University Congregational Church
July 10, 2016
“We Heard it From a Woman”
John 4: 5-15, 25-29
Today we are embarking on a new series! For the remainder of the summer, Paul and I will share either a movie or a story with you during the sermon time. So much theology is captured in movies and it is a dynamic way to consider ethics and theology. In a previous congregation, we often watched movies together and then had a conversation about the spiritual overtones and who the Christ figure was. Many of them talked about how much they received from these multi-sensory explorations of faith (I got the impression that they liked watching movies a bit more than listening to sermons!)
Jesus told stories to his contemporaries to teach difficult ideas. He didn’t often explain his stories and that is part of the beauty of them. For each hearer, there may be a different way to understand and connect the story to our lives. So, to kick off this dramatic sermon series, we’re starting with a story.
This story is a special one to me. It was written specifically for my ordination by my favorite New Testament professor, Dennis Smith, and an internationally known storyteller, Barbara McBride Smith. They chose a text from John 4 about the Samaritan woman at the well. I always identified with this woman who was living in a man’s world because I grew up in a conservative church where women were 2nd class citizens and where my call to ministry was never affirmed. This story shows Jesus’ radical stepping out of societal boundaries to speak to a
1. Samaritan (ooh, those are some nasty people),
2. a woman (known as property and not worth the time to talk to),
3. and an ill-reputed woman (married multiple times and currently living with someone else),
well, it was scandalous! So here is the Biblical story…
So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks, drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.” 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.”
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.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
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?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
This story is astonishing among the gospel stories for its sheer length … and for how elaborate it is. Typically, biblical stories are cryptic and rushed. The gospel writers always seem in a hurry to move a story to its climax. Here, however, we encounter a story that dawdles, a languid story, as slow and sultry as a day in Palestine. The story lingers at the well, lingers over a conversation, lingers over details. Furthermore, the story features two unlikely protagonists who, astonishingly, linger in each other’s company. In this case, the gospel writer invites us, those who are listening to or reading this story to join him, to pause here, as he pauses, so that we, too, might linger at this well.
As we visit here, I invite you to consider this: the story beckons to us to approach the well that stands between Jesus and the woman, and to bend over and to look down into it. We are invited to look into this deep well and to see there our own reflection … to see ourselves reflected in the story.
Gathering water from the well. Can you imagine what that must have been like? First of all, you had no other water available in the house except what you brought from the well. Second, the well was not exactly next door, but was quite a walk away. Third, it was the women who had the job of bringing the water. The men had more important things to do: They had to get together with all the other men in the village square.
Now, as far as the men were concerned, everything important took place in their part of the world. They discussed world events, crops, and even religion – what the law really means and how important it was to know why the Samaritans are right and the Jews are wrong. They rarely discussed these things with the women – after all, what did they know? Everything important belonged to the world of the men. If anyone important ever came to their village, you can bet he would show up at the village square – that’s where the action was.
Meanwhile, back at the house, the women went about their tasks. One such woman is the “she-ro” of our story. She had been the first one out of bed that morning. She lit the fire, began breakfast, waked the kids, roused her husband, finished breakfast, broke up a fight among the two brothers, served breakfast, cleaned up a mess made by the youngest, cleaned the table, washed the dishes, entertained the kids for an hour, sent them out to play, and finally had sat down to rest briefly before going about her next task. Meanwhile, her husband went out to do man’s work – he went to the village square to talk over important events with the “boys.”
Now it was time to get water for the evening. She got the huge water gar and swung it up to her head. If was easy to carry now – it was empty – but it would be quite a load when she returned. As she walked out to the well, her mind began to wander as it often did on this regular walk to the well. She passed other women returning from the well, and she saw herself reflected in their images. Women walking carefully and skillfully along the uneven ground, balancing a heavy water jar on their heads, moving along as if the jar were a fancy hat. But of course, it wasn’t – it was a heavy weight that could give you a neck ache for weeks if you so much as slipped on a pebble and lost your balance.
