Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: John 4:5-42
Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (6-7)


To be known is to be loved

A Samaritan woman comes to a well one day doing what she always does – minding her own business, avoiding the busy time of day when all the other women get their water, hoping to get her jug of water and get home with no interruption or hassle from anyone else.  She didn’t want to bump into anyone else on the way and especially at the well. It’s been suggested that she may have passed other sources of water to get to this well. 

Why this avoidance of the other women, going to the well when no-one else would be there?  We learn later that she was caught in a moral dilemma.  Five husbands had divorced her (remember a husband could divorce his wife for the simplest reason) and now she was living with a man who was not her husband.  She may have had a good explanation why she did this – maybe because a woman needed a man otherwise she would be homeless and a beggar. 

Whatever the reason it was still considered a no-no.  We can well imagine she was the brunt of gossip and snickering.  Perhaps this happened within ear shot and the put downs really hurt her.  It could be that the other women avoided her; didn’t include her; looked the other way when they saw her.  Maybe she felt alone and that no-one cared. 

While other women would come to the well in groups chatting and laughing in the cool of the evening; she came at midday, the hottest time of the day. She hoped no-one else would be at the well.  She hoped for a nice casual walk to the well, quietly get her water, and go home.

Her heart must have skipped a beat when she saw a man, a stranger, sitting at the well.  This was all wrong. In those times, men and women didn’t meet like this.  What is more this man is a Jew.  He will just add to her sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem because Jews thought Samaritans were less than the dog-poo stuck on the bottom on their sandals.  They were unclean, heathens, under God’s judgement. 

Back in history, the Jews in the north had intermarried with their pagan conquerors and mixed a lot of heathen religion with their own.  The Jews were quick to point out how wicked the Samaritans were. 

This woman was also a nobody in her own community; regarded as an outsider by her own people.  She was a woman in a man’s world – five husbands have divorced her (a woman could not divorce her husband, but a husband could divorce his wife for the simplest reason).  Now she was living with a man and not married to him which was a complete no-no. Maybe this arrangement was okay for her because of her past bad experiences with husbands and because a woman without a man in those times was homeless, a beggar, without support or a home. 

John, the Gospel-writer, makes her status clear – she has no name, she is a Samaritan woman – inferior to a Jew, an outcast racially, socially, emotionally, spiritually, religiously, and morally. Meeting a Jew at the well had just turned her great day into a nightmare. 

But her fears aren’t realised.  Her first shock is that this Jewish man shows no prejudice or display any fear of becoming unclean because he was sharing the same air and water as a Samaritan. Instead of acting superior and ignoring her, he speaks to her.  Then surprisingly he asks her for a drink of water, something a Jew would never do.  Accepting a cup or plate from a Samaritan was considered worse than eating pork. And as the conversation continues, we find out that Jesus knows all about her, her low reputation, her shady past, her marriage disasters, the social context in which she lives and the traditions that rule her life. 

He knows all about her and she senses that this Jew is different. Normally by now she would be told how disgusting and irreligious Samaritans are, but this Jew is different.  He knows her and is kind to her.  He doesn’t focus on the fact that she is a Samaritan but kindly leads her to see some new truths.  One important one is this – this Jew is the Messiah even the Samaritans have been waiting for.

His request for a drink of water leads to a conversation about a different kind of water.  “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Saving, thirst quenching water is an Old Testament picture for the salvation that God brings to his people.  We cannot live without water.  It is essential for our health and our earthly life.  It washes away what is unnecessary and unclean.  Jesus is the water that gives life that will never end.  He is the water that flows up and floods over us and overwhelms
all that is evil,
all that distresses us and causes us grief,
all that divides and separates us from God and others;
all that brings death into our lives and separates us from true joy.
This is the water of life that quenches our thirsty souls when the power of evil burns deep.

