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Third Sunday in Lent, March 23, 2014

On Monday, I had a flat tire on the way to visit Betty at the hospital. As soon as I got off Rte. 50 at Carlin Springs Rd., I heard a rat-a-tat noise that got faster as I sped up. I pulled off the road as soon as I could and looked at the car, but all I could do was hear a hissing noise. It wasn’t safe to be on the shoulder, so I went a little further and pulled off on the first side street that was plowed enough to be safe. I pulled in right at the corner and saw that my tire was very flat. I was ready to call AAA, when all of a sudden a man walked up to me and asked if I remembered him. Of course I did. It was Paul Harless. He and his wife Eileen Flynn used to be parishioners at St. John’s. Paul ended up changing the tire for me. I know in the snowy weather I would have had to wait a long time for AAA.

I was so grateful for this moment of grace. What were the chances that I would land almost directly at their front door? And even if I had, what were the chances that they would see me, because I had to be seen to be helped.

The Samaritan woman is seen by Jesus (Anna Carter Florence), even across gender, religious and social barriers. He sees her and asks her for some water because he is thirsty. Jesus is there for a purpose and it is not just to get a cup of water (notice that he never does get it). He is travelling through Samaria, which he does not have to do, on the way to Galilee. He is there, as he is everywhere, to bring people to faith in him as the Word of God, the light that shines in the darkness, the Savior of the world.

The Samaritan woman is not used to being seen. She is certainly not used to being seen by a Jewish male, and probably not much by the townspeople, who only know her as the woman with five husbands who is now living with someone not her husband. She is drawing water at noon, a time of day when no one else would be at the well because it is too hot (Anna Carter Florence). Maybe she is tired of being ignored and would rather be alone than unseen by people all around her.

The woman thinks Jesus needs something from her – a drink of water for his physical thirst – but in truth it is he that can give her living water, a gift of God. She is puzzled about how he is going to give her the water because he does not have a bucket. Jesus says his gift is living water that gushes up to eternal life. A person who drinks of it will not ever be thirsty again.

Jesus and the woman are talking at cross purposes. He is talking about spiritual things using physical metaphors, and she is still in the realm of the things of the earth. But even though she is confused, she wants what Jesus has. She has taken the first step to faith.

This story is in distinct contrast to the story immediately before that tells about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a respected member of the Jewish community, a teacher, a moral example, an important figure, while the woman has no name and is a hated Samaritan, a nobody with a possibly shady past. Yet Nicodemus has to come to Jesus at night, while the woman talks to him in bright daylight. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about spiritual things – being born from above by water and the Spirit – and Nicodemus asks all sorts of literal questions instead of looking at the metaphor and trying to understand it. He doesn’t get what Jesus is saying. His last words are “How can these things be?”, and he goes away without the spiritual knowledge Jesus wants to impart. The woman, on the other hand, even though she does not understand, wants the conversation to go further.

Jesus then introduces a change of subject that at first makes no sense. He asks the woman to bring her husband, and she claims to have no husband. Jesus tells her the truth about her life and her situation, and she is amazed. She takes her second step of faith and identifies him as a prophet. Then they move from a discussion of backgrounds to one of the theology of Jews vs. Samaritans and where they worship. Again Jesus wants to teach a spiritual reality, so he tells her that soon neither place will be important, that people will worship a spiritual God in spirit and in truth. God is not territorial – God is for everyone, no matter where they live or how they worship. God’s Word in Jesus has come into the world to save the world. The woman expresses belief in a coming Messiah, and he tells her he is it: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you”.

His answer gives the woman the ability to take her next step in faith. She leaves her water jar and goes into the town to tell her fellow villagers about this man she has met. She is most impressed that he has told her everything she has ever done, but wonders if he could really be the Messiah. Her faith is incomplete, but it is enough. The villagers come to see Jesus and ask him to stay with them. He stays two days, and at the end of that time, many in the village believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world. For John, this belief is salvation, and they will receive the water of eternal life. Because Jesus sees the Samaritan woman – really sees her inside and out – and loves her, many people are converted. The woman, we expect, is able to make the journey to faith along with her fellow townspeople. They understand that Jesus is talking about much more than the physical plane of existence. He is talking about water for the thirsty soul.

What if, one day, we were doing our ordinary tasks and we were seen by Jesus. We are always told to look for the Christ in others, but seldom told that Christ is looking for us without condemnation for our sin and our brokenness, but with love and care and a desire to convert our hearts. Would we recognize him if he drew near and engaged us in conversation? What would he ask us for? What do we have to give? The Samaritan woman has water. We have our time, our talent and our treasure according to our particular gifts and situation. More importantly, what does Jesus have to give us when he sees us and talks to us? We, too, can receive the living water that gushes up to eternal life.

What might that living water look like for us? First it looks like the unconditional love of God that has always been there and is now visible in Jesus. If the woman’s past was shady, Jesus does not condemn her for it, nor feel the need to forgive her. He sees her, accepts her as she is and loves her. His love is the reason she stays in conversation with him and moves to faith. Christ is always the initiator in our faith journeys. He sees us and engages us in conversation about moving forward surrounded by his love. Second, it looks like laying our burdens down. The woman left her water jar at the well. She left behind all the things that held her back from growth and meaning and purpose to go witness to the town about this strange and wonderful man. What can we leave behind to take up the cause of Christ – the stale things in our lives that we eat, hoping in vain to be fed, the painful memories of our lives that haunt us, the things that dull our ability to live.

We are seen, engaged and loved by Jesus, despite any barriers that we put up to that love. We can witness even if we feel our faith is incomplete or uncertain. It will be enough as it was for the Samaritan woman. Even as we look for Jesus during Lent, Jesus is looking for us – to see us with love, to engage us in faith conversations and to give us God’s gift of eternal life. Let us take what Jesus has to offer with eagerness and thanksgiving for God’s immeasurable love.


     - The Rev. Ann Barker


Works cited:
Anna Carter Florence, “The Good Preacher”, Preaching John 4:5-42, blog post, 3/18/14