1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither…
You can’t read this story without marveling at Jesus’ willingness to ignore the propriety of the culture in those days. What is he doing in Samaria in the first place? A Jew didn’t associate with Samaritans because Samaritans were half Assyrian conqueror and half Jewish. Secondly, they worshiped on Mt. Gerazim rather than in Jerusalem. They were unclean because of their mixed blood and mixed religious practice. Not only that, it was unthinkable for a Jewish man to openly talk to a Samaritan woman. A single Jewish man wasn’t supposed to talk to any woman, much less a Samaritan. Not only was it bad enough that he talked to a Samaritan woman, she was a loose Samaritan woman at that. Or at least she was perceived that way. Remember Deuteronomy 24:1 allowed men to divorce their wives ‘if they did not please them.’ She may have been unjustly divorced the first time (or the first two times) and thought, hey, what is there to lose now? I’ve already come this far, there is no redemption for me.
It is significant that she comes at noon. No one came to a well at noon. Noon was the heat of the day. Noon was a time to be inside resting. The community of women would come first thing or when it was cooler. This woman came because she did not want to be seen. For shame and cultural propriety. 5 times married. Jesus went out of his way to ignore the religious and cultural barriers to offer her living water. The woman was probably confused at first and may have even thought Jesus was looking for a date. A well was a common place to meet people. Don’t forget Jacob himself found his wife at this very well. And when Jesus asked about her husband, and she said, ‘I have no husband,’ she may have been giving him an invitation. But that was not Jesus intent. He broke all rules of the religiously correct to reach into this woman’s world and heal her. His intent was to change her life—to bring her freedom.
Jacob’s well was an important place. It was the well that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. It represented the calling of Israel for Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. It was a tie to holy and ancient past. It was a well that had been there as a reminder of God’s care for his people. It was almost like a shrine of God’s pouring out of the waters of his blessing. What does Jesus offer immediately to this woman? Living water, water that when you drink it, you never thirst again.
A few reflections. First, where is Samaria to you? What part of the world, the country, what part of the city? Why is that place or that people off limits to you?
In a meeting the other day I was reminded of an acronym saying that works well in our neighborhood: NIMBY
What is NIMBY?
Not in my backyard!
Often we know where ‘Samaria’ is not so much by where we would or wouldn’t go, but what we want around us. Or do not want around us. Some NIMBY’s are valid but many just reveal the sinfulness of our hearts.
Little Italy or China town or mini Juarez are a nice place to visit, but when the neighborhood becomes 12% or more of a certain kind of people then, well it’s time to move on.
Lent is a great time to visit your own Samaria’s and NIMBY’s and then ask yourself what the Lord would do with your NIMBY. He went far to search for this woman. He leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep—what about you? Remember your baptismal vows:
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
I will, with God’s help.
Will you do these things? I think the baptismal vows are more important than our HOA rules don’t you?
Where is Samaria for you? Your NIMBY?
Second, what is your version of living water?
Look at the wonderful contrast between Nicodemus and this Samaritan woman. Though neither of them wanted to be seen, Nicodemus comes at night and the woman by day. This is a contrast that John wishes to underscore.
Also, both throw some distracting theological questions Jesus’ way, but one walks away confused and the other walks away changed. One does not drink the living water (yet) and the other leaves behind the earthly water for the heavenly. ‘Come and see the one who told me everything I have ever done.’ Paraphrase, come and see the one who knows everything about me, but loves me anyway!
It is instructive that the educated theologian walks away scratching his head and the Samaritan sinner walks away with perfect clarity.
The broken understand their brokenness the satisfied do not.
What for you is living water? Is it Christ or is it something else?
Entertainment? Comfort? Retirement? Money?
Are you your own living water?
A self-help book from the 1980s says it well. What You Think of Me is None of My Business.
We took that title seriously didn’t we?
You remember Whitney Houston’s song The Greatest Love of All? You know what the greatest love of all is? ‘Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.’
We shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves of course, but a couple of decades of ‘me,’ shows us the fruit of our thinking.
Interestingly, the woman at the well repents simply by walking away from her lifestyle and towards Jesus. She doesn’t call herself a ‘worm’ or call attention to her grief over her sin. She simply walks in a different direction.
She knows her own brokenness and chooses to walk towards Jesus. This is repentance. It takes the realization that we are sinners but it really isn’t that complicated. Just walk in the direction of Christ. And away from our own selfishness.
A reflection from Fr. Albert Holz is instructive. His book is on his pilgrimage around the holy sites of Europe. He writes of a church in Toledo Spain that is interesting. It is the monastery church San Juan de los Reyes. This part of Spain was under Turkish rule for 360 years. Toledo was one site where Christians were sold into slavery. In the plaza around the church, ‘High up on an outside wall, hanging in neat rows…are ankle chains taken off Christian slaves freed from the [Turks] by the victorious Spaniards in 1492. I stare at these grisly reminders of slavery, and try to hear the story they tell of slaves being set free from captivity and returning joyfully to their homes and families. It strikes me that the side of a church is a perfect place to display the broken chains of Christians who were once held captive. Our God is, after all, in the business of breaking chains. We believe that the Word became flesh, suffered, died, and rose again to free us from the chains of sin and death.’
The Samaritan woman was set free. Do you need to be set free?