In light of the conversation we had at Bible study last night, I pulled out this sermon from a few years back:
You can still go there you know. To the well in this story. It is located near the town of Neblus, a suburb of Tel Aviv where the people still consider themselves to be Samaritans. Jewish, Christian and even Muslim scholars agree that this well is Jacob’s well where the story in this morning’s gospel takes place.
When we read this scripture in worship, we have two people read the dialogue, because it’s important that we get that this passage is a conversation–the longest recorded conversation that Jesus has with ANYONE in all four Gospels. He talks to her longer than he talks to any of his disciples, any of his accusers, even any of his family.
She was a Samaritan—a half-breed. A part of the Jewish population who had mixed their bloodline and their faith practices with outsiders. She was a woman, with no standing at all in the society of the day, and even worse—a fallen woman. One who had had many husbands—although since it was men and not women who could initiate a divorce in that day, it seems more likely that she was a victim than a temptress or a siren.
She was a triple threat—a fallen, female of Samaria.
She must have been surprised when she showed up at the well. She hadn’t expected to find anyone there at all. Most respectable women came in the morning to fetch the day’s water. The Samaritan woman had waited until noon, possibly to avoid the stares, the whispers, possibly even out and out attacks. But here was this man, just sitting there. And a Jewish man at that.
Imagine her surprise when he asks for a drink. She must have thought that he was addle minded or one who had fallen away from the faith to ask a Samaritan woman for such a thing. Either way, she, who had been through so many men, must have thought that he was hitting on her.
She is the first person in the Gospel of John to whom Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah. Why this woman? Perhaps it’s because she was willing to reveal herself to him. When he tells her to go and call her husband, she could have been evasive, but she tells the truth. She has no husband. Perhaps it is because she is willing to challenge him. When she realizes that he must be a holy prophet, she tells him that her ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but that his people say the only Jerusalem is holy. When she says that she knows a Messiah is coming, Jesus says, “I am he.” It’s the first time he says that to anyone.
It must have been a holy moment. The triple threat Samaritan fallen woman and the Messiah standing face to face with no pretense about who they are.
This is how it still happens today when we encounter the messiah. The Messiah is the one in whose presence you know who you really are—the good, the bad, the all of it and the hope in it. The Messiah is the one who shows you who you are by revealing who he is—crossing boundaries, breaking rules, dropping disguises.
This unnamed woman at the well holds a prominent place in our scriptures. She is the model evangelist. In Southern Mexico, she even has her own special festival day in which people drink specially flavored water to celebrate her contribution to spreading the Gospel. The Orthodox know her as St. Photini, or Svetlana in Russian. Her name means “equal to the apostles,” and she is honored as apostle on the Feast of the Samaritan Woman.
Why is this unnamed triple-threat of a water seeker so honored? I believe it’s because the most effective evangelists today are the ones who are like that very first evangelist. And that’s who she was—the first one to tell the good news that the messiah had come.
The most effective evangelists today are not the ones who say,
“Come to my church. The preacher is good and the people are nice.”
They are not the ones who say,
“You are a sinner and if you don’t repent you’re going to regret it.”
They are not the ones who say,
“You really should start coming to church. It’s important for your kids.”
No, I think the most effective evangelists are like the woman at the well who went to tell the very people who whispered behind her back, who left her off of all the invitation lists, who treated her like less than a person—she went to tell them, “I’ve met a man who knows everything about me. Come and see him.”
I believe that is still the best way to bring people to Christ today. To tell people, “I have had an encounter with the living Christ. He knows all about me. My worries and my warts. My faults and my fumbles. He knows all about me and loves me anyway. He knows all about me. You gotta come and see him.