3rd Sunday in Lent, year A, 2014 (preached March 23, 2014)
first reading: Exodus 17:1-7
second reading: Romans 5:1-11
gospel reading: John 4:5-42
He couldn’t understand Jesus’ words to him because he was operating from a physical, material standpoint, and Jesus was giving him answers that were spiritual in nature. Nicodemus was stuck on the things that could be “seen,” while Jesus was telling him about the “unseen.”
Today we have the same kind of story, but with dramatically different results.
It’s true that at first the Samaritan woman is just as confused by Jesus as Nicodemus was. Jesus talks to her about living water, and she asks him where he gets that water, since he has no bucket. Then he tells her those who drink of this water will never be thirsty again. And she asks him for this water, so that she won’t have to come to the well anymore.
Well, Jesus gives her the water all right, but not the water she was expecting!
He shows her that he has incredible powers of knowledge by telling her about her past. It is here that her eyes begin to open about the identity of this man.
At first she understands Jesus to be a prophet, and so asks him a theological question, one that was hotly debated between Jews and Samaritans – whether the proper place of worship was Jerusalem of Mt. Gerazim.
But just like with Nicodemus, Jesus’ answer is not spatial, not earthly – it’s spiritual. Jesus’ answer opens her eyes even wider, and she knows now that the SPIRIT is Jesus’ major concern, so SHE makes a spiritual statement of faith in the coming of the Messiah.
Once she does this, Jesus gives it to her plainly, “I am he.” Then she becomes one of the first evangelists in the gospel of John.
She goes back to her city and tells the people to come and see, questioning, “Could he be the Messiah?”
And in the end, not only this woman, but the crowds she brought with her to see Jesus, believe in him and proclaim him to be the Savior of the world.
Quite different from the story of Nicodemus, who although learned and respected, left HIS meeting with Jesus feeling confused and still in the dark.
This story of the Samaritan woman, when taken alone AND when compared to the story of Nicodemus, has many things to teach us.
This was no learned woman. In fact, if she was like most women in Jesus’ day, indeed most common everyday people, then she didn’t even know how to read. Her status and reputation among her own people was even suspect.
And she certainly wasn’t wealthy or she wouldn’t have had to marry all the men she did, and she also wouldn’t be drawing water herself, a servant would have done that for her. We also know that as a woman in that time and place that she was NOT a religious authority.
And she was a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews did NOT get along with one another. Jews viewed Samaritans with contempt.
Totally the opposite of Nicodemus.
Yet, with her simple faith and conviction, she becomes a mighty evangelist – playing the pivotal role in the conversion of her whole community. She was able to understand and accomplish what Nicodemus could not.
This is comforting and inspiring.
It can comfort and inspire all of us, because it shows the amazing reach of God’s love and proves that ANY person who has faith can share it with others. Anyone can be an evangelist, anyone can share their faith and plant the seed for the Holy Spirit to nurture and grow.
Look at what the Holy Spirit was able to accomplish through this woman’s witness! This woman of no education, power, money or reputation.
Some folks have tried to explain away her possible “bad” reputation, but I don’t think we need to do that at all. Her bad reputation, her less than saintly living situation, makes her encounter with Jesus, and her witness, all the more brilliant.
The Samaritan woman and Nicodemus couldn’t be more different, yet Jesus loved them both. Yes, he loved Nicodemus too, even in his confusion. And thank God for THAT, because God knows how confused we all get with faith now and then.
This woman shows us that no matter how inadequate we may feel at times, no matter how much we think we’ve screwed up, we are never outside the arms of God’s love, and that we are still able to do God’s work. And what is this work?
At the end of every worship service we are sent out in peace to serve the Lord. There are many ways we serve Jesus, depending on the gifts and talents we are given. Along with these, it is the calling of every Christian to be an evangelist. To share God’s love in word and deed with others.
God so loved this woman, this woman with NO status, that she couldn’t keep Jesus to herself, and became the link for the conversion of her whole community! She knew God’s love for her through her interaction with Jesus, and shared that message with others.
God loves each of us here this morning, because of the things we do and the people we are, in IN SPITE of the things we do and the people we are – simul iustus et peccator – the same time saint and sinner. And God calls us to share that love with everyone we encounter.
God empowers each of us here with the Holy Spirit to do this work, and God can use us, no matter who we are, and no matter where we find ourselves.
May this woman’s story truly comfort and inspire us all, to do that work to which we are called.
**image: Jesus with the Samaritan Woman by the Well, mid 4th century, Lunette in an arcosolium, catacomb on the Via Latina