5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[a] 10 Jesus answered her, “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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[e] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
It’s the 15th of March, and for those of you who labored through some of William Shakespeare’s works in school you know what that means. It’s a scene from the play “Julius Caesar,” in which the soothsayer proclaims, “Beware the Ides of March.”
In Roman culture the 15th of March – the ides of March – was a religious observance, but it was also a day that marked the deadline for settling debts. In the play the soothsayer’s prediction comes true when Julius Caesar is assassinated before the day was out. It marks a day of dread, a day when bad things are going to happen, a day you would just like to stay in bed and avoid.
We don’t have any soothsayers roaming around telling us to beware this day, but then again we don’t have to. It’s not just for poor Julius Caesar; every day seems like the Ides of March these days.
I know that many of you came to church hoping to hear about anything but the coronavirus. But the reality is that we are now faced with an official pandemic. Every day we are deluged by the latest statistics. The numbers keep going up, and we see the map that shows that the cases are not just getting closer to home, but have now arrived. The big thing that bothers us – I think – is the uncertainty. We don’t know where this bug came from exactly, or where it is going. We get deluged with information, and question its authenticity. We don’t know who is going to get it next, or if we ourselves are carrying it. A vaccination is about a year away – maybe late summer, if we are lucky – and there is no known cure for it.
We don’t have much to combat this disease yet but we are all told to do some basic things to try to keep the contamination down. Like washing your hands on a regular basis, for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” through twice); covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough; around here we have discouraged handshakes and hugging, something which is tough for some folks but we suggest that to keep everyone safe; if you don’t feel well, don’t go out; avoid gatherings of large numbers of people. This kind of thing can play havoc with worship gatherings, be it the Sunday morning service or our Wednesday Lenten services. But it is necessary to keep ourselves well, and to keep others from getting sick, especially the elderly who are extremely vulnerable to this disease.
We have also heard about how, when they contract this disease, people have to be quarantined for two weeks to keep them from giving it to others. In fact, the whole nation of Italy is under one great big quarantine; people are not allowed outside unless their presence is absolutely necessary. The people of China have had to deal with this for a while, and what they discovered through that is when large areas go into quarantine people are affected in a very deep level; it was like they were in jail and thrown into solitary confinement. Being cut off from community can disorient a person to the point of having similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
People need community. This was emphasized in an article published by Christian Century last week by Eileen Campbell-Read, a professor at Union Seminary in New York City. She listed several things pastors and church leaders can do to help folks in this time. One of them was “Find ways to make community.” I hope it won’t get to this point but we may be asked to stop having worship services for a while. If that happens we will need to find new ways to reach out to each other, to share with each other what it means to be a community of faith in such a time as this. It might be a really creative time for us to discover new ways of being church.
But it all comes back to the fact that we need each other. Even those people who drive us nuts. Even those people whose political opinions we think are crazy. We need each other, to talk to, to relate with, to share. When we don’t have that, we are incomplete. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, we need each other and when we do not have each other to talk with, to share, to love, just to be around, we are missing an important ingredient in life.
That may not sound like it has anything to do with the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. But actually, it has everything to do with it. This lady has a definite lack of community. I think you all have heard enough sermons on this story to know that she is there at the well at noon, in the heat of the day, for a reason. Most of the other women have come and gone to fetch water. This lady came when there was a good chance no one else would be around.
It appears she is avoiding community. As the conversation goes Jesus reveals to her the facts of her life: she has been married five times, and the guy she is currently living with is not her husband. Yes, that could mean she was a really difficult person to live with, or that she was unfaithful, or she was really bad at picking out men. It could also mean that she married five men who were five brothers, who all died and the next one in line became her wife due to the custom of the time.
As much as we would like to judge this lady and declare her a sinner, we don’t really know her situation. She is currently living with someone she is not married to, easy to stamp her with the ‘sinful woman’ tag. But Jesus’ response to her situation and to her tells us some really important things about Jesus, about God, and about Lent.
