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When I was teaching college courses in interpersonal communication, for my first assignment I would instruct each student to pair off with another person in the class and for each pair to interview one another for the purpose of gathering information so that they could then introduce one another to the class.
And one time, when it came their turn, two young men came to the front of the room for their introductions, and one began to speak, "As a matter of fact, we're roommates in the dorm. And we have a strange and wonderful relationship. I'm wonderful and he's strange."
Well, the story I'm going to be telling you this morning is about two people who also have a strange and wonderful relationship. I think both of them are both strange and wonderful, but in the best senses of the words.
We learn from the fourth chapter of the gospel according to John, beginning with the fifth verse, that "Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
“Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)"
Now the first strange thing to notice is that this well is probably a pretty lonely place. Women didn't usually go to the well at noon. But maybe it's just as well, because Jesus and this woman might not have been able to have this conversation if there'd been a crowd hanging around.
"The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
“Jesus answered 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.’
So Jesus ignores the racist distinctions, and tells her, "If you knew who I was, you'd be asking ME for a drink." But the message goes right by her.
"The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
And we are reminded of Nicodemus, who couldn't understand the difference between a physical rebirth and a spiritual rebirth. The woman doesn't realize that Jesus is speaking of spiritual water.
"Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
Strange water. We might call it ETERNAL water, water which satisfies for MORE than just the moment. But we might also think of it as a WELL of water, a BOTTOMLESS well of water, a well that can never run dry within us.
But does the woman at the well understand this? Apparently not.
"The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
Well, she got it half-right. She wants Jesus' water; she wants to never be thirsty again; but she still hasn't figured out that it is SPIRITUAL water rather than earthly water.
So, "Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."
He's apparently figured out that he hasn't gotten through to her, so he'll try something else.
"The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, "I have no husband"; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is NOT your husband. What you have said is true!"
So what does her lifestyle history have to do with the water in the well? My sense of all this is that Jesus is trying to convey to the woman that he has a depth of knowledge and understanding that she has not yet grasped. That when he spoke of special water, he really KNEW of special water that would eternally quench our thirst.
"The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet."
Now she's starting to catch on. But is it enough for her to think of him as just a "prophet"? They've seen lots of prophets. And all she's heard that makes her think that he might be a prophet has been the recounting of her marital history.
So she goes on to say,
"Our ancestors worshiped on the mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
And we're back to that Jewish-Samaritan split again.
So, "Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."
So much for Jews and Samaritans and their disputes. And it is here that Jesus becomes genuinely prophetic.
"You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him."
Is he making any headway? Is any of this sinking in for the woman? Do you think she's drawing any connections to the water he spoke of? Because he's telling her that the places we worship don't matter. All that matters for the true worshiper is to worship God in spirit and truth.
"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Now that verse carries a lot of freight, and there are lots of ways to interpret it; but I hear Jesus telling the woman that God is beyond the temple and beyond the mountaintop. God cannot be contained to suit particular religious groups.
"The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."
And this is the opening Jesus has been waiting for.
"Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."
Now, if she can make the connections, she will understand what that was all about in the discussion of the drinking water. And it may not happen immediately, but may take time for her to sort out.
"Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?"
You see, it really WAS a strange relationship: she was both a woman AND a Samaritan.
"Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him."
Well, the woman is obviously excited. She left her water jar. But is she excited for the right reasons? She's impressed that Jesus knew her marital history, but did anything else sink in? Was that all that was necessary for her to believe that just maybe this might be the Messiah? Maybe it was! Maybe an all-knowing prophet was what folks were looking for!
Of course, we have hindsight, and we have the printed words on the page that we can look at and take apart. But we have to wonder, as in the case of Nicodemus, whether Jesus really got through to this woman they way he wanted to.
"Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." Strange food.
But I think that Jesus was pretty excited! I'D be excited if I thought you all were going to rush out and tell everybody what a wonderful church this is! And you all can probably think of moments in your lives when YOU were too excited to eat. Physiologically, when our adrenaline starts pumping, our stomach knows no hunger pangs, and we don't even THINK about food.
But the disciples don't know what's going on.
"So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?"
Well, yes and no. No, no one has brought him bread to put in his mouth. But yes, the engagement with the woman at the well HAS been like food to him. It HAS fed him.
"Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."
And he HAS been doing the will of God. And he knows that he has been successful with the woman at the well.
And in reflecting on that encounter, Jesus continues,
"Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest?" But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting."
And he’s NOT talking about grain, but about people--people like the woman at the well.
"The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.
Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Now, the identity of sower and reaper aren't all that clear here. But I like to think of God as the original sower. And I also like to think of the prophets who preceded Jesus, and all those who contributed to the hope of a Messiah, as sowers.
So now, Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, has come, and it is time for the reaping. And the disciples will join in the reaping. They did not sow, they did not set the stage for this reaping. But now their labors will join the labors of many who have gone before.
And in a sense Jesus is the pivotal point. Jesus is both sower AND reaper.
"Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done."
And the fields are being harvested. But whatever happened to that strange water that he promised her? Did that part of the message have an impact on her? Well, maybe, maybe not. But something obviously DID.
Jesus revealed himself as knowing her as well as she knew herself.
"So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.
“They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the World.’”
So maybe Jesus’ "strange water" in itself didn't have the DIRECT impact that he wanted it to have, but he nevertheless DID have an impact on the woman, and that impact resulted in him being fed by some "strange food," "to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."
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