“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34)
If you were a single guy living in Bible times and you wanted to meet girls, there would be no better place to hang out than at the local well. Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac there, Jacob put the moves on Rachel there[i], and Moses hit on Zipporah at a well. It was, you see, the girls’ job to fetch water. In many parts of the developing world it still is. That’s why water scarcity or insecurity in developing countries often means women and girls have to walk miles each day carrying water for their families, and many are denied an education because of this time-consuming task.[ii]
In our gospel lesson for Lent 3, Year A (John 4:5-42) we find Jesus in Samaria at a well. This is an interesting fact in itself because many a pious Jew, in traveling from Galilee to Judea, would take a long route through the Decapolis rather than cross into Samaritan territory. Think about that: they’d rather go miles out of their way and encounter total pagans than risk having to talk to folks they felt got the Jewish religion wrong. I guess I can understand that. I mean, I’d sooner kiss a Muslim or a Hindu on the mouth than have a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. There’s just something about folks who misinterpret the things we believe in that really gets on our last nerves. For Jews in Jesus’ day, those Samaritans were the ones who got it wrong, and they were considered lower than fish poop.[iii]
Nevertheless, here we find Jesus. He not only converses with a Samaritan woman (bad enough she’s Samaritan, but she’s also a woman. Talking to her without a family member present was another taboo!), but he initiates the conversation. While the disciples go on a lunch run (Q: How many disciples does it take to get lunch? A: Apparently, all of them. But the pre-resurrection disciples always seem to be rather dim bulbs, so I guess it takes all twelve not to screw it up.), Jesus hangs out at the well and gives us all a lesson in evangelism.
First, Jesus isn’t afraid to bring the Word to an undesirable place. He’s also not afraid to speak the Word to people who might very well reject it or argue with him about it. He starts by simply asking for a drink of water. His speaking to a Samaritan woman may be surprising and unconventional, but it’s certainly not threatening. He’s also stationing himself at the well—a place he knows will get some foot traffic. I think of three of my younger clergy colleagues who, on Ash Wednesday, met morning commuters at the Frankford Transit Plaza and asked them if they’d like to receive ashes on their foreheads to commemorate the start of Lent. They may not have made new church members by doing this, but they got people thinking about the cross of Christ. They brought a spiritual presence into that place.
Secondly, Jesus didn’t condemn the woman for misinterpreting doctrine even though it appears from the text that he believed she did (see verse 22), nor does he give her grief about her rather complex personal history. She may have been a gal who “got around,” or she may have had some phenomenally bad luck when it came to the health of her life partners; nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t call her a slut or claim she’s been cursed by God. He simply acknowledges the truth of her situation. Sometimes, I think, that’s all anyone asks of us. We don’t need to comment on anyone else’s journey. We just need to acknowledge them where they are. We really never know how rough someone else has had it.
Thirdly, Jesus seems to get a lot of satisfaction out of his encounter with this lady. He’s so delighted by having had a decent theological conversation with a person of a different viewpoint that he isn’t even hungry for lunch! Speaking God’s truth in love—and in a loving way—is nourishment for the soul[iv].
Finally, Jesus’ one conversation leads to an invitation to hang out for the next two days and talk with many others in the village. We have to trust that when we model Christ or speak of our faith we may be planting a seed that bears more fruit than we’ll ever realize. One life, like the unnamed Samaritan woman’s, can have a profound effect on so many others. Faith tells us to take advantage of any opportunity to share our relationship with Christ. We don’t preach, we don’t judge, we don’t try to win an argument or make a convert. We just share the Word and let God do the rest.
I hope your Lenten journey has been meaningful so far. Enjoy the coming spring, and thanks for reading my blog this week.
[i] See Genesis 29:9-12. Those kids started making out right away!
[ii] This is why water scarcity issues are also women’s and girls’ rights issues, and why ending water scarcity will empower thousands of women.
[iii] Which is pretty low, if you think about it.
[iv] You should try it if you haven’t already.