Companions on the Way – A Good Samaritan – March 29, 2020

Companions on the Way – A Good Samaritan

Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 4:5-42

March 29, 2020

Main Idea – We are called to share Christ’s living water.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

How many of you have a bucket at home? Buckets can be useful to have around, especially for do-it-yourself projects.  They can gather up things we want or need, such as gardening stuff, or water to wash the dishes when we are camping.   Buckets can also save us from big messes such as leaking ceilings or clogged up pipes.   Buckets are very helpful but they also can get rather heavy.  Carrying a bucket full of water or sand can hurt our hands or our backs if we need to carry them for long.  As I read today’s incredible Scripture text I found myself wondering about buckets and the things we carry around with us which are sometimes helpful and sometimes a heavy burden.  Jesus invites us to let go of our buckets and share in the living water of God’s love.

In the Season of Lent we are traveling with companions on the way toward the cross. Our companions today are Jesus and the Woman at the Well, another Good Samaritan (did you know there was more than one?). Jesus’ conversation with her is an amazing story of transformation and inclusion.  It stands in stark contrast to the story of Nicodemus which we read a few weeks ago.  Nicodemus was a privileged male teacher of Israel who knows that Jesus is from God and yet he cannot or will not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  He comes to Jesus secretly at night; afraid of being seen with Jesus.  The Samaritan Woman is, by definition, an outsider; we don’t even know her name.  She has no status and no knowledge at all about who Jesus is; to her at first, he is just a thirsty stranger but by the end of the story she has become an apostle and a witness to Jesus as the Savior of the world.  She speaks with him in the bright light of day, boldly and unashamed.  And she talks with Jesus about buckets.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus moves around a lot, traveling back and forth between Galilee in the North (where Nazareth is) and Judea in the South (where Jerusalem is).  Samaria, the home of the much maligned Samaritans, is located in the middle right between Galilee and Judea.  Judeans and Galileans would travel far out of the way to avoid going through Samaria.  But Jesus decides to travel right through.  When he gets to the famous “Well of Jacob” he stops for a midday rest.

While he waits by himself, a Samaritan woman comes to get water and Jesus speaks to her saying, “Give me a drink.”  Now, of course Jesus was breaking a bunch of social rules by speaking to her; she was a woman, a stranger, and a Samaritan but Jesus breaks these rules all the time.  What is more extraordinary is that the woman speaks back to him!  The expected response would have been for her to be silent or to give him some water and then hurry away but she responds to his request with a challenge!  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (v. 9) in essence asking “Who are you, why are you here, and what do you want?”  Jesus responds to her with a challenge of his own.  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (v.10) “Living water” is another of the Gospel of John’s favorite words with double meaning.  It can mean “fresh, moving water like from a spring” or “life-giving water”.  We are supposed to hear both meanings but the Samaritan Woman only hears one.     “But sir, you have no bucket” she says, “and the well is deep.  How will you manage it?  Are you greater than Jacob, who is both your ancestor and mine?”   To access the water of Jacob’s Well, she knows that she must bring her own bucket and then be strong enough to carry the water home by herself.  Jesus reframes his challenge into an invitation. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (v.14) The Samaritan Woman doesn’t completely understand but she accepts the invitation anyway.  “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty and I may stop carrying this bucket around.” (v. 15) She has taken the first step in faith.

Jesus then draws her forward to a deeper understanding by showing her that he truly sees her for who she is. He does this by talking with her about her life.  The traditional interpretation of this story portrays her as a sinner but that is a misreading of the text.  Neither Jesus nor the writer makes any mention of sin or repentance or need of forgiveness.   Remember that women had no power in this society, no choice in husbands. Women were property, to be handed from one man to another.  Most likely she was widowed or abandoned multiple times.  Perhaps she was now living with a brother or male relative on whom she was dependent.  Her history is tragic, not sinful, and the fact that Jesus sees her and understands her life helps her to see and recognize him. “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” (v. 19).  She points again to their common ancestors who worshiped in Samaria and to the conflict with the Jews who insisted that true worship could only happen in Jerusalem.  She is trying to break the barriers between herself and Jesus.  Jesus reveals a radical truth to her;  “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…  The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (v.21,23)   The barriers that separate and hold her back are no longer important. This astonishes her but she stays engaged.  “I know that Messiah is coming and he will proclaim all things to us.”   Jesus then says the most amazing thing.  “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.”  My Bible has Jesus saying “I am he”  meaning the Messiah.  But the Greek is just I AM, which is a claim of the divine name from the Old Testament book of Exodus. (“God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:13).  Jesus reveals to this Samaritan Woman that he is “the one in whom God is known”, “the Word made flesh.

He is the Messiah and yet so much more than she or anyone had ever expected.

At this incredible moment, Jesus’ disciples return from the village and are astonished; not that he has revealed this essential truth about himself (which they hadn’t heard) but rather that he is talking with a woman.  The Samaritan Woman takes their arrival as her cue to leave.  And as she goes, she leaves her bucket behind.  She returns to her village to tell everyone about this amazing person who saw her and understood her whole life.  She invites them all to come and see Jesus for themselves.   They listen to her and they do come to Jesus.  Her witness leads them to see Jesus as the Savior of the world.  She doesn’t need her bucket anymore.  Her life is filled with living water.

So what are the buckets that we are carrying around with us? And what fills them?  These days our buckets are very heavy!  Full of worry, and stress, and fear!  In addition to the virus bucket, what structures or preconceptions do we have, that are sometimes helpful but are often heavy and cumbersome, like a heavy metal bucket?   What challenges are holding us back from drinking the living water Jesus offers us and sharing that living water with others?  Perhaps it is nostalgia and the comfort of the familiar (we like that old bucket!), perhaps it is fear of the unknown (we aren’t sure we have the right bucket for the job), perhaps it is inertia (our bucket has a hole in it).  Perhaps our bucket is full of busyness and emotional clutter that is life draining rather than life giving. 

This morning I invite you to try a short exercise.   Close your eyes and imagine yourself holding a bucket.  Then think of one thing that is weighing on you and holding you back.  Put it in your bucket. Now think of another. Put it in your bucket.   Put everything that is weighing on your heart and spirit and put it in your bucket.  That bucket is big and it is heavy!    Now put the bucket down and leave it behind, safe in God’s providence and care.   We are not defined by our past nor present challenges.  Jesus sees us as we are, knows us as we are, and invites us to new life in him.  He invites us to let go of these burdens and drink deeply from his living water.   He invites us to testify and witness to his love so that others too may “come and see” the Savior of the world.  No bucket will be required.

Let us pray,

Dear God, in this time of great uncertainty and fear, we thank you that we can let go of our heavy burdens, knowing that you hold us and the whole world in your love and providence.  Empower us to claim Christ’s living water and to share your hope, your strength, and your healing power with the world in great need.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.