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I am he - the one who is speaking to you

The Samaritan Woman at the Well                  

Church of the Holy Spirit 9am & 10.30am

John 4.5-31 & 38-42 & Exodus 17.1-7; 

 

Last week we heard the story of Jesus meeting Nicodemus, a well-respected Pharisee, ‘a teacher of Israel’, who came to find Jesus in the darkness of night, asking questions, but unable to take a public step of faith.

This week, in the full light of the midday sun, Jesus meets a Samaritan (despised by the Jews), who is a woman (men would not normally converse with women, particularly on their own), and a divorcee (several times over)! We’re not told her name, and the fact that she comes to collect water from the well at midday indicates that she was probably an outcast from her own community, since most women would come morning and evening when it was cooler.  Her response to Jesus is very different.

We start with the image of Jesus sitting by the well, waiting for this woman to come along – he knows she’s going to be there.  He knows this woman lives on the margins, and he’s waiting for her to come on her own so that he can reach out to her in love.  He asks her to give him a drink.  Her response is not meek or submissive.  We can imagine her looking Jesus up and down, almost thinking aloud as she asks, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"

Like Nicodemus, she is a genuine seeker for the truth – meeting Jesus gives her the opportunity to ask questions.  Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be ‘born again’ in the spirit and gave him the promise that all who believe in the Son of God will have eternal life.  Jesus offers this woman ‘living water’ (that is, running water, bubbling and moving) which will become “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” in those who accept it.  It’s not just water to be drunk for refreshment, once the gift is accepted it can be a constant spring of water within us.

Whether it’s what Jesus says, or the way he talks to her, the woman’s response is a genuine desire for the refreshment she longs for: ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus then asks her to fetch her husband.  When she admits to having no husband he reveals that he knows about her past husbands, and her current man, to whom she isn’t married. 

Initially, Jesus’ knowledge about her simply makes her realise that he is a prophet – a wise man who knows more than most.  Perhaps he can answer a question that’s always puzzled her?   Her people, the Samaritans, worship God where their ancestors worshipped, on Mount Gerazim, and yet the Jews – “you people”, she says to Jesus – say that Mount Zion, Jerusalem, is the holy place. 

But Jesus says, “that’s not the point – it’s much bigger than that”.  [Verse 23] “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” “God is spirit”, Jesus tells her, “and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

So location doesn’t matter, traditions and rituals don’t matter. And Jesus doesn’t say it here, but Gender doesn’t matter either. None of that matters because the hour is coming. In fact, the hour is now. What matters is not where you worship – but how – we must worship God in spirit and in truth.  That is a helpful message for us today as we face the fact that several people are no longer able to come to worship here with us in church because of the Coronavirus.  Jesus says that it is the way we worship, ‘in spirit and truth’, that is more important than where we worship.

The woman knows that one day the Messiah will come to reveal everything – and when she says this, Jesus makes the crucial point in this story:

“I am he; the one who is speaking to you.”

For the first time we hear Jesus saying the words he’ll repeat several times more in John’s Gospel, “I am” – the words God spoke from the burning bush, when Moses asked who he was speaking to.  No name, just “I am”.

As this startling news sinks in, the woman realises just how significant it was that Jesus knew everything about her.  She leaves her precious water jar behind at the well and runs into the town to tell everyone this extraordinary news.

 "Come and see a man who has told me EVERYTHING I ever did; can – he - be - the Messiah?”   This marginalised woman, beneath respect, is now the first woman missionary!  By spending time with her, showing her love rather than rejecting or condemning her, Jesus, has in fact, spoken to everyone in the village through her.

So she leaves the water jar, which is precious for her, but  represents the daily grind of having to get water from the well,  because she has been able to open herself up to this gift of living water, which is bubbling up inside her, giving her not just life, but also the energy to tell others.  Just like the first male disciples who left their fishing nets, this woman is leaving behind her old life to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

So what about you – and me – we can keep carrying our water jars around, with the water from the well, or we can open ourselves up to the spring of living water which Jesus offers. 

And it is offered to all of us – not just those who tick the right boxes, and do the right things.  Jesus stopped on his journey in order to speak to this woman who didn’t measure up to the moral standards of her day, and because he engaged with her, she was able to engage with him.  And he used her to bring to good news to her whole village.

I ask you, and I ask myself: what is your water jar – my water jar, the one that weighs us down and takes us away from God?  Can we leave our jars to one side and listen to the voice of Jesus who is offering us Living Water.

If we allow that spring to bubble up inside us today maybe we can have the confidence to go out and share the good news with others.  At this time particularly, reaching out with the promise of Living Water for those who are anxious and afraid, tell them of that “spring of water gushing up to eternal life”.

 

Jesus, give us the grace to leave our water jars behind with you at the well. You know what we need and you want to give it to us. Help us to trust that you will take care of both our physical and spiritual needs. Give us the courage to let go of our anxieties and trust in You.