1 The Third Sunday in Lent March 23, 2014 Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42 St. John’s Church, Kingsville The Rev’d Timothy E. Kroh In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen. Marginalized persons live with a whole extra set of rules beyond the basic rules of society. They have to know where they can go and where they cannot, know whom they can talk to and whom they cannot. Marginalized people or groups of people have to learn to keep their head down and not cause trouble, to not draw attention and hope to blend in. A marginalized person does not expect the leaders and institutions of society to favor them. Marginalized people have to learn to live with this quiet, but constant, and oppressive, burden in a way that allows them to eek out some kind of survival, physical and spiritual. This is the life of the woman at the well. She is alone; drawing her water after all the other women had come and gone. She couldn't be a part of that daily gathering early in the morning where women would draw water together; so she goes at midday, the hottest time of day, when she would be alone. It is alone in this way, at Jacob’s Well, that she and Jesus meet. Jesus is journeying through Samaria, a territory that held great significance for the Jewish people. Here Jacob purchased a plot of ground, as recorded in the Book of Genesis. (Genesis 33: 18-20) Jacob, on his deathbed, bequeathed the ground to Joseph, and Joseph’s body was brought back from Egypt in order to be buried there. (Joshua 24: 32) There also was Jacob’s Well, more than 100 feet deep, so deep that no one could draw water from it without a bucket and an extremely long rope. This woman and Jesus should have ever met, at least according to common wisdom, let alone converse. The separation of Jews and Samaritans was old, at least 700 years old by the time of Jesus and this woman meet at the well of their common ancestor. In 720 BCE the Assyrians invaded Samaria, and most of the people were taken away as captives, leaving only a few. Into this new part of their empire Assyria sent other captives, non-Jews who intermarried with the remaining Jews. So the Samaritans became impure in the eyes of mainstream Judaism, and when the Second Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem the Samaritans were not allowed to assist in its reconstruction, and not allowed within its precincts. In the end, each group had their own temple: the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, the Jews on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. For all of them, the superiority of Jews over Samaritans would have been a basic fact of life. The Jews believed it, and the Samaritans had to live with it. So we can understand the surprise of the disciples in discovering Jesus talking with such a woman. “Give me a drink,” he says to her. She’s caught off guard, perhaps a little afraid. The cruelty she would have received in her life would have prepared her for the worst from strangers. Who was this man standing here, speaking to her? No one ever spoke to her. As she looks Jesus up and down, she asks, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" Jesus surprises her by responding: "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." Then Jesus reveals what he knows about her past, and even makes a playful joke about her effort to conceal the truth. "You are right in saying, `I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" 2 She is not shamed into running away because Jesus never shames her; he simply reveals that he knows the truth. No judgment, no shame, and yet he knows her. Perhaps no other stranger, knowing her story, ever acknowledged her basic human dignity, except for this Rabbi. This stranger is clearly extraordinary. “I see you are a prophet.” She asks Jesus to resolve the long-standing question: Jews or Samaritans? Which is the correct temple: Gerizim or Jerusalem? But Jesus raises the issue to a new level. He says that true worship will no longer depend on location, but will be a matter of spirit and truth. And in a story full of surprises here comes one of the greatest: when the woman confesses her faith in the messiah to come, Jesus reveals his identity not to his disciples, not to his own people, not to their religious leaders, but to this person who is marginal three times over: a Samaritan, a woman, and a woman with a past. We do not even know her name, but Jesus entrusts her with his deepest secret, the truth of who he is and what he will accomplish. It is to such a woman as this unlikely and faithful soul that Jesus makes his first selfdeclaration as the Messiah. Echoing the God of Exodus, whose Name is “I AM” (Exodus 3: 14), Jesus declares: "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." The conversation ends because the disciples come back from their trip to buy food, and the excited woman leaves her water jar there at the well. It’s valuable, but heavy, and she needs to run back and tell the news. She shouts, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done! Can he be the Messiah?” So a great crowd follows her out to the well. This crowd is so large that Jesus compares it to a field ready to be harvested. This unlikely character becomes a Samaritan apostle, and a highly effective one. She may be a woman of questionable character, or at least she had plenty of experience with the hard realities of life. Yes, her understanding of Jesus and his message is far from complete. But none of that matters because she bears witness based on her personal experience. It is her faith that accomplishes this unlikely transformation. It is her faith that leads Jesus to reveal to her his identity, and it is her faith in Jesus that leads her to throw off all the barriers society placed on her, and share what she has discovered. She has been, in the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, “justified by faith.” (Romans 5: 1) And not only does she point her own people to Jesus, but she shows us how we can do the same. If Jesus has spoken to us and accepted us with love, then we can bear witness to others, just as she did. We don’t need to have our life together in every way. We don’t need to know all there is to know. What we can do is tell others our experience, and leave the results to God. In this way the unlikely woman at the well shows our own calling to bear witness. At one time or another, all of us have felt like the woman at the well. One of the sad realities of both Century Samaria and 21st Century America is that, in both cases, everyone feels marginalized some of the time, and some people feel marginalized all of the time. All of us have felt like we were the ones marginalized. Who among us hasn’t felt the desperation of this woman? “Sir, give me the living water so that I won’t have to keep coming back here day after day.” Lord, give me something, so I won’t have to keep feeling like I’m constantly swimming upstream, so that I won’t always feel as if I am not enough. 1st If we have felt that way from time to time, this woman felt it always. But, in the space of one conversation, her whole life is transformed. She goes from being an outcast among outcasts to being an apostle of Good News and a recipient of the water of life. She has seen Christ because Christ first saw her. It was Jesus who first approached her and asked her for water, and in that meeting Jesus saw through all the barriers that separated them, race, gender, nationality, even propriety. And she becomes bold and courageous enough to share the message. Justified by faith, she became a herald of the Good News of God. 3 Whatever the barriers, Christ Jesus our Redeemer sees a person, a soul, a face and a name. And Jesus calls us each by name, choosing unlikely apostles for the word of life. It is our vocation as the baptized—as the ones who have received the water of life—to keep up this the work of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, the work of breaking down barriers, seeing others as people and souls rather than labels or as less-than, but as sisters and brothers, as ones beloved of God. This is the vocation and the call all of us have vowed in our baptism. In the fifth and final promise in the Baptismal Covenant, we vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and [to] respect the dignity of every human being.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305) This is our call, yours and mine, as disciples of Jesus and as recipients of the water of life. We can stand in the footsteps of Our Lord and of the Samaritan Woman, loving our neighbors as our selves, showing God’s love to others, seeing every human being as God’s Beloved. We do this holy work because, in the words of Paul, “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” (Romans 3:5) and because we have such a perfect example of love and grace, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.