The text today, John 4:1-26, is about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well at midday in the town of Sychar, a town in route to Galilee, about 40 miles from Jerusalem. It gives us a glimpse of two people engaging in conversation at Jacobs well. It provides a means to see an encounter of deep listening and a gracious empathetic response to the challenges experienced by a Samaritan woman longing to be heard. This conversation is also a means by which to see Jesus giving full attention to the words of the Samaritan woman, to experience the intimate encounters of her life. Simone Weil, a French philosopher, activist and mystic writes in her book Gravity and Grace that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. I think attention, often is the question, “Has anyone heard my cry, does anyone even care.
For Jesus to converse with a Samaritan woman, a woman not married, considered a nonperson in the Roman context was a profoundly unorthodox encounter as Jews did not engage in any way with Samaritans. Further, it was a man’s world and woman, particularly Samaritan woman were outcast and overlooked in most matters. But for Jesus, speaking to a woman, even a Samaritan woman as a human being was nothing new, this is how he moved in the Roman world. Of course, the Samaritan woman, not being used to being treated as a viable human being with divine importance at first could not fathom the words spoken by Jesus for her suffering and loneliness were heavy upon her, yet the more she conversed with Jesus the Son of God the more she awakened to what Jesus had to offer. It is at this point her burden of outcast and loneliness was lifted. She had been undone and awakened by Jesus the Messiah to receive living water, a most extravagant grace so deep and soothing that she had to share it with her community. She had experienced the riches of God’s grace and in the process received the fullness of her humanity. The apostle Paul was so touched by this extravagant grace, the living water as he writes to Christians at Ephesus
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Amid this life, God offers each of us extravagant grace, that is, living water so that our souls might be well nourished and our hopes renewed daily. Each of us should consider this as we journey through our day recognizing that God has poured out living water through Jesus Christ to each of us. Like the Samaritan woman at the well we are called into conversation with Jesus Christ. It may be an unsuspecting encounter or a moment in time when our way seems foggy, cloudy or without light, yet the living water, that extravagant grace is near you, it is very present. It is in this illuminating light of Christ that the Lenten Season appears calling each of us to reflect on our conversations with Jesus Christ, to, in some sense, like the Samaritan woman at the well, rediscover the fullness of our humanity. We must not take this lightly as we are living in a time when our collective humanity is under attack by forces of profound injustice. Healthcare, education, the environment, energy, immigration, global warming, and earth herself are all under attack by powers which seek to deny the fullness of our collective humanity and the sacredness of mother earth.
This past Friday I attended the Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion. The topic for this year’s Earl Lectures was Border Identifies. The keynote speaker was Jose’ Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, activist and undocumented immigrant. He shared stories of his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the injustice of the present immigration system. He described the danger, challenge and the risk many go through as human beings undocumented. He described the fear, the suffering and the oppression experienced at the feet of an immigration system broken. And though the situation is real it was his faith that has held him. It is his community that maintains his hope. He reminded me that the writings of James Baldwin collectively say, “I am who I am, deal with it.”
This is the point of the whole conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, that she must reclaim her humanity regardless of her position in society and culture. She was no longer outcast and lonely, searching for meaning, but a child of God in communion with Jesus Christ the beloved the Son of God. The message of “Jesus and the woman at the well” is “Amid a world suffering we must reclaim daily the fullness of our humanity and in the process, defy powers which seek to deny our humanity through unjust, immoral policies reflective of revenge politics.” Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Yet amidst those powers which would deny our humanity we have a faith defiant, resilient without apology and in this we stand in the light of the cross and the resurrection.
The Hope and the Joy of the Well
And what is the hope and joy of the well but a love so deep that it overcomes the oppressions which seeks daily to deny the humanity of God’s people. The hope and the Joy is the good news shared by many which gradually, with intention reveals the Kingdom of God to a world in need of God’s extravagant grace.