A sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Somerville, NJ
“Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty.”
It was getting to be the hottest part of the day when Jesus came to the well in a Samaritan town. Now, Jews and Samaritans were neighbors, but they were not friends. They were cousins both ethnically and religiously, but their feud over faith had kept them apart for generations. They avoided each other.
Jesus, as he often did, ignored convention. He did not pay attention to the signs posted all around saying “Samaritans only” or “Jews not allowed”. It was as if he were a black man sitting down at a lunch counter at a whites-only restaurant in the deep South in the 1950s. He didn’t belong. There might be trouble.
This is where this woman encounters him in our reading. He is at this well at the heat of the day. No one comes for water during this part of the day except those who don’t want to talk to anyone, those who don’t like a crowd. She comes when she is likely to be left alone. She’s had enough gossip and name-calling to last her lifetime. But Jesus has made an appointment. Just like he had with Nicodemus who came to him at night to avoid a crowd, Jesus is ready to change her life.
“Give me something to drink.” His words are a command more than a simple request. He begins their conversation with the obvious. “I’m not from these parts. I’m thirsty. I’d like some of your water.”
“Does he know who I am?” she must have asked herself. But she doesn’t go there. Why should she? It’s awkward enough that she, a Samaritan woman, has to interact with a Jewish man all by themselves. She’s long past worrying what people will think. Still, why does he insist on bothering her?
She basically says no to his request. “We shouldn’t be talking…”
Jesus doesn’t debate that point with her. Instead he points beyond the obvious to the truth she doesn’t see. He can offer her more than water from this famous well.
He tries to make things more comfortable, “Call your husband.” That would make things better. She could bring her husband out to meet Jesus. She could let them have a talk and leave her alone!
Ah, but the truth was complicated. She couldn’t bring her husband, not a current one at least.
“Sir, I see that you are a prophet,” may be one of the funniest lines of scripture.
When Jesus points to this shameful, painful truth of her life, she changes the subject, “Let’s debate religion!” How many people enjoy a religious debate? You’re not supposed to bring that up at dinner or even over a ladle full of water. But you might bring it up if you are trying hard not to be shamed by a stranger and, what’s worse, a prophet.
Jesus shuts that conversation down pretty quickly with some pretty ominous words – dark times are coming. Thirsty times are coming. Follow me.
Whether she realized it or not, she was thirsty for more than water. She had been waiting for Jesus for many years, for many marriages. The relationship she had been longing for was here, in the person of this thirsty, Jewish man. This thirsty, Jewish man says he is answer to her prayers. Could he truly be the Messiah, as he claims?
His disciples, as always, are confused. They miss the point. “Um, Jesus, why are talking to that woman? It’s not exactly kosher….” We got some food. Let’s eat…without her…
They aren’t ready to spread the good news, especially in a Samaritan town, but she IS ready.
Jesus had spoken truth into her life. Jesus had treated her not as an outcast but as a confidant. Jesus had understood her thirst, and he didn’t shame her about it. He was honest. He treated her with love. Now, she had to tell someone, even if it was her nosy, scornful neighbors. “Come meet this man!” Can you imagine their response – “another man?” But this man was different, and she was ready to spread the news.
It’s Lent. We are in a season where many of us are thirsty – we may have given things up, fasting from alcohol or dessert or Facebook. Others of us are spending more time in scripture and in prayer, pursuing good deeds and habits, because we know our lives have been a bit out of balance. This is a season of confession. We freely admit we are thirsty. When we come to the Lord’s table, there’s no use denying our hunger and our thirst. God sees it. We want God. We need more of God in our lives. Jesus promises that he alone can supply our needs. He alone can give us the food and drink that bring eternal life. All we must do is admit our hunger and our thirst.
Come, meet the man who changed this woman’s life. Are there truths you need to tell him? He already knows your secrets, and still he offers new life, generously.
All you who are hungry, taste and see that the Lord is good. He’s waiting. He’s offering us all abundant life. Take, eat. Take and drink. Amen.