What this whole story tells us about Jesus and the love of God is that wherever we are, no matter how alienated we have become, God reaches out. Jesus takes the initiative. He is sitting there and he asks her for a drink of water. In the act of doing that, he is breaking down barriers. Men don’t talk to women in public in that culture, and Jews don’t talk with Samaritans. The righteous do not talk with people whose lifestyles are seen as ‘sinful.’ Three strikes and you’re out, lady. But Jesus breaks down all of that in the simple act of initiating a conversation by asking for water.
The woman is suspicious but she follows Jesus’ lead in continuing the conversation. As it moves along, the woman doesn’t seem to get at what Jesus is talking about when he mentions the water he gives. So Jesus changes directions; he says, “Go, call your husband.” It’s at that point where they do the conversational tango that reveals her life situation. But notice that Jesus does not condemn her. He doesn’t say, ‘You shouldn’t live like that.’ He just says, matter of factly, “What you have said is true.” No criticism. No judgment. We like to pick up the gavels in our lives and see who we can blame, especially when things go wrong. This virus must come from one of those terrible countries out there. People who are sick must be deficient in character. It’s easy to judge. But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus does not carry a gavel. He only carries love that is ours to accept or reject.
Through Jesus, God reaches out, not with judgment. But also God reconciles. When the woman hears this guy tell her whole life story, she backs up like we would do if we met someone who knows a little too much about ourselves. She starts talking about religion and all the things that are different between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus counters that by saying the time is now when people will not worship in a place, but will worship a God who is Spirit and truth. Imagine – a God who is not limited by time or space or any other human consideration. Jesus has already told that to Nicodemus, and he was totally befuddled. But this woman, this Samaritan, this outsider, she seems to get it, or at least to come closer to getting it than the old scholar did.
Jesus reaches out, not with judgment and reconciles us; brings us back into the relationship of love and grace that God intended from the beginning. While this pandemic is going on, threatening our sense of security and health, challenging us to stay in community when we can’t even touch each other, we remember that God is not limited by bugs or quarantines. God hovers over all of creation, over all of our lives, and seeks to bring forth a new life; one that is marked by reconciling, making us friends with each other, even with people who were not our friends before.
That’s how we see God at work in Jesus during this encounter. And in Lent we remember that it is not all about us. It is about God making a way in the world, and maybe God wants to use us to make that way. But how do we do that? The Samaritan woman, that sinner, that marginalized person there at the well in the middle of the day to avoid community, can help us.
She does so by running back to the very community that had marginalized her. To all those faces who had scorned her, called her names, talked about her behind her back, she goes and tells them, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
But before that, the woman left her jar. She left the only thing she brought with her to the well, the one thing she needed, or so she thought, to keep herself sustained. She left it behind because now she had discovered a new kind of water.
So my question to myself as well as to you on this, the third Sunday of Lent, is: what is your jar? What is the thing that you deem so important that you need to drop off, to leave behind? What’s getting in the way of sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus with others? Is it your old life, the thought that you are not good enough for God to use? Is it your doubts that maybe you don’t have it right? Is it your political opinion, that you treasure so much because it defines who you are and who you are not? Is it your racial identity, the thing that you hold up as showing that you are better than others? Is it your educational level, your degrees that mark you as someone to be listened to when maybe we all need to listen to those who are not identified as so smart? Is it your grudges, your resentments toward others, those who have betrayed you or disappointed you or let you down?
There are a whole lot of jars that we carry. Some of them, like the woman’s, are necessary; we need them to do the things we need to do. Others are a burden; we’ve carried them around for so long that we cannot imagine life without them.
Jesus talks to us, without judgment, and reconciles us by giving us new life. With that new life is the invitation to let go of the jars of life that hold us back. Even in this time of the coronavirus. Even in these days, God calls on us to reach out to others and find community in whatever way we can; a community that is filled with the love of Christ. Amen.