Well, somewhere around the year 30 AD, Jesus and the disciples were traveling throughout Israel and preaching the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom.
This was happening against the backdrop of the Roman Empire and their occupying forces, so you could say it was the best of times and the worst of times.
And because Jesus, in our gospel reading for today, is traveling from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to Mount Gerizim in Samaria, we could call today’s reading a tale of two mountains.
In today’s scripture reading, John introduces us to one of the most memorable people in scripture.
I just love this passage, love spending time with this.
This woman whose name we don’t even know, and I can’t wait.
It’ll be one of the first questions when I get to heaven.
What’s her name.
She lived in the city of Sychar in Samaria, and she was pretty much your average woman, except for one thing.
She had been married five times, which was as unusual back then as it is now.
We don’t know how old she was, but she probably got married for the first time around age 14, and if you figure an average of five years per husband, she’s probably in her late 30s, early 40s at least.
And I mention this because for some reason I’ve always pictured her in my mind as young, but she probably wasn’t.
She was probably about the same age as Jesus, probably maybe a little bit older, sort of leaning into middle age, and she felt old and tired and worn out.
She lived near Mount Gerizim, which was the mountain that the Samaritans worshipped on, not far from Jacob’s well, a well that Jacob himself had dug over a thousand years before, which we read about in the book of Genesis.
And the region was so full of history and memories, which people took pride in.
They took pride in their heritage.
And the Samaritans were people who had survived somehow.
Remember the Samarias in the north.
We’ve talked about the north and in the south, and the Samaritans had Assyrians invade from the north.
And the northern kingdom fell before the southern kingdom did.
So they had the Assyrians from the north, and then they got the Babylonians in from– well, actually, the other side.
There we go– from the east.
And the people there in Samaria had survived by intermarrying with the invaders and doing business with the Assyrians.
And so they were no longer either fully Jewish or fully Gentile.
And the Jewish people in the South looked down their noses at them for intermingling with the enemy.
For this woman, for all the women of the city, the daily trip to the well was sort of the highlight of their day.
I mean, they spent most of the time working in the house, but once a day they grabbed their water jars and went out and traveled up the mountain to Jacob’s well to get water.
And as they went, they would laugh and talk and catch up on the latest gossip.
“How’s Aunt Mary.
How are the kids.
” And because the weather was usually hot, the women went early in the morning while it was still cool.
But the woman in our story today did not go to the well in the morning.
She went around noon because the women in the city didn’t like her.
She was the subject of some of the gossip that they shared.
I mean, really, five husbands.
I mean, nobody knows why she’d had five husbands, whether she was divorced, whether she was widowed many times.
But if only one of those marriages had ended in divorce, it would have been socially unacceptable.
And at this point, it didn’t really matter anyway, because now she was living with a man she wasn’t married to, and that simply wasn’t done.
She was no longer welcome among the respectable people.
She came to the well in the heat of the day, day so she wouldn’t have to put up with their looks and their accusations.
And in a way, after all these years, she kind of liked having some time to herself.
Sometimes she walked up the path to Jacob’s well.
Sometimes she thought about her ancestors who had walked that path before her.
Jacob, the patriarch, the one they called Israel, whose name means “He wrestles with God.
” She could relate to that.
Standing in the place where Israel stood, she sometimes wrestled with God herself.
And when she thought about all the generations that had gone before, she felt proud.
Proud to be a Samaritan.
Socially acceptable or not, she was a good and loyal Samaritan.
Meanwhile, on another mountain in Jerusalem, Jesus had just finished having a conversation, talk with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus.
And like the woman, Nicodemus had walked up a mountain alone at an odd hour, and in his own way he too was wrestling with God.
Jesus had talked with him and done his best to answer all the unasked questions, and he challenged Nicodemus to consider a new way of life.
And now Jesus and the disciples were on their way home to Galilee, and they set out northward, and at midday the disciples went to grab a bite to eat while Jesus rested by Jacob’s well.
On this day, a day that started out like any other day, the woman of Sychar arrived at the well around noon, found a strange man sitting there.
This was not a good thing.
In that culture, first off, a woman would never be caught traveling alone, number one.
And secondly, this man was bigger and stronger than she was, and she had no idea what his intentions were.
This was a dangerous situation.
And she was about to turn around quietly and head back down the path, but it was too late.
He’d spotted her.
Now if he was a respectable man, he’d just ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there, but no such luck.
“Give me some water,” he said.
Didn’t say please.
Didn’t say, “Hi, how are you.
” Just a demand from a man who, judging by his accent, had no business talking to a Samaritan in the first place, which she figured she’d better remind him of.
And she said to him, “How is it that a Jew like you is talking to a Samaritan woman and asking for her, asking her for a drink.
Now if this conversation had taken place in our time, she might have said, “Hun, do you know who you’re talking to.
” Interestingly, that’s exactly the question that Jesus answers.
He says, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask him for water, living water, the gift of God.
” And she thought to herself, “Now that’s a daring answer, bit crazy, but daring.
This man was different.
He said weird things.
She kind of liked him.
“Sir,” she said, using the Greek word kyrie, as in kyrie eleison, meaning “Lord.
” Kyrie, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.
