Woman at the Well.

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2014-03-23 by bean481

Preacher: Cheryl Nimz
23rd March 2014
Reading: John 4:1-42

John 4:1-42

1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—
2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.
3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria.
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.
18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,
29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.
38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”
40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.
41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

I have a couple confessions to make. First – for those who know me, I have a hard time concentrating on say…..pretty much anything let alone passages of scripture so I have to admit that Mike came up with most of this. Second confession – Growing up, I always had a hard time with this story of the woman at the well and I will tell you why later on.

Let’s take a look at the passage.

Samaritans – members of a particular ethno-religious community based in the area of Israel, primarily near Mt. Gerazim. They also lived in their own villages throughout the region near Jerusalem. The Jews and Samaritans shared a common heritage, which we encounter in the John text for today. They differed from the Jewish people in their regard of the Temple in Jerusalem and Mt. Gerazim. They also had different legal traditions regarding cleanliness. Generally, the two groups stayed away from each other. The Jewish people, in particular, held a very negative view of the Samaritans. They were half-breeds and were really to be distrusted. The Jewish people considered the Samaritans to be foreigners in spite of their shared heritage. Jesus itinerary of travel, according to the Gospel of Mark would indicate that Jesus trek to Jerusalem avoided the Samaritan areas, as would be the custom of Jewish people of the day.

A quick side-note: As I was reading about the Samaritans and Jews and their disdain for each other, I thought how after thousands of years, people really haven’t changed. In America, any ethnicity other than Caucasian is looked upon as a 2nd class citizen. In Canada, it’s the First Nation community that are looked down upon with disgust. I really don’t understand how people can treat each other that way. But I digress.

Going back to the text –
The text does say that it was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria on this trip. This is significant in that it meant there was a purpose to what Jesus was doing. It makes his journey one of mission, going out to meet people and it is suggested one of peace. Jesus went through Samaria in order to bring his presence to all the descendents of Jacob, at least in this context. I personally think that Jesus was a trouble maker in time going against the status quo.

Jesus is tired and stops at a well in the city of Sychar. Now this just isn’t any well. It’s important that we know it is Jacob’s Well and plays a significant role.
It is the place where Jacob met Rachel, the woman he loved. (Gen. 29:7) It has the significance in understanding as a place of marriage. It can also suggest a betrothal of Jesus to the people. The references to marriage and the allusion to the nuptials of God and His people would be something that the first hearers of this story would recognize.

Jesus strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman coming to collect water. He says “Give me some water to drink” Isn’t that kind of bossy? I mean really… he doesn’t even say please! If I was that woman, my first reaction would be – go get it yourself, you can’t even ask politely!

The first thing that catches her off guard is that fact that a Jewish man is talking to her without her husband around, or maybe even that fact that a Jewish man is talking to a Samaritan. Then he asks her to get him a drink of water. Jews did not share eating or drinking vessels with foreigners. This would make them unclean, yet Jesus asks to do just that. What would surprise the hearers of the story is the offense that Jesus makes by talking to a woman whose husband or male family member is not around. If someone else saw what was happening, it would be assumed that he was soliciting a prostitute.

Their conversation continues – They talk about water and that the water Jesus can give will never leave her thirsty. They discuss her relationships.

This is the longest discourse between Jesus and anyone that we have in the Bible, including his disciples. This should make it significant. What surprises the woman is that Jesus knows a great deal about her. He knows her past and her present, even though he has just met her.

One noted pastor used this passage for two messages. The first message was about how incredible God is in the fact the He will search one out regardless of what it takes. This has some very interesting sub-texts in the message. The most prominent would be that of election, that there are certain people who are to be in heaven and others who are not. In this exercise, the pastor talks about how incredible God really is for His ability to seek someone out, regardless of their past or present and bring them into the kingdom.

In the second message, he talks about the serial thirst that the woman at the well had for sex and relationships. His approach has to do with the depths of human depravity and how it takes awareness of that depravity before we can begin to comprehend the grace of Christ. He talks about five failed marriages, as though it was her fault. He goes on to talk about how sinful the woman is. He casts all kinds of allusions on what kind of person she is, her depraved sexual sin, how she may be unable to maintain a relationship because of the men she picks, how she is just some wonton woman.

But, this pastor never talks about what life would have been like for this woman in the first century. He compares her to women of today and measures her by that standard. It is as though he assumes that this woman had the same advantages and choices that women today have. He assumes that everything has happened to this woman was her doing, her fault, if you will. But, Jesus never tells this woman that she is being sinful. Never in this text does he tell her to go and sin no more. He never says that what has happened to her was her own fault.

