To Know You Is to Love You

In the last couple of weeks, we have become increasingly aware of the affect water has on our lives in ways that we have simply taken for granted. The newspapers have given us the statistics as the water table has gotten lower and lower. And, the photos of the lakes, rivers, and ponds as they slowly dry up are vivid reminders that a day without rain or snow is not always a blessing. [this lake/river is down one-third. . . one summer in Texas, our paper showed the sandy bottom of Lake Arlington - completely dried up - where normally waterskiers criss-cross far above]

While we half-jokingly talk about buying bottled water to flush our commodes, going without a shower or bath, and watching our lawns turn from green to brown, the real threat goes unspoken for now - no water to drink - and the death of many living things. We know quite well that without an easily available source of water, our lives would change drastically or eventually end.

Imagine returning to the days of drawing water from a well, gathering around that hole in the ground with buckets and bottles. Waiting your turn, you sit beneath the few shade trees around, for at this place their roots too are able to reach down into the earth for that deliciously wonderful water. This oasis becomes the community's gathering place in the cool of the early morning and again near sunset as families replenish their household supply. Curiously enough, while the folk take up their elemental drinking supply, they also are nourished by the conversations, comraderie, and community formed by their pilgrimage to the well, the source of life.

In this story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the setting is a bit different. For Jesus is a traveler from a foreign country. - and one that is not normally friendly toward the inhabitants of this land. He also has arrived during the heat of the day - not the normal time of travel for desert countries. And, he has sent his companions into town for supplies leaving him alone, tired, and thirsty - and vulnerable. It so happens that a woman also has come to this place and they meet.

How romantic! Now before you throw stones at me, consider, how many important and not-so important marriages were initiated by meetings at the well. We can begin with Rebekah a young girl who was kind to Abraham's servant. She gave him water and then proceeded to draw enough for all his ten camels. This was the sign requested by the servant to know if this would be the wife of Isaac. Later, his son Jacob journeyed to Haran to seek a bride. At the well, he saw Rachel approaching with her father's sheep. He then moved the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the sheep for her. And, Moses who was fleeing the wrath of Pharoah was resting at a well in Midian. Reuel's seven daughters approached to water their flock and were driven away by some other shepherds. Moses came to their rescue and watered their flock. He later married Zipporah, one of the daughters. All three of these stories involved care of and for another. The stranger both gave and received the much needed water. And was invited home to share a meal, to break bread together. All of this was the social custom of the day for weary travelers. Water, hospitality, life, incorporation into a family, all of this is significant.

And it is significant that Jesus met the Samaritan woman alone and in the heat of the day. For it is Christ alone that can provide what we need when we thirst greatly. We often hear in the gospel of John that Jesus is the bridegroom (John 3:29) where John the Baptist identifies himself as the friend of the bridegroom. Again, we have the image of people coming to the water. In our story, Jesus speaks of himself as having the water that gushes up to eternal life and no one will be thirsty again. The woman asked that he give it to her.

But still, you may say. This woman has had five husbands. We've heard she must have been a very promiscuous woman. Why would Jesus be interested in this person. Perhaps, but Jesus has come to this well offering a very different kind of marriage - Jesus is courting the spirit. It is through the marriage of our spirits with Christ that we can make use of his gift.

Let's look at the Samaritan woman's life a little more closely. In the hierarchical society of her day, the husband had the greater power and control. If he chose to, the husband merely went to a public place and announced his desire to divorce. He could hand her the dowry money and walk away. No alimony, no equitable distribution of the property, no lawyers. Just walk away leaving the woman defenseless and homeless to become a beggar. If her family was nearby and they were wealthy enough to take her in, she could go home. And her father would attempt to find another husband. Very few women were skilled in a trade that could be marketable. A woman could not go out and find "a job." Security lay in being incorporated into a self-contained and self-sufficient family unit spanning many generations. Women had great value in a structure like that.

But why five times you may ask. Well, in a chiefly agricultural society, it was imperative that you produce your own workers. Child-bearing was a great asset. Perhaps she was barren and her husband being poor could not afford to support two or more wives. Or maybe as she aged her husband desired someone younger and prettier. Or maybe one died of old age, an accident, a plague, or in defending his holdings from animals, robbers, or in warfare.

Her multiple husbands could just as easily speak of a hard tragic life, not just for her but for her community. Her story could have been one deserving of pity or one of commendation for being so resourceful and not becoming a burden on society. We must be careful not to automatically lay our society's ethical structure upon one of 2,000 years ago. Plus if we listen in on the conversation, Jesus had no condemnation for her lifestyle. Instead, the emphasis in he story was first on her truthfulness and honesty and then on Jesus' uncanny ability to know things that a total stranger could not possibly know!

Think about it! If a stranger - and a foreigner from an unfriendly nation at that - came to our town and told us the stories of our entire life - we would be amazed. And then we would be frightened. We would suspect him of wire tapping, hacking into our internet connections, accuse her of invading our privacy, or some kind of perversion. We would begin to feel uncomfortable and unsafe and probably report them to the authorities.

But that was not the case with this meeting! Instead this was like getting together with an old friend. I don't know about you, but I have one who has been with me since cradle roll days in the Sunday school. We know and have shared in all the stupid mistakes of growing up. We've been there for all the tragedies and joys, distances, husbands, children. We have been angry together and cried together. We have watched each other flower and now decline. But the comfort in one another's presence is beyond measure. All the stuff that went before has formed our lives, but the friendship transcends all that stuff. And, oh, the richness of reflection upon a long life together! We once were starry eyed hopeful and now we sense the unspeakable wisdom of age.

Jesus could speak with her about all these things, and yet, he had never met her before. She readily assumed he must be a prophet for prophets are able to know many things. And then she hinted that one day the Messiah would come who would proclaim all things. Jesus admitted it was he. The sense of being known so intimately is part of the romance I spoke of earlier. Everyone who begins a relationship hopes for more than just the physical hugs and kisses. We long for being known so well, that all pretense is erased and we can feel comfortable with one another - mistakes, foibles, and odd habits included. You remember what it is like, we spent hours talking on the phone or driving around in the car talking and sharing, talking and sharing trying to erase the years we did not know each other, catching up on the time before we met. We want to find out if they will still like us. We want to know that in the midst of honesty we can be truly loved. But there you have it! Jesus already knows! And wants you and claims you.

This revelation was so exciting that she left her water jar at the well and ran into town to tell everyone that this man knew everything she had ever done! And then shouted, "Can it really be the one? Can it really be the Messiah?!" And the townspeople came out to see for themselves. And when they did, they heard the same open honesty that engendered in them a living faith.

What was it that made her so alive? What was this water of life that he offered that caused her faith? It's hard to say for certain, but he did break with the rules to speak to her, and when he did he spoke to her of her life and her pain. He spoke openly about the Father and the worship that consists of truth and spirit not location, not style, not tradition. He envisioned being incorporated into the family of God with a love that breaks down all barriers of knowing one another and knowing oneself and knowing God.

As we journey toward Easter we are constantly invited to look deeply into our hearts and see ourselves with Jesus' eyes. Can we offer to God the gift of honest reflection? Can we face our sins and our sufferings with the same depth of concern? Can we recognize that we have been given the water of life? As our readings from Romans reminds us, God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit and is now infiltrated into every pour of our being. It is only by the faithfulness of Jesus that we have received grace. And it is because of our sufferings that we have hope.


Read other sermons by Pastor Joan