Lent 3: He told me everything I've ever done!
What were you thinking as you heard the gospel today? I guess that some of us were not really paying attention and might have been thinking of other things, like O gosh, how long this reading is, or I hope I remembered to switch off the oven when I left home this morning. If you were thinking these things, don’t worry. Just forgive yourself and move on. But you might have been thinking about the meaning of the story. Why has St John included it in his Gospel? Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t say anything about this Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well of Jacob. Or you may have been thinking of the details of the story. Why was the woman coming out to draw water at mid-day? Women usually collected water in the morning or the evening, when water was needed for cooking or washing. This woman was all alone, there was no body at the well except Jesus. Why did she come alone? Was it because she had had seven husbands? In the Old Testament, the book of Tobit’s daughter Sarah had seven husbands, all of whom were killed by demons on their wedding night. Or what about the woman who married seven brothers, one after another as each one died. The Sadducees wanted to know which of the seven would be her husband at the resurrection. Clearly there is something odd about a woman who has had seven husbands. Or perhaps the comparison between the deep, dark, still waters of the well and the clear bright gushing water of eternal life caught your imagination. It is like comparing the polluted and deadly waters of a tsunami or a flood with a sparkling fountain or the sea in the tropics. Maybe even you compared the murky life without faith to the hope-filled and confident life in Christ. Another point made in the story is about worship. Obviously the Jews and the Samaritans were divided about where it was right to worship God; Mount Gerizim in Samaria or Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Jesus’ answer is that it doesn’t matter where you worship, as long as you worship in spirit and in truth. Again, there is the astonishing revelation to the woman that Jesus is the Messiah. She says, “I know that the Messiah is coming.” And Jesus answered her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” I can’t think of anywhere else in the Gospels where Jesus so plainly and clearly says that he is the Messiah. In the other gospels there is plenty of evidence. When John the Baptist’s followers asked, Jesus told them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” By Jacob’s well, Jesus tells, not a Jewish man, as we might expect, but a Samaritan woman, that he is the Messiah. “I am here, talking to you.” All this is good. Those who study the Bible need to explore the readings carefully to get as much as possible out of the text. A good preacher should find two or three important points to emphasise, and those who listen do well if they take those three points home with them. As I have said, teaching is good, but there is another way of reading the Gospel stories. The Samaritan woman convinced the townsfolk by saying, “He told me everything I have ever done!” But after the townsfolk had met Jesus for themselves they said, “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 Saviour of the world.” In the same way, my advice is that each person needs to read the Gospels for themselves. If I had the eloquence of Billy Graham, the dream of Martin Luther King and the learning of John Stott then I could teach hundreds of people about the Gospel. But it is only when those people meet the Messiah and hear for themselves that they come to know that this is truly the Saviour of the world. May I suggest then, that you take the pew bulletin home with you, or find the passage in your own bible. Then find a quiet place. It may be outside or it may be in your own room. It may be in a public garden or in a church. It could even be on a train or in the doctor’s waiting room. C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles, had his moment of revelation riding upstairs in a double decker bus. Read the passage carefully, listening to the words in your mind. You may even imagine the scene. In this case, the dusty road, the weary traveller resting at the well and the woman carrying her water jar. Then listen to what Jesus is saying, as if he is saying it to you. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman to give him a drink. What might he ask you to give him? And what would be your response? Are you someone who might expect Jesus to talk to you? Or are you someone like the Samaritan woman, who thought that the Messiah would have nothing to do with you? Jesus challenged the woman to go and get her husband. How might Jesus challenge you? And how would your conversation go? How would Jesus deal with your confession? In this way, we can read the passage slowly and lovingly. Maybe you don’t want to ask all those questions I have suggested. That is fine. Some people have other ways of hearing Jesus. Read the passage slowly and lovingly, paying careful attention to the voice of Jesus. Perhaps this passage is not the right one for you. Try another. My task as a preacher and teacher is to help you meet Jesus and welcome him as Saviour. I would be absolutely delighted if someone said to me, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is the Saviour of the world.”