By Sherry Black
A Reading from the Gospel of John 4:1-26
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 (although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized), 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 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.) 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 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.”
A dozen social boundaries should have prevented Jesus from talking to the woman, but such constructs meant little to Jesus. Still, it is a shock that this enemy, this woman, a despised Samaritan, communicates with Jesus in the clear light of day.
For 2,000 years this woman has been accused of having questionable morals. I often thought she was unsatisfied, restless, looking for more — probably revealing more about me, prevailing culture, and The Rolling Stones: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But this “bad girl looking for more from life” characterization isn’t certain. Women didn’t have the authority to divorce multiple husbands on their own initiative. She may have been divorced, but it is also likely that at least a few of her husbands died. In the ancient world, there were many ways to die: accident, injury, illness, bandits. How she ended up living with a man who was not her husband is anyone’s guess; he could have been a lover, or a relative or protector, or an abuser. We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter — judging her is not our business.
This Samaritan woman with little to lose had a conversation with Jesus. And he knew all about her, without judging her. They talked of water, of worship, of religion, of prophets, and of a shared hope for the Messiah, the Christ. And Jesus reveals himself: in this “I AM” statement, Jesus declares “I AM — who speaks to you.” I AM is the divine name that God gave to Moses from the burning bush. “I AM is speaking to you.” The Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, reveals himself by the divine name to a Samaritan woman, turning social order, boundaries, and expectations upside down.
I AM is still speaking in, through, and to those we least expect. Social boundaries do not stop Jesus, the Messiah, the one from heaven.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for 10 years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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Today we pray for:
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Okla.
The Diocese of Mbujimayi – Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Du Congo