Lent 3, Year A
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Wells – they are necessary to life.
And as such they attest to life – things happen at wells.
Betrothals, for example.
Recall Abraham’s messenger meeting Rebekah as he asked her, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar”, and the marriage was proposed by which God would fulfil his promise to make of Abraham a blessing to the nations.
Or Jacob rolling the stone away to water the sheep for Rachel.
Wells can be a place for the uncanny. One of the best known Japanese Noh dramas, Izutsu, concerns the forsaken wife seeing the reflection of her husband in the well where as children they had played together.
Wells are seen as entrances to the spirit world – and you may think of the Chalice Well at Glastonbury.
In Christian lore, they have been sites of baptism.
Who will you find there? What change will this meeting bring about?
In today’s gospel we heard of a meeting at a well:
a weary man resting there in the heat of the day and a woman busy about her task to draw water.
I am not sure Jesus ever receives the drink of water he requests.
But it is not only the woman who is changed by their meeting.
So are many in the village.
And so are Jesus’ disciples, and with them so are we, the whole church.
It is a master-class in evangelism.
But what I want to draw our attention to this morning is the character of the community which emerges from this well-head encounter.
The setting is Samaria, near the old capital of Shechem – and the name itself recalls ancient hurts – the rape of Dinah and subsequent murder. And it draws attention to the division present in Jesus’ day.
These Samaritans held to the Torah, and to the altar Moses had ordered erected on Mount Gerizim.
But not to King David’s innovation of a temple in Jerusalem.
John’s Gospel shows Jesus and his disciples going back and forth between Jerusalem and their homes in Galilee, as they were doing here. They had to pass through Samaria.
They would need food and drink on the way. And who else should supply it, but the heterodox Samaritans?
Jews would be unlikely to be comfortable with this.
We could think of how Greeks today regard the North Macedonians and their claim to a shared heritage.
Or perhaps what it is like today when an Israeli Jew travels North from Jerusalem to Galilee through the Palestinian West Bank.
Jesus may be weary but,
for the Samaritan woman who has come to draw from the well,
he awakens her heart to a deeper desire, a deeper reality, by speaking of water gushing up to eternal life.
And for the disciples who have been to buy food,
he rouses their will to a wider perception
by speaking of harvests that are abundant,
drawing on the prophet Amos’ vision of God restoring Israel: “The time is surely coming when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps”.
They are given the impression that this man has resources hidden from them,
that he sees all, knows all: “He told me everything that I have ever done.”
And this, as the woman says, is the mark of the Messiah: “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”
She has held her own at the well-head. She hasn’t readily become the submissive woman drawing water for a stranger. Her repartee has been by turns sassy and evasive, and she’s kept up as best she can with the deeply-layered conversation which Jesus conducts.
It is this same woman who leaves her jar to go and tell the good news in much the same way the disciples left their nets. It is she who offers the invitation, “Come and see”, the very same words we heard Jesus using to Andrew and his friend in the first chapter of the Gospel. She becomes the evangelist.
And because of this the disciples’ lunch-stop at a dubious place turns into a two-day intensive residential teaching ministry in Samaria.
At the close of the scene these same Samaritans are saying of Jesus
words which previously he has only spoken himself:
“We know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”
And this is Samaria – think of Palestinians today responding to an Israeli Jew.
John in his gospel allows this event to open up enclosed Jewish society.
This foreign woman has brought intelligent listening, strength of character and openness to things of the heart, of the spirit. And she and her compatriots have utterly overturned the disciples’ expectations of the meaning of salvation.
It is the nations who recognise the Saviour, not the chosen people.
And they know instinctively that this salvation is for the whole world; that God’s goodness, his ever-flowing water and his abundant crops are for all.
Yes, salvation is from the Jews, – and John is no anti-semite.
But the abundant life that God gives is not going to be confined to the temple in Jerusalem, any more than it is to be found only on Mount Gerizim.
There is nothing second-hand about this life, no relying on cultural totems.
This life is given wherever people receive the divine Spirit of truth,
wherever they come to know God as Father and so become His adopted children.
And where else to know God as Father except in in the company of his true Son?
“If you knew … who it is that is saying ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
This gospel is an exemplum of mission – and we are not to miss Jesus’ point that mission originates with the Father himself:
“The Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
John in this chapter blows open the early church’s expectations, as surely as Luke does in the Book of Acts, or Paul in the Letter to the Galatians.
So I wonder for us where the fault lines are today.
Are there people who we cannot conceive will worship God in spirit and in truth? People whom we cannot see as God’s children?
If there are,
beware of meeting them at any well-head: –
uncanny changes take place where God causes living water to flow.
I’ll end with some well-known words of Gerard Manley Hopkins,
who was himself very enamoured of the tale of St Winefred’s Well.
But these lines are from As Kingfishers Catch Fire:
his poem which includes the line:
‘As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Here they are:
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.