Lent 3a, (March 23, 2014)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “At the Well”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. John chapter four.
The whole incident in John chapter four is rather strange. Not long after he had his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus goes to a town of Samaria called Sychar. While he is there he is thirsty, and is sitting by a well. A woman comes by, a Samaritan woman, and Jesus asks her for a drink.
Now to you and me, this is not a big deal. He would like a drink but doesn’t have any way to get the water. He has nothing to use to draw the water from the well. Someone comes by and He asks for water. No big deal. Right? Wrong.
In Jesus’ day this was crossing the enemy lines. Jews and Samaritans never, never talk. They just don’t. They are sworn enemies. The Samaritans were half-breeds. They only accepted some of the Old Testament Bible. Many of them were considered traitors because they went along with the Romans in conquering the land. So for Jesus to ask her for a drink would be for us like siddling up to the bar with Charles Manson or someone equally evil, or worse. You just didn’t do it.
But Jesus did. Jesus went to this woman and asked for her help. He was not full of the pride and righteous indignation that infects us all. Pride of place and people and race. Pride of income and status. This pride had no place in our Lord, and so He asks for help. God’s glory is in showing mercy. That’s what makes him tick. That is who He is.
Before we move on to their conversation, it is worthwhile for us to stop and ponder the reality that Jesus asked for help. We value self-sufficiency above all things in our world. The young can’t wait to ride a bike so they can get away. Freedom! The teen or tween (?) can’t wait for a phone. Or a car! A job! Money! All the way to the end of our lives, that concept of independence is hard-wired into us as the goal, the very purpose for living. This is why it is so hard when you are set back on your kiester. You can’t drive like you once did. You may not be able to walk, or talk, or see, or hear, or many of the others things you did when you were young. We are all on that journey, some just farther along than others.
But Jesus here asks her to help him with the simple words, “Give me a drink.” Asking for help isn’t a sign of failure. It is, quite literally, divine. Jesus asks for and receives help from all sorts of people in the Bible, from Mary His mother all the way down to the women who cared for His body as He died. Receiving care from others is a sign of our humanity, and it is a sign that we are really, truly all in this together, this thing called life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It was okay for Jesus. It is okay for you.
Ok, back to our regularly scheduled sermon. So when Jesus asks the woman for help, she is agast. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Sometimes we learn something from God that is so startling, so strange and amazing that we just stop, sit back and wonder in amazement at what is really going on.
But things are going to get stranger for her: “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.”” (John 4:10 ESV)
She doesn’t get it, not yet at least. He’s starting to talk about living water, using word-pictures to paint a glorious landscape of who God is and how He is the life-giving one. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men, as St. John said earlier.
She doesn’t seem to get it any better than Nicodemus got all of the “born again” stuff last week! Jesus is the Living Water which comes down from heaven. He is the one who provides life, not just for now, but forever. He is the source of life itself, just like everything lives today by its connection to water.
But eventually things start to get complicated for our Samaritan woman. It seems she wants to receive His teaching about the living water. So Jesus asks her to call her husband and come here. The woman says she has no husband. Which wasn’t exactly true. She had been married and divorced five times. We don’t know the cause of these divorces. What Jesus is pointing out to her is what she already knew: her life was messed up, almost beyond recognition. Nothing seemed to make sense in that world.
But here’s the thing. Jesus knew how sinful and messed up she was. And He still called out to her with the Gospel. That’s the key. Her sins were sins, but they were just sins. No more, and no less than anyone else. This woman had been shunned by her community, and certainly by the Jews already. And here comes this man who claims to be the Living Water, and what does He offer her? Life. Real life. Life in Him by Water and the Word.
Jesus knows that she is so broken, so sinful and twisted up that she didn’t even know what to ask for. Like so many others in the Scriptures, she could rightly say, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” And He did.
So let’s bring this back to you. St. Paul reminds us in Romans chapter five that “…while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8 ESV)
Jesus knows how weak you are, like that woman, like Paul, like the whole church before and today and tomorrow. He knows. And He says to you, “come and drink.” He bids you come and learn from Him, for He is gentle and kind. He knows your every weakness, your every secret sin and shame. He knows, but He does not hold them against you. Just the opposite, in fact. He takes those sins and carries them with Him to the cross, where they are nailed.
Jesus asked for help and received it. Today He offers you the help that you need in your weakness and sorrow, confusion and hurts and pains. Come and learn from Him. Come and drink of the living water which comes down from heaven. It will refresh you in the journey, and give you hope.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.