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Homily by Margaret Vazey

Lent 3, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 27, 2011

John 4:5-42

Jesus and the Woman at the Well’

Peter, on the mountain, through the vision of the Transfiguration, witnessed the specialness of Jesus; so does the Woman at the well. She is another important witness, that something radical, new, was happening, in and through, the person of Jesus.

This story extends our understanding of Jesus and what he was on about. Namely, not to replace the Ten Commandments and their associated laws, but to bring mercy, love, compassion, humility, to bear on their application. Also to extend the Old Testament idea of the image of God: who is God, what is God, why is God.

Jesus deliberately takes the path through Samaria. The usual way for the Jews who were travelling between Nazareth and Jerusalem, was to go through the Jordan River valley which connected these two areas. Samaria lay in to the west of the valley between these two areas, and was a no-go zone for Jews.

Again in this story the great figures of the Jewish faith are recalled but this time in a hidden way.

The Jews had despised the Samarians since the time when the great prophet, Elijah, confronted King Ahab and Jezebel, about 850 hundred years before Jesus. (For their story, see: their marriage: 1 Kings 16:29-31; the defeat of the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18: 20-40; Ahab’s miraculous defeat of the Arameans and his subsequent folly: 1 Kings 20: 1-43; the drama of Naboth’s vineyard: 1 Kings 21:1-15.) This was a time when the Israelites in Samaria had intermarried with people of invading tribes.

We see the racial implications of this as the main problem, but that is not correct. The real problem was that the clear message from God that Moses had revealed to the people was deliberately watered down and altered, as they accommodated their religion to the newcomers by worshipping Baal, and indulging in forbidden practices.

However, down the centuries, the Samaritans thought they had corrected this problem, had stuck to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but were still slighted by the Jews of Judah, who no longer regarded them as Israelites, that is, as the Chosen People of God.

Jesus set out to remedy this situation (and thereby reveal the Divine Pssurpose). He deliberately flouted the current practices of:

 1. Not talking to a Samaritan

 2. Not talking to a Woman

 3. Not associating with a person who may have had a poor reputation

 4. Drinking from a cup handled by a woman.

When talking to her, he also redefined the current understanding of the Divine by asserting that:

 1. God could be worshipped anywhere: neither a particular mountain, (Mt. Gerazim), nor a particular city, (Jerusalem), had the right to claim exclusivity. God could be found and worshipped anywhere.

 2. God was not an image or a thing but something fluid, existing in an indefinable way – like the moving, rippling, bubbling, fresh, pure, water – better than that to be found in any well – no matter how good.

The whole of this encounter was so unexpected and so shocking, that the woman, who must have been a person of great courage, and thoughtfulness, declared that Jesus must be a prophet.

As Jesus continued to speak to her, and as she listened, she recognised that this was someone different, special, more than a prophet. She asked “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? In his reply, Jesus seemed so special that she thought that he might even be the long awaited Messiah.

So, she rushed back to her village, a hesitant, and humble, witness, to get the village elders, the wise men about the place, to come to hear Jesus. They dismissed her insights as ‘chatter’, and claimed the revelation for themselves – but who would worry about that - the Samaritans were now convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

In this story, through the witness of the Woman at the Well, the Samaritans redeemed their history: they recognised the miracle that was happening in the person of Jesus. They could see what needed to be done, what as humans they had to do: confirm the covenant of Moses, and acknowledge that this covenant had been renewed and extended in the person of Jesus, and to follow his teaching and his example.

What is this revelation for us: Jesus crosses the boundaries and barriers that humans set up for each other. He liberates people from this bondage of prejudice. He shows that it is a sin. He gets close to people so that they then can look at their own actions, their own prejudices, assumptions, sins. He helps people to discern what is right.

Like the Samaritans in the time of Ahab, have we forgotten who we are? Have we become too closely bound to the culture which surrounds us? Who are we meant to be as the people of God? Can we discern when God is at work, or do we, like Ahab undo the good that has been done? What do we stand for? What do we stand up for? To what do we give our time, energy and money? What are the things in our society that we, and our church, should be challenging?

But this is missing the final point of the story. What did Jesus mean by living water? What is it to worship in spirit and truth? How can we bring ourselves to stance of openness so we can receive the living water? This is not something we can bring about except by waiting, being ready, being expectant but not demanding. We have to forget ourselves, our needs, our wants, and turn off our focus on ourselves. We have to let the living water come to us, be poured on us, and be open to receiving it, and being set free from the bonds that humans place on themselves, and on each other.

Margaret Vazey

1. Craddock, Fred B. “The Witness at the Well (Jn.4:5-42)”
 2. Loader, William, “First thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary Lent 3”
3.Tashjian Jirair, “Third Sunday in Lent”