I love the story of the woman at the well. It is such a beautiful example of a person encountered by the living God, the God who offers us living water, the water that quenches our thirst eternally. Here are some things to notice about the encounter:
The woman is not doing anything special. She is merely going about her daily activities. She must get water, so she goes to the well. In the midst of doing this mundane task, she encounters the living God.
There is nothing that excludes the woman from meeting the living God. It doesn’t matter that she is a Samaritan, one of a group of people with whom the Jews would not interact, and that Jesus is Jewish and so should not be interacting with her. It doesn’t matter that she is a woman, and that Jesus is a man and so should not be interacting with her. There is nothing that prevents her from meeting the living God.
When she comes face to face with the living God, he challenges her. He challenges her understanding of the barriers that would normally exist between a Samaritan woman and a Jewish man. He challenges her lifestyle, the fact that she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. He challenges her understanding of where it is proper to worship God. He challenges her understanding of when the Messiah will come and what he will be like. He challenges all that she has previously known and done.
Although Jesus challenges her, he doesn’t condemn her. Instead, he presents her with a life that will be to her a spring of water gushing up to eternal life, a life devoted to and enlivened by the living God. In doing so, he proves to be true the statement, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17). Jesus’ job is not to condemn, but to reveal the life that truly is life.
The woman responds positively to Jesus. She doesn’t reject him because he is Jewish and a man. Instead, she asks for the living water he proclaims to have. She doesn’t take offense when he describes her lifestyle. Instead, she declares him to be a prophet. She doesn’t dismiss his spiritual knowledge. Instead, she engages him in conversation about the correct place to worship and about the Messiah. She doesn’t keep the encounter to herself. Instead, she returns to the city and bears witness, thereby bringing others to encounter the living God. In the end, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). When the Samaritans spend time with Jesus themselves, they proclaim, “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” (Jn 4:42). The woman shares with others the living water that Jesus offered her.
It is a wonderful story. A life encountered by the living God and opened up to God in a way it has never been open before. The woman begins her day with a mundane activity, and ends it proclaiming the Messiah. In between the beginning and the end of her day, she has been encountered by the living God, and it has made all the difference. She has gone from the ordinary to the extraordinary; from the familiar to the exceptional; from the earthly to the heavenly; from a thirsty soul to a soul quenched forever.
We all are characters in the story of the living God. We all are the woman at the well. As we go about our daily lives, doing the mundane activities we must do to live, we will encounter the living God. There is nothing that prevents us from meeting him. When we do meet him, he will challenge us – he will challenge all we have previously known and done. He will not condemn us, but will present us with the life that truly is life. We will be encountered by the living God; that is a given.
What is not a given is how we will respond. Will we reject him because he is not acceptable for some reason? Will we take offense when he lays bare our personal lives? Will we dismiss his spiritual knowledge? Will we keep the encounter to ourselves and not share it with others?
Or, will we ask for the living water he offers? Will we accept his assessment of our personal lives? Will we seek his spiritual knowledge? Will we return to our village, town, or city and bear witness, bringing others to encounter him, too?
God is around us, among us, and within us, alive and active in the world. He is the living God, and he will encounter us over and over again, for he desires us as his own. My hope and my prayer is that we will be open to him and be opened by him; that we will drink of the living water; that it will be a spring of water within us, gushing up to eternal life, spilling over into our community, our county, our state, our country, and our world, bringing others to meet him.
We just have to remember to go to the well every day in anticipation; for he will surely be there, waiting for us. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, March 6, 20016, the Fourth Sunday in Lent.