Women had been carrying water this way for generations – ever since Rachel and before that. In fact, it was at this very well that Rachel had met her future husband, Jacob. She thought of that story as she walked to the well. Maybe this would be her lucky day as well! Maybe she would meet a man who would take her away from all this! Yeah, right!
When she arrived at the well, someone was already there. He was a traveler who was passing through and had stopped to rest. She could tell by his dress that he was not from Samaria – he was a Jew. She shuddered, hoping she would not have to talk to him. Jews could be such difficult people to get along with. She walked to the part of the well that was farthest away from him and set down her jug so she could lower it down to draw water.
They he spoke to her. The nerve! “I want a drink,” he said. Typical of a man not to be able to get a drink for himself without the help of a woman! But, why would a Jew be speaking to her anyway, even if he was thirsty?
“You know, it’s not polite for a Jew to talk that way to a Samaritan, especially when you are here in my country. You want to withdraw that question” We can pretend it never happened.” Then he got even more weird. Didn’t she know who he was? Why, if he wanted to, he could get even better water than this. He knew where he could get spring water, the purest kind, and it would come direct from God. Then he said, “Everyone who drinks of this well water will be thirst again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. She took a closer look at him. Why, he must be some kind of holy man, she thought, one of those crazy people who walk through the countryside talking to themselves. She decided to test him.
“Sir,” she said, “give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Then he made a typical good ole boy move. “Go get your husband,” he said. “I will talk to him.” Of course – if there was something important to talk about, he would have to talk with the man of the house. She began to lose interest in the entire conversation. If he wanted to talk to the men, he could find them himself! She was not about to leave her water jug and go running off to find some buddies for him to jaw with!
“I don’t have a husband,” she blurted. She hoped this would put him off so she could be on her way. “That’s right,” he said. “You don’t have a husband – you have had five husbands. That means you can’t even call the man you are living with now a husband!”
What a low blow! How did he know so much about her? And what did he know about how hard it was to be a woman in this world? She had mouths to feed – and she did it the only way she could. After all, a woman could not make it on her own in this world. She always had to depend on a man – even if some men were just not dependable.
And besides, it was a man’s world anyway. A woman could not always control what happened to her – she had to get by the best she could. How could he have the nerve to blame her? If he was so knowledgeable about her, surely he knew why she did what she did.
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet,” she said. “If you are a prophet, then answer this question. We Samaritans have always worshiped at this mountain. But you Jews say that people can only worship God in Jerusalem. Which is right?”
“Neither,” he said, “A new day is coming when we will all worship together. It won’t be at this place of that, but it well be wherever we are. Because it will be a new kind of worship.”
She paused and stared intently at him. She knew exactly what he was saying. He might be surprised to know it, but she was a fair scholar of the Bible. “I know that such things will happen when the Messiah comes,” she said. “That is who I am,” he said. She was stunned. This was almost too much to take in. Could it be? Could he be the one?
Then it came to her. Of course, who else but the Messiah would have spent so much time talking with a woman and overturned generations of tradition in the process? As she stood there dazed, they were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of his companions. They brushed past her and looked at her as if she did not belong there. They could not understand why Jesus had spent so much time with a woman. They had their own ideas about the proprieties of his mission.
The woman left her water jug, ran back to the village, and did something she had never done before. She burst into the village square, right in the midst of the men, and told them the news. At first they were startled that she had the nerve to speak out so boldly in the presence of men. But when they heard what she had to say, that she had met the Messiah, they decided that this was too important to ignore, so they followed her to meet this strange person.
And Jesus began to teach his disciples with a story. “It is like a harvest,” he said. “You will find yourselves harvesting what others have planted.” Then he asked those men from the village how they had known where to find him. “Well, we heard from the woman, but we don’t put any credence in what a woman says, so we had to come and see for ourselves.” He sighed and looked at the woman, and maybe he smiled. They just didn’t get it – but he did.
Story by Barbara McBride- Smith and Dennis Smith