This woman lived in a time and place where she had very few options in life. She lived in a time and place where she could not own property, but was considered to be property. Her options for making a living were very limited, with the only one that would bring in enough income to survive being prostitution. She was in a position that if she didn’t have a husband, a man, or a male family member who provided a home and food she would be completely destitute, living on the streets, begging for food.

I would bet she had no family and no children. We don’t know if her husbands had died or divorced her. We don’t know how old she was. We don’t know if she had just out lived all her husbands. Life expectancy was not all that long in the first century. Men died frequently and often early due to work accidents, wars or disease. She would not have been able to seek a divorce, except in extreme circumstances, so it would have been up to the men to seek a divorce. Women had no ability to speak in court and had no say in what happened. Divorces were fairly common at that time, so she could have been divorced all those times. Divorces were sought for all kinds of silly reasons, like the woman not being pretty enough, or being a bad cook.

What we can probably get from the text is that she was a woman who had a difficult life. It isn’t easy to go from one relationship to the next. I would venture a guess that going out and getting water was getting to be more and more difficult, since in verse 15 she said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water. We know that it is mid-day when she is getting the water, which should indicate something about her situation, but since we don’t know the social protocol of that time we can’t tell for sure why she was there at that time of the day. Some would suggest that she is trying to avoid other women by coming at that time, but we just don’t know. It was most common for women to go to the well early in the day.

Now at the beginning of the talk I said I had problem with this passage and I said I would tell you why? Well it’s not just because I thought Jesus was being bossy, it’s because all I heard when I grew up was how sinful this woman was. There seems to be more discussion on the woman’s sinfulness than on anything else, as far as commentaries and sermons are concerned. One suggests that when Jesus talks to the woman about her five husbands and the man she lives with, she changes the topic to talk about religion and the idea that Jesus is a prophet. I don’t believe that the change of topic needs to point out that the woman is avoiding the conversation about her past, but really more of a growing recognition of who she may be talking to. She has started to recognize something significant about who he is, a prophet is what she first says. Since she sees him as a prophet, and a Jewish one, it would be natural to want to talk about the topic of worship and in a way about God.
Ultimately, through her understanding, she believes she is talking to a prophet and then moves on to believe that he is the Messiah. She takes him at his word It may be in the way that he somewhat denounces the religious traditions of both the Jews and the Samaritans as missing the mark and pointing to a new and more appropriate way of worshipping God. It may be that he knows so much about her without her telling him of her past. Whatever it is, she recognizes something very special about who he is and runs off to the city to tell everyone who will hear about who she met.

This also raises some questions, if she is as bad as everyone claims she is, why would anyone from the city listen to her what she has to say? I would think that they would just write her off as trying to get attention or to try and get them not to gossip about her. Although, if she is way off base on this one, they would have more to gossip about. She is very excited about who she has just met. After all, she left her water jar by the well as she ran back to the city. But, as she pronounces whom she has met, she plays it smart. I am sure they were caught up a bit by her excitement, but she asks them find out for themselves and make up their own minds. This is very clever. She doesn’t ask them to just accept what she is saying, but I would venture to guess that she believes they will understand what she understands.

After the people of the city come out to see for themselves, they invite Jesus and the disciples to the city of Sychar. Jesus and the twelve spend two days there. This certainly would have defiled them, according to the leaders in the Temple, if they knew. But, it seems to be of no concern to Jesus. We don’t hear anything of the disciples being opposed to their adventures there, either. It becomes another event in a line of events in the growing attention of Jesus and what he had to bring.

After looking closely at this passage, there is so much more to it than a sinful Samaritan woman or a psychic Jesus. John uses the different contrasts – In this one, water from the well versus “living water”, food to eat versus the food that the disciples do not know about, that food being the will of God. There is also the idea of worship as we know it (as in a place or building) and that of the worship in spirit and truth. It starts to point to the understanding that there is life in God that we cannot always understand.

Maybe there is something that needs to be considered when we talk about faith – our faith in particular. Jesus gives us the bread of life and living water and maybe this understanding needs to be taken further. Our faith, our witness in spirit and truth is just that, a whole life witness to life itself. And it is this act of worship, this act of proclaiming the existence of God through the affirmation of life in ourselves and others that is truly exciting. Amen.


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