. What must his disciples have thought when they saw Jesus with her?
  3. How did his conversation with her change everything for some who lived in her town?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What groups of people are regularly scorned, or ignored, by our world?
  2. How might I (or my congregation) might work together address the needs of these groups?
  3. How is God calling me to be an advocate for one who is less fortunate than I am?