Third Sunday in the Midst of Lent
TEXT: John 4:7-29; 39-42
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink”. (John 4:7)
In his book, Transformed by Grace, the American preacher N. Gordon Cosby writes about the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus—an encounter such as the Samaritan woman at the well experienced. Here’s what he says:
… I have discovered … that commitment and discipline are the absolute essentials for any spiritual power. I do not mean a general commitment or general discipline. I mean a definite commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a commitment to a person—not a commitment to a cause. Not a commitment to a principle of love, this is a commitment to a living person and is definite. Not only must it be definite, but it must be a full commitment. When Christ comes to a person he makes a total claim upon his or her life; only a total response is adequate. Not to respond in such a definite way is not to have met the real Christ. If Christ is not a figment of our imagination, we make a commitment in which we can say with freedom of spirit—“I belong solely to him. He is my life. He is the hope of every dream. He is of absolute significance to me. I want you to know him.” Such a commitment is the essential of any sort of Christian power.*
So it is when Jesus comes to the Samaritan woman at the well. She is, perhaps, the most broken woman in the New Testament—and we discover a hint of that in our gospel passage from John. When John sets the scene for this story, he tells us that it is about noon. Now, customarily, women came to draw water in the early morning coolness. But this woman comes to the well at noon … in the blistering heat of the day, long after the other women of the village had departed. This suggests that—at the very least—she is afraid, or ashamed, or both. In all likelihood she is the target of scorn and derision. People look down upon her because of her brokenness in marriage and in relationships.
So, here she is trying to avoid being seen—and instead, there is someone else at the well. And not just any someone, but a man. Not just a man, but a Jewish man. In that time and place, men and women were not supposed to be seen in public together. More than that, Jews and Samaritans usually had nothing to do with one another. So she is startled to see him there. She is even more startled when he speaks to her. Jesus is tired. As he addresses this broken, lonely and ashamed woman, he says, “Give me a drink.”
But this is a dangerous invitation. It is an invitation to cross boundaries and defy ancient taboos. It’s risky. But he is thirsty, and she has a bucket, and there is the well of their mutual ancestor Jacob.
Jesus does not look down upon her as the others do. He calls no attention to her brokenness. Instead, he acknowledges his own brokenness. He is tired. He is thirsty. If you’re familiar with the story of Christ’s passion—the story of Good Friday—you may recognize this thirst of his. Amongst his very last words on the cross are the words, “I am thirsty.”
What Jesus is seeking here is someone who shares his thirst. His thirst is a thirst for peace—for what he calls God’s shalom. This shalom is, in turn, a thirst for justice and healing for all people—especially people like this Samaritan woman. Most of all, Jesus thirsts for dignity and respect for all people. Not some people. Not a lot of people. All people. This poor woman knows neither dignity nor respect. But Jesus reaches out to her from his need, not hers. By reaching out to her from his own need, he gives her dignity and respect! There is something she can do for him.
By his treatment of her, Jesus gives her identity and purpose. Suddenly something new—something real—wells up inside of her. It is a new confidence, a new spirit. From this new spirit, her real thirst is revealed—and it is a thirst that cannot be quenched by the waters at the bottom of Jacob’s well. No. She thirsts for real life—authentic life—and Jesus gives it to her without cost and without condition.
After some astonishingly frank and assertive conversation, her response is one of total commitment. And why not? She—who had no life and no purpose, but only heartache, pain, and shame—is suddenly given the gift of eternal life with Jesus, who is revealed to her as God’s own anointed one.
When the disciples return, they are shocked that Jesus has compromised himself by talking with this woman in broad daylight. The disciples cannot understand this crossing of ancient boundaries, such a departure from the old taboos.
As for the woman … she runs off, leaving her bucket behind. She does not need it any longer, for she now has living water welling up inside of her! She is energized by the simple fact that Jesus trusts her with his needs, his exhaustion and his thirst. She runs into town and tells everyone about her encounter at the well—her encounter with the source of true and living water: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”
At first, the townspeople do not trust her testimony—so they come to see for themselves, and they end up begging Jesus to stay in their village. Jesus stays for two more days, and many more people come to know him. And it is all because of the Samaritan woman’s willingness to risk talking to the stranger at the well. She becomes, in effect, the first evangelist. Talk about being transformed by grace!
Like the Samaritan woman, we all come to the well over and over again to draw water. But do we see the man sitting there? Can we hear what he is saying to us? Are we even aware he is speaking to us? Can we feel what it’s like to have Jesus ask us for something?
Can we see how it is that Jesus does not look down on the poor and broken ones?
He does not come with something to give them. He does not come pretending to tell them how to live their lives. He does not come saying: “Here, I have what you need. Take this and become like me.” No. Instead, Jesus says that the Samaritan woman has something that he needs. There is something she can do for him. Hearing this news, she is liberated from all that weighs her down.
Jesus gives her value. Jesus gives her purpose. He gives her new life by simply letting her know there is something she can do for him. This story asks us if we can approach others in this way. This story asks us if we are willing to reveal our brokenness to others and to him.
Later in the Gospel, we will hear the disciples sounding completely unlike this woman. They all jockey for positions of power and prestige in Jesus’ kingdom. They sound so much like so many of us. And yet, what does he ask them? “Are you able,” he says to them, “to drink the cup that I must drink?”
“Are you able,” he says to us, “to drink the cup that I must drink?”
He asks us to consider our thirst. He invites us to acknowledge our real thirst so he can give us the living water that shall well up inside of us.
As we move steadfastly toward Holy Week, we remember that—as the story nears its conclusion on the cross—Jesus is still thirsty. He is still thirsty today. And each of us is that Samaritan woman. Week after week, we come to the well. Week after week, Jesus asks us for a drink—and we know the kinds of things for which he thirsts.
Are we ready to give him a drink? Are we ready to talk with him? Are we ready to reveal our own brokenness to him? Do we make our full commitment to him?
Even now, Jesus sits in front of us. He is tired—very, very tired. And he asks us to give him a drink. Now, what shall we do?
* N. Gordon Cosby, Transformed by Grace (New York: Crossroad Books, 1999), p. 5