The Gospel According to John – 2017.03.12
The Woman by the Well
A spring of water welling up to eternal life
Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied:
‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep:
how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’
‘Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’
‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her
‘and come back here.’
The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’
He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’
‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit, and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’
‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’
The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’
But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life, and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps; I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it; and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’
The First Apostle
This is not a story about who Jesus is. Though most readers and interpreters of the sacred text treat it as such.
This is not a story about the Messiah, or the Christ, or living water. It is not a story about baptism, or the mercy of Jesus. In sitting down with the woman by the well Jesus was not doing anything extraordinary. He was simply following the way, and teaching it through his actions.
This is a story about discipleship, and the first Apostle of the Christian Church, who was a woman, a woman without a husband, an outsider, and a Samaritan.
She was a woman of influence in her community, we know this because after she met Jesus she went to speak with the people of her town, and on the strength of her testimony we are told that the entire community converted to the faith.
They became the very first church, an entire community of believers, formed through the witness of this woman.
And this is why Jesus says to the disciples, who came late in the day, that the Harvest is already coming in. The woman he encountered was taking it in.
This is why Jesus told the disciples that they would take credit for the work that others had done, because even though this story endured, the woman by the well was never given the credit she deserved, one or another of the disciples to credit for the founding of that community in the end.
This is a remarkable story of egalitarianism, and the way of true Christians, a way that does not define the authority of its members by gender, or class, or station. It recognizes the authority of those who have it, having been given it by the spirit that is within them.
3rd Sunday of Lent