We just never know when life is going to change forever, do we? This has come home to all of us in this community as we heard the horrible news on Tuesday about the bus accident. There was no way on Tuesday morning to imagine that before the end of the day four young lives would end and countless others would be changed forever by that event. And that is just one public example that is fresh in our minds right now. We all can think of others, both public and private that have changed us unexpectedly in some profound way. When we deal in our lives with things like the tragic loss of loved ones to accidents or illness or war, or when we are deeply impacted by the other kinds of struggles that can shake our lives out of their predictable orbits….problems in relationships, issues of forgiveness, dealing with our own woundedness and all too human weaknesses, we might be able to identify with what happened to the Samaritan woman when she encountered Jesus at the well.
Imagine yourself for a moment in the place of the Samaritan woman. It is an ordinary day for her as she goes to draw water at the well. Various scholars have speculated about why she is there at midday, not a common time to be getting water….most people would go in the early part of the day when it is cooler. It has been suggested that she is there at this time because she is ostracized from her community, that she has either chosen or been forced into isolation from them because of what is identified about her status as woman with several marriages. So she is there doing a thing that must be done, but in a time and a manner that is a bit out of the ordinary. Thus the stage is set for this extraordinary meeting.
Jesus and the disciples are traveling. Jesus is hot, tired and thirsty. He has stopped at the well to rest and have a drink while the disciples have gone off for food. The fact that they are even in Samaria is a bit strange. Samaritans and Jews have long been enemies and it would have made a lot more sense for Jesus to avoid that area all together, had he been a conventional person, doing the expected and conventional thing.
But there they are….a woman who is out of place in so many ways and Jesus. Prophet, messiah, who would not be contained, who kept doing the unconventional, the unexpected in his….and continues to do it again and again throughout all time.
He asks her for a drink. To us this might seem innocent enough…but of course we must remember the time and the place. Men and women did not speak in public together. Nor did Samaritans and Jews. And yet here they are.
The passage begins with this wonderful encounter , almost dance-like, between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, and again, it is not what we would expect from either of them. She is almost bold with him, not what we would expect from an ostracized Samaritan woman to a Jewish man. And it seems as if they are missing each other at first…Clearly Jesus is talking a spiritual metaphor and she is talking WATER! She is even so bold as to ask this stranger for the gift of this water he talks of. But then something happens…. things shift…Jesus and the women have that moment of conversation in which he sees beneath the surface of her life. He knows things about her that she has not shared with him and she acknowledges that there is something about this man….”Sir I see that you are a prophet.”
And this lovely dance continues…..as she dares further to engage with him. This woman who has been either by choice or force isolated from her community finds something in this Jewish stranger that is so compelling and yet safe that she engages with him in what might be considered theological discussion on one the hot topics of the time. Pretty outrageous, we might say. And indeed it is bold on her part. If women didn’t talk to men, talking theology with them might be even more outrageous! Was she dancing the discussion back to a safer more intellectual level? Do we like to do that when things get too close to our souls sometimes? Jesus answer though, takes the dance back in another direction. And here I think a different translation might be helpful. Listen to Jesus' answer from The Message, "…the time is coming," Jesus says, "it has, in fact, come – when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship. God is sheer being itself – Spirit. Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration." And apparently this clicks for her. I imagine her at this point just wondering in her mind….”Could this be?” as she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming…..” and then we hear Jesus make this amazing and clear proclamation to her as he says for the first time in this Gospel….”I am he.” “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Suddenly, she was placed in the presence, not of the one who was to come, but the one who was there with her now in the THAT moment.….and for her it was a transforming moment, for we are told that she left her water jar and went back to the city and testified to the people, “Come and see. Come and see a man who saw me. Who saw all of me. Everything. Everything I had ever done.” And what of course is unsaid but implied is “and accepted and embraced it.” Because if that had not happened, there would not have been the rest of the story, there would have been no transformation. That was her testimony….”He told me everything I have ever done.”
In revealing herself to her he revealed his Godself to her, and in revealing himself as God to her, he allowed her to see the image of God in herself. This was the transformation, the conversion. It is here, as it is always about in the incarnation….this great both/and. Jesus telling us who God is and who we are and can be. The Jesus who is God-with-us is the one who died for us, as it says in our reading from Romans today, “while we were still sinners” seeing everything we have ever done, and loving us, perhaps not in spite of but because of ourselves, perhaps choosing to reveal himself as the source of endless living water because he understood our thirst differently himself after that day at the well.
She left her water jar and told others and they came and stayed and saw for themselves that there was something to what Jesus said. She had encountered something, or more accurately Someone in Jesus and in that encounter been transformed. In her encounter she was moved to action. We too encounter and are encountered by the living God. In those encounters our authentic selves are laid bare….our souls in all their glory as the imago dei, the image of God as we were created, but also in our weakness and our sinfulness. And all of this is the Good News. Because God does prove His love in that while we are still sinners Christ died for us. Jesus answers the question asked by the people in Exodus, “Is the Lord among us or not?” He is not only among us, but becomes us, so he can sit with a woman at a well in the heat of the noonday sun and tells her, as he tells us all we have ever done, who he is and who we can be. Thanks be to God.