So he 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.) 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." 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?" 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." 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." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." 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!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we Jews 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 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." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."
... 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?" 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.
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." 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."
Water for All
When I was in the midst of it this week, trying to decide what's best for keeping the church safe during the coronavirus verses my extrovert need to be with people, this text took on a new spiritual light for me. Here is Jesus, on the road, doing ministry, and he travels to a place where he knows he will meet people he, under the present health codes, he should not be with- they will, should he come in contact with them, make him, unclean. The Samaritans weren't sick, no COVID-19 virus or anything like that, but Jews were supposed to keep separate from "others."
Instead of coming to the well in the morning with the other women, this woman is at the well alone, in the middle of the day- We don't know why she was isolated- but her responses to Jesus show all the symptoms of someone who has been separated from the community for a while.
According to an article on social isolation in Psychology today "Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. When we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and friendship can increase our anxiety and hinder our coping ability." "An isolated person may experience loneliness, low self-esteem. Over time, a person may develop social anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns." In fact, you would think that it just happens to people who are isolated by themselves- single people- but in fact, studies have shown that even being isolated in small groups, people can share the same symptoms- so even our families are at risk.
The woman shows all of these symptoms in her conversation with Jesus- Jesus asks: “Give me a drink.” “why would you ask me- to you I'm unclean.” Jesus says: If you knew who asked, he would have given you living water.' “tsk, you have no bucket. Who do you think you are, anyway?" Jesus responds,” If you drink this water I speak of, you won’t be thirsty again.” And the woman almost laughs at him- “sir give me this water so I don't have to come here every day.”
So far she has shown low self-esteem, negativity, cynicism; and we get a glimpse into her pain as she has had 4 husbands and the one she's with now is not even her husband. Was this her choice, or was she like the woman the Pharisees asked Jesus about in the story of the 7 brothers who died one after the other, passing the wife along- but clearly Jesus hits a nerve- and she snaps "Big deal, you're a prophet." And then she puts her back up her and him, me and you, us and them and why she is and always will be an outsider. And Jesus comes back one more time- there is no me and you, us and them- all of us are loved. Her defenses weakened, she spits one last time- only the Messiah can do that- in other words, yeah- it would take a miracle. And Jesus says the only thing left to say when there Is nothing left to say-he speaks the name of God- I AM- the only words that can truly transform- and they do.
It's a long conversation- the longest narrative of Jesus in a conversation with anyone in scripture- and I believe that's on purpose. Because as much as we are hardwired as humans for connection, and created by God for relationship, we are very adept at creating divisions. And as we move into this period of social distancing, created, not by us, but as a preventative for this virus, it is going to be very important not to let our physical separateness stop us from being a connectional people. Jesus brought this woman back from isolation only through his intentionality, and perseverance. He had a choice at each stage of the conversation- move back, or be present- step into her world of isolation or retreat back to people who will treat him better than she was. He recognized her defensive mannerism and thick wall but stayed the course.
We might find this over the next few weeks. When we reach out by phone or by email- people might at first seem short tempered, or hesitant to talk- the pushing away we may feel might tend to make us give up on that person- especially since we may have our own fear and anxiety over the virus- why go the extra mile for some when its easier to say- "I tried once but obviously they don't want to be bothered." or "I don't have time for this, I need to take care of my family,' or 'I'll call someone who wont be negative, or sarcastic." Call anyway. Call the people you like. Call the people you don't like. The ones who make you feel like a million bucks and the ones who annoy the crap out of you.
But Jesus was not the only one who had to be intentional and persist. The woman too- had the choice to retreat from Jesus or stay the course- and when she recognized, finally that Jesus was genuinely reaching out, she recognized also her need to stop arguing, to receive the living water of love being offered. Anyone see yourself in this woman? The phone rings and you see the number and your'e like, oh God, not them- I don't want to take that- oh God, it's the pastor- well, its about time- took a crisis- ugh- she's so cheerful all the time, makes me crazy- i just want to stay in misery-
I say this because all of us, all who have professed to be transformed by Christ, whether we feel on the margins or in the center of things, share in this responsibility to each other
So, I have a plan, actually, we have a plan of action we can take over the period of social distancing however long that is- and it involves each person reaching out to 3-5 people per week by phone, or email, or even a simple text. And you'll be hearing more about that in an email over the next few days. But this will do two things- first, it will help people feel less isolated and more connected. Talking even for five minutes with someone, sharing concerns, fears, joys, and even a short prayer can be a day changer for some, a life changer for others. But the second thing it does is it helps the caller feel less isolated. So many times, we wait, bitter and rejected because we don't feel included, when God has also given us the opportunity to minister to other people. So reaching out helps us remember our connection as well.
We need each other. God placed us together, each one of us, on purpose- and we can be mindful and encouraging to each other.- to be lean on the source of strength more powerful than any virus or anything that can come against us and threaten to keep us apart- And then as a congregation, we can share the living water of Christ with those not in our community of faith- with the thirsty of the world we are called to serve.