Please note, the reading for this sermon is John 4:1-42 but is interwoven throughout the sermon rather than being read in it’s entirety beforehand.
Jesus is cruising through the desert between Judea and Galilee. This is some pretty tough country to walk through so any way to make it easier is a good idea. The trouble is, the shortest way between Judea and Galilee is through Samaria. That shouldn’t be too much trouble but good Jews don’t like or associate with Samaritans and good Samaritans don’t like or associate with Jews.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/257861-living-water-in-unexpected-places.mp3]
They have a common history from way back when but have different theological understandings now. And rather than agreeing to disagree they decide to despise each other. That’s why there is a parable about t the Good Samaritan. It’s supposed to be a contradiction in terms, at least for the Jewish audience. So it is less than an ideal situation for the Samaritans or the Jews that Jesus and the disciples are walking through their land. Like naming a Samaritan Good, placing Jesus into Samaria sets up a contrast. John is giving us the literary equivalent of ‘wait for it… wait for it…’
Now things take an even stranger turn. Jesus, a Jew, is hanging out in Samaria. That would be bad enough. But now he is talking to a woman. That’s unheard of. A Samaritan woman, no less. This is just too much. Not only that, he asks her to give him a drink. It is one thing to talk to one another but now we’ve entered into the realm of cooties from grade school. Jesus can’t take a drink from her because he’ll get cooties from her. The woman can’t give Jesus a drink because she’ll get cooties from him. That’s kind of how it would have sounded to John’s hearers.
For something this over the top there must be something important going on. And indeed there is. John is still giving us the literary equivalent of ‘wait for it… wait for it…’ John’s like that.
Jesus makes his claim that he is the living water. Of course, that doesn’t make any sense to the poor woman at the well. She’s still in shock over a Jewish man speaking to her and asking her for a drink. And now he responds in riddles? He’s the living water? What is that about, she wonders as she points out that he has no bucket?
Of course, we know that Christ is the living water that gives each of us life. But this was news to the woman at the well.
Here’s the kicker to this story. Historically we’ve made the woman at the well a prostitute and the story becomes a big deal because Jesus is talking to a Samaritan, who is a woman AND a prostitute. I mean, we know Jesus does those kinds of things so even if it was accurate, why do we tend to remember that part of the story?
The thing is, the text doesn’t say she was a prostitute. If she was, I think John would have said it. When John writes the story of the woman caught in adultery in chapter 8 he takes no short cuts about calling her out for adultery. I’m not sure exactly how the husband thing works in tonight’s text out but it is entirely possible she had some pretty bad luck and just went through a stream of husbands. Bad luck for her. Certainly bad luck for them. Not to mention the hard to understand marriage laws like if your husband dies his brother is supposed to marry you so you don’t go homeless.
Anyways, all this would be a minor detail if it didn’t overshadow a really big deal like Jesus and the living water. We tend to remember that the woman at the well was some sort of bad woman but what if we made Jesus as the living water the big deal? What if instead of incorrectly remembering her as a bad woman we remembered that she shared the Good News of the living water Jesus Christ? What if sharing the Good News about the living water Jesus Christ was the big deal?
Jesus had to tell the disciples what they were supposed to be about. He had to explain to them their job. I’ve been telling you guys to share with others about me and God and all that but you haven’t got it just yet.
The Samaritan woman? She got it so Jesus hung out there a couple of days. And because she got it, many more believed. Maybe instead of remembering the woman at the well as a bad woman, we remember her as the woman who got it, the woman who shared the Good News of living water Jesus Christ.
Living water in unexpected places.