Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: John 4:7,9
A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink of water". The woman answered, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritanóso how can you ask me for a drink?"
Woman at a well

Jesus loves the used and abused

Some of you may be familiar with George Orwellís book ĎAnimal Farmí. Itís a bit like a fairy tale but itís really a comment about a certain political regime. It contains a story of how the animals on a farm oust Farmer Jones and his family and take over the farm. They want a better life and start off with the grand vision that all animals are equal and that all property is shared. Soon the pigs take control and one of them, Napoleon, becomes the leader of all the animals. He is tyrant. Equality amongst the animals is out, and the pigs use and abuse the rest of the animals on the farm. The pigs use the other animals for their own purposes and discard them if they are no longer useful.

Most of us know what itís like to feel used and abused by others. We have the best intentions and try our best to be helpful but it is taken for granted and we are discarded like a used Kleenex.

It is a well known fact that when people feel they have been used and abused and their good nature exploited they become suspicious, bitter and cautious for fear of being hurt again. Barriers are erected, relationships shunned, because they never want to be used and abused again.

Todayís Gospel reading is the well known story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Today I want to take a slightly different look at this story, especially the woman who comes to the well and Jesusí reaction to her.

Usually we view this woman as a hardened sinner; a shameless marriage wrecker; a woman who goes from one marriage to the next; one man to another; the man she is with at the moment is not even her husband.

Sometimes itís assumed that she is not even divorced from her last husband and has moved in with another man. A great deal has been made of her moral weakness and the lust and promiscuity in her life. Iím not going to make her out to be an angel but I believe there is another side to this woman.

I believe this woman has been mistreated and demeaned. She had been divorced at least five times, and was living with a sixth man. Remember that in Jesusí day, it was the husband who divorced his wife and not the other way around. 

A man could divorce his wife on the smallest pretext. All he had to do was show that there was something "unseemly" about her. Maybe the husband didnít like the way his wife looked first thing in the morning, or the fact that she burnt his toast, or she answered back when he criticised her. To make a divorce effective, all the husband had to do was to call in a male witness, and write out the dismissal notice. There was no advantage in a woman divorcing her husband in those times because where else would she go and how could she support herself. If she had children she would have to leave them with her husband.

A divorced woman lost all status and value in the community. She was seen as a rejected woman. She was a disgrace.  Her own family would not welcome her back. No one would employ a divorced woman. Women were wary of a divorced woman regarding her as a person of low moral values. And often the only way a divorced woman could escape starving to death was to become a prostitute and another manís mistress.

The woman who came to the well that day was a shadow of what God created her to be. She had been used by men, abused by the women in the town. She wanted nothing to do with the righteous woman of the village who delighted in bruising her self esteem. Thatís the reason she came to the well during the hottest part of the day when everyone else was sitting in the shade. She came alone to the well to avoid the scornful glances and the sharp words. She has had enough of that kind of pain being inflicted on her. Lugging a huge water jar to the well and then carrying it home full of water was hard work for the middle of the day, but that was preferred to the abuse she would receive from the villagers.

Little did she know that the visit to the well would change her life. There she met a man Ė a man who was different to everyone else - someone who didnít avoid her, ignore her or speak cruel words to her. He doesnít treat her as someone who had some kind of disease. He is not a user and abuser.

He does something totally unexpected though.
He speaks to her even though it wasnít culturally acceptable for a strange man to talk to a woman like this, let alone this was a Samaritan woman.
He asks her for a drink of water Ė a Jew would never accept a drink from a Samaritan. Samaritans were considered unclean and unholy and anything that they touched or even worse ate or drank from was considered a strict no-no.

But Jesus honours this used and abused woman by striking up a conversation with her rather than doing what other Jews would have done - pretended that she wasnít even there. Jesus has a habit of giving dignity to those whom others have used and abused. At the dinner party of Simon the Pharisee a prostitute gate-crashed the meal, knelt at his feet, wash them with tears, and wipe them with her hair. People looked on aghast that Jesus would have anything to do with this kind of person.

She may be a nobody to everyone else but to Jesus she was a person loved by God but so badly abused by others.

The Samaritan woman feels the warmth in this manís voice and this encourages her to respond by asking,
"Iím sorry did I hear right? You are a Jew and you are asking me to pour you a drink. Since you donít have your own cup do you want to drink from a cup that has been used by a Samaritan? I donít understand."
Here is a person who wants to have an actual conversation with her and not shun her as the rest of the village has done.

Last week we heard about Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a good man, an upright and holy man, a man honoured in the community. So opposite to this woman. Nicodemus seeks out Jesus at night and in the end we arenít too sure how he responded to what Jesus had to say about being "born again". He finds it hard to understand Jesus and what he is offering. But here at the well is a person who is the subject of abuse because no one can see any good in her. Her goodness or lack of it doesnít phase Jesus one bit. He initiates a conversation with her and her life will never be the same again.

He goes on to talk about "life-giving water". "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again.  But no one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life" (John 4:13,14).

What a moment! She doesnít fully understand his words but she understands the heart of the man who is speaking to her. This abused and rejected woman feels the respect and love of the person speaking to her and offering her what no one else can give Ė eternal life. Everyone else had her damned to the fires of hell.

Even when he asks her to go and get her husband she feels comfortable enough to be able to say without any hedging and stumbling over her words that she doesnít have a husband. She had come to the well looking only for water. She encountered the love of God that gives her Ė someone with low self-esteem and low standing in the community - "the living water of eternal life"

Jesus is providing a valuable lesson through this encounter at the well. He is teaching his disciples that even Samaritans can be saved and if Samaritans can be saved so can Romans, Greeks, tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and all those they would normally avoid. No one is outside of the reach of God's love. Jesus came for all people regardless of their standing in society or how bad other people think they are or how low their self esteem might be. Jesus came for all people even those who are confused and muddled about faith and God and his love for them.

Can you see what is happening here in this Gospel story? Jesus knew her all right Ė her religious attitudes, her nationality, the history of her marriages, her living with a man, her low self esteem, her feelings of being used and abused Ė he knew all this and yet he treats her as an equal, as if she was a person worthy of respect, worthy of affection, worthy of God's highest gift Ė eternal life.

We may not think much of ourselves, but Jesus thinks all the world of us.
We may not have anyone to turn to in this world, but rest assured that Jesus is there to warmly accept us and help us to see that he will give us the strength and the power we need to overcome whatever it is that is grieving us.
The good news is that he takes the first step, initiates conversation. He comes to us so that we might come to him.

This can be taken another step further as we look at the people in our community. The church exists here at this place for them. You might say they are the Samaritans in our story Ė Christ has died for them and he is offering them the living water of eternal life. They may not know much about this but thatís why the church exists. Sometimes we are too quick to judge rather than let the grace of God work through us to be accepting and caring.

Itís true - Jesus comes to us so that we might come to him.
But thatís not the end of it. Jesus comes to us so that we might go to others.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th February 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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