Leaving Your Water Jar

The readings for the Third Sunday of Lent Year A.


So Jesus went to Samaria and sat down at Jacob’s Well. 
In fact, not only did he happen to go to Samaria, but the verse before the beginning of today’s reading says that Jesus HAD to go to Samaria.

Jesus in the Gospel of John always knows what’s going on - what’s going to happen and what people are thinking and who they really are. So there must have been a reason why he HAD to go to Samaria and sit down at Jacob’s well.

And he did have a reason. It wasn’t about geography, either. He went to have an encounter with a woman who belonged to a group of people who were not friendly with Jews. The Samaritans, also Abrahamic people, had theological differences with Jews, a falling out that went back hundreds of years, after the return of the Exiles from Babylon, over where the proper place of the worship of God was supposed to be.

Jesus didn’t have to go to Samaria and meet a woman at Jacob’s well in order to end a theological fight, however.  He went - he had to go - because there was someone there who needed him.

In our history as Christians, the woman in this story has often been cast as a sinner. Just like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at a dinner, like Mary Magdalene the apostle to the apostles. These characterizations have been repeated and stuck, unexamined. 

But nowhere does Jesus call this woman a sinner; nowhere does the author of the Gospel of John call her anything but a Samaritan woman, and that was bad enough. She was a member of the enemy tribe. She is not Elizabeth Taylor minus three. Women in first Century Palestine were the property of men who could abandon them for any reason. She could have been in a Levirate marriage. She may have been repeatedly widowed - life expectancy in those times was hardly what it is now. She may have been abandoned and then picked up by someone who was willing to take her in but not to marry her. Women didn’t always get to choose where they lived or with whom. 

The point is, this woman was not a wanton sensualist. She was trapped, and perhaps victimized, by her circumstances just as was the woman with the issue of blood and the man who was born blind. We don’t know the specifics of her story and we don’t have to know, but Jesus does. And he HAS to go and meet her.

He has to go meet her in the brightest lightest part of the day and show her that he knows her, he understands her, that he accepts her, even though she is from a hated group, that he wants her to experience God so that she can be transformed, set free, and become who she was made to be. 

A few weeks ago, we heard the story of the calling of the first disciples and how Jesus asked them to come and see and how they then began to bring others to Jesus by inviting them to come and see, too. 

Now we see this woman doing the same. After her encounter with the living God,  (I am! he says to her - the first time Jesus identifies himself as God, I AM, in this Gospel), she becomes an evangelist. She invites others to come and see this man who has changed her life by treating her with dignity. She’s not a sinner, at least not any more of a sinner than I am or you are. 

She is an evangelist.

And so this story is not about morality. It is about identity. The woman leaves behind her water jar, and invites everyone she knows to come and see Jesus.  She is no longer a victim, she is no longer in bondage to whatever it is that has put her in her situation. She is transformed and she invites others to experience Jesus for themselves so that they can be transformed, too.

Not quite the same as the experience Jesus had last week with Nicodemus, in the dark.

Jesus says, I will give you living water and it will become IN YOU a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. And she leaves her water jar, her ordinary duties, her chores, trappings of her old identity, behind, because she doesn't need a water jar for living water, and goes out with joy and excitement to invite others to come and see.

What if you felt that Jesus really knew you and didn’t judge you? What if you came to see that Jesus asks you to tell your story of transformation? What would you be able to - or maybe have to - leave behind because you don't need it to get what you really want, and go out with joy to become an evangelist, to invite others by your words and deeds to come and see, to come and experience unconditional love, acceptance, dignity for themselves? What could you leave behind?

Would it be anger? Moralism? Arrogance? Self-hatred? Would it be a bunch of “supposed to’s” and “shoulds?” Would it be fear?

And what kind of church must we be so that others can experience unconditional love, acceptance, and dignity here? Is the Lord among us or not?

Can we tap into that living water that gushes up IN US into eternal life and offer it to those who are not only thirsty but who are yearning for a new identity while being trapped by their circumstances, who are wandering in their own wildernesses for whatever reasons, reasons that we do not have to judge? What would we as a church need to leave behind so that we could transcend our own circumstances and live into our identity as a faithful witness to the one who made us, who sustains us, who has redeemed us with his very life?

Can we accept that water when it is offered to us?

It is not easy to let go of the stuff that traps us and keeps us from being fully alive, which is, according to Irenaeus, the glory of God, a human being fully alive. 

And here is my testimony. I know I spent fifteen years away from organized religion because I needed to hang on to my bad experience of the church during the Civil Rights era. I hung on to that experience and let my anger about it simmer because it distracted me from something far worse, my own self-identity as someone who was unworthy and unlovable by God.

But somehow I got found and I did come and see and I got a taste of that living water and it did gush up in me - so much that it came out of my eyes in the form of tears of grief and relief and gratitude.  I experienced a new identity as someone who is beloved, no strings attached, no transaction necessary. 

And it was the church and the people in the church who invited me and accepted me, who healed me of my anger at the church and at the people of the church and at God.

God loves you. God loves you so much that God HAD to come to you, HAD to come to us, to set us free so that we can be fully alive. 

Thanks be to God!


Bill Bynum said…
Thanks for a deeply meaningful sermon with a positive, spiritually uplifting message. Just what I needed. Somehow the Lenten season brings out a lugubrious part of my personality that definitely should not be encouraged.
Thanks, Bill. Sorry to hear Lent has that effect on you but I guess it's good to know about yourself!