John 4:5-42New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


Jesus was thirsty.

It’s noon on a hot summer day in a semi-desert land. The disciples had gone off to buy food and supplies and had left Jesus by Jacob’s well – but with no bucket or even a cup. So of course Jesus was thirsty. There was plenty of water – but no way to get a drop of it.

A Samaritan woman comes to get water. Most women came in the morning – not in the heat of the day – and they would come together. It was a social gathering. But there was an unwritten social order about who gets the first water, the freshest water … and this woman was last. And she came alone.

Jesus asks her for water. It sounds like a simple request. But it surprises the Samaritan woman. It’s clear that Jesus is a Jewish rabbi. But in that simple request, Jesus has just broken all sorts of cultural and religious rules: Jews don’t talk with Samaritans; they don’t touch things that Samaritans touch – for fear of becoming unclean, men don’t talk with women, and no one, it seems, talks with her.

But Jesus does. And he not only talks to her – but he offers her a gift: life giving water.

Again the woman is surprised – life giving water? From a man with no bucket?

But she is eager to take it. She sounds pretty practical – after all, then she wouldn’t have to come to this well every day, in the heat of the day, to draw water and carry it. But this is not all Jesus offers. He invites her to bring her husband. She tells the truth – but not all of it. She says: she has no husband. Jesus responds by also telling the truth – the whole truth.

Jesus knows who she is – and all her heartache. He knows that she has had five husbands and that the one she is living with is not her husband. He doesn’t say why – many readers have since speculated. But Jesus doesn’t. He knows her circumstances – but he does not chastise or judge her or rub salt in her wounds. Instead, he just acknowledges that this has been her life – and then when the woman speaks of her faith, that she is waiting for the Messiah, Jesus tells her who He is – plainly and simply: I am He – and just to be clear he adds, “the one who is speaking to you.”

The conversation started with a simple request – Jesus asking for a drink of water. Jesus was thirsty. She had a jar. They were by the well. It sounds like a simple question – with a simple solution. But a whole host of cultural, religious and ethnic barriers normally would have stood in the way.

But Jesus breaks the rules and breaks down barriers and invites relationship. Jesus engages the woman in authentic, vulnerable, and open conversation. And the Samaritan woman is transformed and propelled to action. Leaving her jar with Jesus – arguably her most precious possession – after all, even Jesus needed a bucket or jar of some kind to get water – she goes to the city to tell her story. Something has happened to her. She is not only healed and transformed within – but then…she is restored to community.

Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan women can remind us and teach us a few very important lessons.

First: It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done: Jesus seeks relationship with you – an honest relationship. Jesus tells the truth and then offers love, forgiveness, restoration and transformation. Just as he offered to the Samaritan woman, Jesus offers life-giving water for you.

This not a new lesson - you already know this. You know that you have been named and claimed as God’s child at your baptism –and renewed and restored by Christ’s body and blood at Christ’s table. We have reminded one another of God’s free life-giving waters of forgiveness and mercy. But…just in case you don’t know this – let me proclaim it right now: You are God’s beloved child. Together, we are the body of Christ here, in this place.

But this story also teaches us that we have something to offer, we have something worth sharing. As the Samaritan woman demonstrates: You don’t have to be a rabbi, priest or pastor to share Good News. It was because of her witness that the Samaritans came to believe. And it didn’t even sound like a compelling witness – she went to them and said, “He couldn’t be the Messiah – could he?” The assumed answer to that question is “No,” And yet… they came to see… and believed.

And finally – in this story, Jesus calls us to break down barriers to relationships. Jesus calls us into conversation and relationship with the “other.” It can begin by simply noticing our neighbors and then opening the door for relationship. The transformation of the Samaritan woman started by Jesus asking for a cup of water because he was thirsty.

Jesus dares to be authentic, vulnerable, and open to receiving help; Jesus breaks the rules and breaks down barriers and invites relationship. As the body of Christ here in this place, we are called to do that too. The question is: do we dare?

It takes a risk. It takes being vulnerable – but I think that Jesus Christ is calling us to do that – break down barriers between people and invite relationships.

When I was working at Augustana years ago I led a Bible study with a woman named Mona. She and I had radically different interpretations of the Bible. We often disagreed – vigorously. And yet… we both knew that the other was a Child of God who was not only loved by Jesus but also was seeking to follow Jesus. That was where we began and ended each Bible study – acknowledging the belovedness of the “other.”

We all probably do not agree on every issue either. And yet...we acknowledge that we are all beloved children of God – and that together we are the body of Christ. Acknowledging that we all need and receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, we can dare to have honest and loving conversations. We can do this both within our walls and in the world around us - because we have something to offer. The world needs our voice.

Our world, our country, our community is divided in so many ways – culturally, religiously, ethnically, politically… and these divisions cause great anxiety. Currently there is anxiety over whether programs like Dinner at Your Door will continue to receive funding to serve people in our neighborhood; there is anxiety from seniors next door as to whether they will be able to afford their housing; there is anxiety over immigration and refugees.

This is a time for the people of God, the body of Christ – to offer a third way to the polarity around us. This third way is Jesus’ way. It is a way not filled with hate against the other – but filled with love, Christ’s love. We can be the bearers of love and -- something that may seem hard to find these days – hope. But the hope that we bear is not an empty hope, for it is based in the love of Christ that is poured out for us – and for poor, the stranger, the immigrant, the neighbor… And…since Jesus offers life-giving water –to you and me and to all who are called “other” – let us remember to share a cup of water with our neighbor too – because Jesus is still thirsty. And, as Jesus has said, whenever we offer even a cup of water to one of these “others” – we give it to him. Amen