How and where are you going to get this living water.
And she teased him a little, saying, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who’s well this is.
” And Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give will never thirst again.
The water I give will become on the inside of them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.
” He was clearly making some kind of an offer, but what exactly was he offering.
She didn’t understand, but suddenly she felt thirsty, not for water, but for hope.
Thirsty for something to believe in.
So she decided to take a chance on whatever it was he was talking about.
She would accept his offer, “Kiriye, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty or come here to draw again.
And Jesus said, “Go back, call your husband.
” Those words cut like a knife.
Why did he have to go there.
The conversation had been friendly so far.
She’d actually begun to feel like he respected her a little bit.
Why was it that people couldn’t leave the marriage subject alone.
Why couldn’t people just see her as her.
Why was it that every time something important needed to be talked about, a man would push the woman aside and insist on talking to another man.
She could barely hold back her anger as she spat out the words, “I’m not married.
Three words, no Kyrie.
Well said, Jesus replied.
You’ve had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband.
What you’ve said is true.
“And she could feel the rocks shifting under her feet.
Who is this man.
How does he know this.
And wait, he knows all this about me and he’s not going anywhere.
He’s not judging me, he’s still talking to me.
Kyrie, she said, I can see that you’re a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped here on this mountain, but you Jews say we have to worship in Jerusalem.
What’s up with that.
Can you explain that to me.
Now this question may sound like a dodge or a change of subject, but it isn’t, not really.
For starters, the husband situation was old news as far as she was concerned.
If Jesus could live with it, so could she.
Secondly, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I mean, if any of us had the opportunity, had the chance to ask just one question of a famous man of God, like Billy Graham or C.S.
Lewis, would you ask him how to improve your marriage.
Or would you ask him the one burning question you’ve always had that nobody else has ever been able to answer.
Besides, she was giving Jesus the chance to show what he was really made of.
Would he bad mouth the Samaritans, her people.
Or would he speak words of peace.
So she asked the number one question on her heart, “What does God really require of us.
” Good question.
Apparently Jesus thought so too, because he went on to explain how even though salvation is from the Jews, the time is coming, and indeed had come, when neither Mount Gerizim nor the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would be the place to worship, because people would worship God in spirit and in truth.
In the deepest part of her soul, the woman knew that what Jesus was saying was true.
This is right, she thought.
It’s the answer I’ve been looking for, even if I don’t quite understand it.
So she said, “I know Messiah is coming, and when he comes, he’ll explain it all.
” And Jesus said, “I am he,” using the words that are the holy name of God, “I am.
” She suddenly realized that she was looking into the human face of God.
She forgot all about that water jug, and I don’t think Jesus ever got that drink.
The woman didn’t know it at the time, but she was the first person Jesus ever told that he was the Messiah.
And she ran with that message back to the city, back to her people.
You might say she was the first Christian evangelist.
She told everyone she knew, this man told me everything I ever did.
Could he be the Messiah.
And her words were welcomed with joy.
She was no longer an outcast.
And the Samaritans who would never have offered a Jew so much as a glass of water, offered Jesus and the disciples food and places to stay in their homes for the next two days.
while Jesus visited them and taught them about the kingdom of God.
And Jesus and the disciples did what good Jewish boys would never have done.
They went into the homes of Samaritans and accepted their hospitality.
And that woman from the well, she never stopped talking about the day she met Jesus.
For today, for us, I would just point out three things from this story.
There’s so much richness in this passage, but three things for today.
First, look at the way faith is shared in this story.
The woman’s message to her people was very simple.
“Come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done.
” And then she followed it with a question.
He couldn’t be the Messiah, could he.
And it’s interesting that she puts her question in the negative.
She doesn’t ask, “Is this the Messiah.
” She says, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he.
” Psychologically, though it kind of makes sense, ’cause if we ask, “Is this the Messiah.
” The human tendency is to find reasons why he’s not, to kind of argue with that idea.
But if we ask, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he.
” It leaves the door open to a yes.
Secondly, Jesus ignores every social barrier.
It does not matter to him that men aren’t supposed to talk to women in public.
It does not matter to him what her reputation is.
It doesn’t matter to him that she’s a Samaritan.
He could, if he chose to, could have looked on her as a foreigner, a sinner, a breaker of the law of Moses, a woman condemned by society, the lowest of the low.
Instead, Jesus loves her.
and he acts like the social barriers aren’t even there.
Jesus treats her with respect and leads her to God.
And wherever Jesus’s story is told, wherever the Bible is read, this woman’s story is told along with it.
And third, finally, Jesus shares with her God’s purpose for all of God’s people.
Jesus says, “The hour is coming and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
So no matter who we are, no matter where we’ve been, no matter what we’ve done, Jesus calls each one of us to leave whatever’s in our past behind and walk a new life of faith.
Each one of us is loved and accepted at the foot of the cross.
And that’s the whole point of Lent, to see ourselves through God’s eyes, to acknowledge where we’ve fallen short, to receive forgiveness and welcome so that we can worship God in spirit and in truth, and then go out to share the good news and break down the barriers of injustice so that everyone can hear God Jesus’ words.
Amen to that.
[ Silence ].