It takes a little while for the penny to drop for the Samaritan woman because at first she only can think of the kind of water that quenches physical thirst – but Jesus gently leads her to the truth.  After a discussion about worship she says, “I know the Messiah is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us”.  This gives Jesus the opening to say, “I am he”.  With this comes the startling realisation that she is talking to the Messiah, she leaves her water jug and runs to the village, “Come, see the man who told me everything I ever did” and I could add “And he doesn’t reject me because of it.  He knows me.  He knows my failures.  He knows my weaknesses.  He knows all that I have done wrong and yet he loves me.  He knows everything about me and still he says, ““I want to give you life!  I want to give you living water. I want you to be free and have life forever”. 

When the whole Samaritan village turns out and declares that they believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the disciples know Jesus has come to love and serve not only the Jews, but also Samaritans, Romans, Greeks, tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, divorcees, gossipers, haters, the lonely, the sick and the morally corrupt. This will mean stepping out of their comfort zone.  This will mean meeting people on their own turf.  Going to where the lepers and the poor and blind and lame and sinners hang out.  For the disciples, it meant going into a Samaritan village.

Remember this woman in the story didn’t go looking for Jesus.  When she got up that morning, she had no idea that there would be a Jew at the well who will interrupt and change her life. As she walked to the well, she was aware of every painful thing that was happening in her life; what she didn’t know was that there was a man at the well who knew every painful moment of her life so well and yet none of that came between him and his love for her.

Jesus meeting with this Samaritan woman, and knowing her and loving her, has a powerful message for each of us. 

Jesus sees and knows us as 
we wonder what God has mind for us and the world as one disaster after another strikes – flood, drought, fire and now a seemingly ever-spreading virus across the world.
Jesus sees and knows the many times we fail to live up to our calling to be like Christ and give in to habitual sins – we know what is the right thing to do, but we make the wrong choices.
Jesus sees and knows how we worry about our young people who believe that there really isn’t any future for their generation – they’ve lost faith in humanity to do the right thing for our world.
Jesus sees and knows when we get so frustrated with the church, it’s slowness to act, the lack of interest by so many, that we start to lose faith in the whole concept that this is God’s Church.
Jesus sees and knows when we try to pray but can’t. We hide the pain and disappointment.  We can’t talk about it.
Jesus sees and knows our hurt and our worries and our anxieties and our failures and loves us.

The woman at the well could have expected only condemnation from the Jewish teacher.  She could have expected him to look down on her and see a filthy, immoral Samaritan.  But he doesn’t.  He doesn’t see a Samaritan divorcee woman.  He sees a person in need.  He sees a person who needs understanding, compassion and love.  She came for water from the well and Jesus promises to give her living water that will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  To have that kind of water means forgiveness, to have filth and dirt and corruption and anxiety and depression and faithlessness and whatever it is that stand between us and true joy, washed away.

Jesus knows us through and through.  There is nothing we can hide from him, as the Samaritan found.  It can be terrifying knowing he can see into the darkest corner of our hearts.  But it’s also a relief knowing that no matter what Jesus sees in us – our past, our failures, our future, our fears, he knows it all and yet his love for us doesn’t change. There may be times when we are pretty hard on ourselves; we may not think much of how we have behaved, the way we have spoken, but Jesus thinks the world of us.

He does this because his grace reaches out to us and covers us with his forgiveness and love, floods us with living water that wells up to eternal life starting now.  He comes to us and loves us so that we might come to him.  He looks at us and doesn’t see our failures but only sees that he has died for us.  We are his and he is love, grace, mercy and salvation to us.

There’s just one more thing.  The reaction of the Samaritan woman to her encounter with Jesus was quite something.  She runs back to the village, to the people who had caused her to come to the well by herself at midday, and she tells them of her amazing experience at the well.  She invites them to come and experience the wonderful love of the man she has come to know as “I AM”, the Messiah, and many believe.  They too experience the love that looks past the fact that they are Samaritans and he is a Jew.

As we journey through Lent, let’s be reminded again of this amazing love of Jesus that knows us through and through and yet loves us warts and all – it’s this love we are called to share.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

15th March 2020

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