Exodus 17:1-7 – Moses brings water out of a rock at Massah and Meribah.
Psalm 95 – The Venite: O Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the God of our salvation.
Romans 5:1-11 – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ… We boast in our sufferings, for suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character… While we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly.
John 4:5-42 – The Woman at the Well. “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.”
Woman at the Well: The Soul-Quenching Waters of Grace
David Lose published an excellent article in the Huffington Post a few years ago that is worth a read when considering this text.
Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman in public is certainly scandalous, as evidenced by his disciples’ own reaction: astonishment [Thaumadzo]. It’s the same word that Paul used in a letter he wrote 60 years earlier, Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called through grace…” Paul is astonished that the Galatians would abandon a religion of the Spirit and of grace for a low-ceilinged religion of law. Jesus will reference the Spirit as well. The disciples are astonished that Jesus would be talking to a woman in public, and a Samaritan woman at that, who has had several husbands and is not married to the man she is not living with.
Still, we must not assume that she is a scandalous woman. A bad girl. There’s nothing in the text to suggest this. She’s had five husbands, yes. She could be widowed. If so, she deserves Jesus’ compassion. Even if she is five times divorced, this was likely not her choice. Men divorced women (for the flimsiest of reasons), not vice-versa. Being barren is grounds for divorce. Perhaps she is unable to bear children. We simply do not know.
It’s interesting how we respond when we don’t know. Do we assume the worst? Even if the worst is true, whatever that may be, should we not even still respond with compassion as did Jesus to the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8)?
Jesus points out the truth of her situation, which surprises even her. Lose suggests that this is not judgment but compassion. His bridge of compassion sparks her to point out their religious differences. We worship on different mountains. We are different. Jesus responds suggesting that mountains are becoming irrelevant. We worship God in spirit.
Another excellent read is Bad Girls of the Bible. This book not only delves into some of the interesting characters of the Bible, but also exposes society’s need to have a bad girl, as a counterpoint to self-righteous moralism. Painting easy, vulnerable targets as bad makes me look and feel good about myself. But while men hate the bad girl, deep down they want her. “I’m a bad girl.” *wink* “A very, very bad girl.” Male society wants the bad girl, but also wants to hold her in contempt.
There is nothing in this text to suggest the woman at the well is a bad girl, though some interpreters have wanted to make her a prostitute. If she is widowed or if she had been divorced five times, she was in a very vulnerable place, a situation of powerlessness, which Jesus “sees,” showing his prophetic vision. He goes to her not because she is bad. (He does not ask her to repent and sin is never mentioned). He goes to her because she has been victimized.
Do you “see” the vulnerable? Or do you “see” the powerful who look down upon the vulnerable, powerless, and stigmatized, yearning for God’s mercy?
There are simply too many barrier-breaking preaching opportunities this week. In one text, Jesus crosses barriers of race, creed, and gender.
This text is an awesome text to consider interfaith dialog. How does Jesus engage this woman of a differing religious background? He sits with her. He is honest with her. He listens to her. He does not critique her faith. He does not try to proselytize her. He builds a bridge. “You worship on this mountain, and we worship on that one. The days are coming when we will all worship God in spirit and in truth…” What could we possibly have in common? Let’s talk about the Spirit. He does not emphasize their differences. She does: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman, a Samaritan?” (John 4:9)
“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly… God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
God in Christ is about reconciliation. God in Christ is about redemption of all of us, even the broken, even the ungodly. Christ died for people like you and me, and the folks that we know. And this woman. This is enough for a week of preaching.
And then there’s this passage from this epistle reading…
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God’s love has been poured into our hearts…
What a deep, soulful passage. Paul’s formula is borne of his experience murdering Christians, his mystical encounter with Christ, his out-of-body experience, his conversion, his own subsequent persecution:
suffering > endurance > character > hope
It is a very Christian formula, the E=MC2 of early Christian theology – law and gospel, suffering and hope. This is a perspective easily lost by the U.S. American church. We live in such abundance, the concept of going without, denying ourselves, making sacrifices for others, except, ironically, in the military, where people put their lives on the line for the safety of others.
Jesus’ willingness to suffer for his beliefs, for his misguided Jerusalem, is at the heart of the foolish message of the cross. The disciples’ willingness to give their lives for their faith fueled the powerful Christian movement of slaves and women. Martyria of the second and third generation Christians shows a 100% whole-life commitment to a new kind of society. What would they think about a church two millennia later, that is wealthy and comfortably in bed with the empire? We can only guess.
Have we become too comfortable to risk speaking up with those who are outcast? Are we too comfortable to become despised and persecuted for standing with the poor, the stranger, the diseased? Are we too comfortable to name racism, sexism, and classism? Are we too comfortable to preach a sermon that asks hard questions?
Jesus offers living waters, so that we will never thirst again. Like last week’s Nicodemus story, in which Jesus moves from physical rebirth to spiritual rebirth, in this story Jesus moves from physical thirst to spiritual thirst. Next week Jesus will move from the physical blindness of the man born blind to the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees in the blink of an eye. This movement from the physical to the spiritual, in wine, water, and bread, is a modus operandi for John’s Jesus.
The preacher could spend an entire sermon on signs of spiritual thirst that only the Spirit can quench. We are desperate for love, joy, peace, justice, generosity, kindness, and other spiritual fruits. This thirst is the gentlest way to preach law, judgment. We can talk about how our desperate and feeble attempts to quench our spiritual thirst in all the wrong ways leads to the world we live in. We try to fill the spiritual void with money, sex, entertainment, success, and a pantheon of gods, Luther would say. A great sermon title based on an old country song would play well in rural Texas congregations: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.
Paul says that God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The only source of lasting love that quenches the deep spiritual thirst in our lives is the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And with that we’re back to grace. It is grace that redeems, renews, justifies, and absolves.
Anything that is not that, is suspect.