One of the names I have been given since I’ve been a Pastor is “That Woman.” As in “Oh, that woman!” I suppose to someone who has never been called “That Woman” it sounds innocuous but if you are “That Woman” it smarts. So, I’ve done some thinking about what that title really means. “That Woman” is a person who is not doing things the way she should according to someone, somewhere. Perhaps she’s doing too much or too little. She may be disliked for being herself and to that there is no solution. “That Woman” is a person who may not be aware of her wrongdoing as she is too busy getting the job done. She may be attempting to do her best, but it isn’t perfect. “That Woman” may be seen as an outsider, or a person that just doesn’t fit in. There’s a lot of talk about that these days about who fits in with the group and who doesn’t.
Today we approach a Gospel of John text that is all about a woman like that. The Samaritan woman at the well is definitely “That Woman,” especially in the context of her society which had strict boundaries on what women should and should not do, where they should or should not go and with whom they were allowed to converse. Not that this isn’t still so in 2017! I was watching a TV expose called “TomBoy” about women in sports and why there is such a discrepancy in pay as well as prestige. A famous women’s coach nailed it when she said in youth sports nationally, girls are given millions less sports opportunities than boys each year. Millions! Think - we still have a way to go when talking about male/female equality.
South of Galilee and north of Judah there was, in Jesus time and before, a region called Samaria from whence “The Woman at The Well” came. Samaritans and Jews hated each other because of land disputes and wars. Samaria was resettled by the Assyrians who eventually became known as Samaritans and though moderately assimilated into some of Jewish culture, were in the main considered “outsiders” or “those people.” During Jesus’ time, this cultural hatred and contempt became enormous. If you or I have a conversation with someone at the water fountain, even if they are from a different culture, color or gender, it’s not a big deal. At least mostly, since the Civil Rights Movement when “whites” and “coloreds” water fountains disappeared. We still have race issues, let’s be honest, however, for Jesus to have had a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well during his time, was downright revolutionary.
Women did not speak to unfamiliar men and Jews did not speak to Samaritans who were considered “the other.” And yet, here they were talking at Jacob’s well. it was a revelatory moment between the two individuals, for the Jesus followers and for the people who heard about the encounter reported by the woman. Jacob’s Well lies in the crypt of a modern Greek Orthodox church in the West Bank. It is often considered the most authentic site in the Holy Land — Jewish, Samaritan, Christian and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob. It was the area patriarch Jacob bought “the land on which he had pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19).
Picture yourself at that well. Imagine it is a hot and dusty day and you are terribly thirsty! Perhaps you are the person whose job it is to be there to get water for the family or for others in your village. You need to get it back to the neighbors and you cannot be deterred because people are counting on you so they can cook with it and drink it. In that region then there were no spigots one could just turn off and on. What if you were like Jesus - a weary, thirsty traveler. Jesus was always on the move and imagine you had been on the road for some time and you really need to get a drink so that you do not dehydrate in the hot noonday sun. The truth is, both people at the well had a need to be there, but in the culture of the time, it was just not done.
In any case, our beloved friend Jesus does not seem bothered by the meeting. He was a male and so had some inalienable rights that females did not. The woman, seeing herself in a compromised position did what any intelligent working girl does, she calls him out! What are you doing talking to me, man? You know Jews don’t like us Samaritans and I’m female and not accustomed to being addressed by unknown men. Why in the world are you asking me for drink? It’s weird! She is right, it is weird, on so many levels.
Sometimes I get the feeling that the conversation is quite flirtatious between Jesus and the woman and she is no pushover, let me tell you. When Jesus says to 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,” she gives him a sassy answer right back; what are you talking about? You don’t have any bucket or cup or anything to get your living water with. Like - who are you kidding, or who do you think you’re talking to? This woman has chutzpah!
The truth is, Jesus is offering something to her of enormous import as he still does to us today. He attempted to school her in the most crucial thing that God has to offer to all of us – living water. Which is a beautiful way to say “the gift of life.” If you are a person of faith you may assume we are talking about a life in the kingdom of heaven which Jesus says is at hand! It doesn’t always seem at hand but as theologian Brian McLaren says, it is our responsibility to bring the kingdom of God to our awareness with a focus on the four “P’s”: Planet, Poverty, People, Peace. These four we should focus our love on.
Let me share a secret with you here this morning. Whenever we do a funeral or memorial someone eventually asks the question. “Is there really eternal life? Is there a Heaven after death?” Funerals and Memorials really bring those questions out, which I think is a very good thing, but it’s tricky and let me share with you why. I, personally, have not yet died. Here I am and I have not had the advantage of a Near Death Experience where people technically die but come back for a multitude of reasons. So I can’t lie and tell you I know anything for a fact about what happens after death. However, I do read scripture a lot, because it’s my job and I do believe there is a life after death that resides in the realm of Creation. Do I mean there is a big tall bearded guy on a throne who meets with you after you are permitted to pass through Peter’s pearly gates? No. I mean I believe that the Creator (or Creation) accepts us all lovingly and unquestionably back into the life we were created from. Here at GPC we call that Creative Force God and we worship God through Jesus.
In today’s scripture that is what Jesus is trying to convey to “That Woman” at the well. He is saying trust me, I know there is more in store for you than just being the water person in town. You are way more important than that. I would imagine that this hardworking woman felt a great deal of relief hearing that news as I do when I open myself up to take in the Creative Force/Holy Spirit/God and let it sink down deep inside of me. I believe it, though I have no hard evidence. Belief and faith is an inside job.
Here is another secret and I will take a quote right out of the Christian Century magazine which I love to read. We,
“The people of God are called to welcome others to these life-giving baptismal waters. As we do, we will delight in their joy as they learn that they are not alone”
We have an opportunity, daily, to welcome the stranger, the outsider, the other at the well of God’s love. For that privilege we are asked to be mindful of who we may be neglecting or pushing to the margins by our own limits. We are asked to love and refresh those who may not be welcomed elsewhere. We’re all the woman at the well at one time or another. In a way, we’re all “That Woman” or “That Man.” We can be the communicators of God’s love! The final verses of the scripture say,
“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 (Jesus), they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word.”
Think, what can we be doing as a community to help and welcome, outsiders; women, children, people with physical and mental challenges? What can we do to welcome and assist the so-called “alien in our midst?” I am completely on board and waiting to work with you however you decide we can do that together.