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The Samaritan Woman

Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sunday, March 27, 2011 – Lent 3A

Well, given the week we’ve had here at Grace, I’m glad we get to spend a little time with Jesus and the Samaritan woman down at the well this morning. We get this story once every three years in the lectionary cycle, and so once every three years you hear me say “this is my favorite story in the whole Bible.” And today is no different, so I’ll simply update you, “this is still my favorite story in the whole Bible.” I float away from it every now and then, and at least a few times over the course of three years worth of readings, some other passage will pose a challenge to this number one’s position, but it still sits on top and I think it’s because what I believe this story is about.

I believe this is a story about someone being made more whole simply by being received. And then that one person, newly empowered, was able to proclaim the news of this healing to her people. Then through that proclamation others came to believe for themselves and they invited Christ to be present among them. And in the end, they received healing too. Perhaps it’s obvious why I love this story, but I hang onto it because I believe this is a story of how it can be, how we can be as church.

So let’s start at the beginning because I think the beginning contains something like a miracle. This isn’t a healing story in that the woman was blind or lame or suffering from leprosy or some other sort of disease. It’s a healing story in that she was alone and she was struggling to make it in this world and then one day she was by herself down at the well and she met the Christ and he told her it was he. Now she was the only other person there because it was mid-day and all of the “respectable women” had been at the well early in the morning. Being at the well was generally a communal activity during which the women would catch up with each other, offer support and insight, gab. But this woman was on the outside of all of that. She had been married several times and was living with someone who wasn’t her husband. She was sort of a walking scandal and so other women steered clear of her, did not want to be associated with her, essentially exiled her and she knew better than to try to appear to be “one of them.”

But then one day, mid-day she went down to the well by herself and Jesus was there. And she wasn’t alone anymore. And that not alone was the first part of the healing. He sat with her and while they were at the well, Jesus spoke to her which was incredible not only because she was a woman, but because she was also a Samaritan and “Jews [did] not share things in Common with Samaritans,” we heard the gospel say. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies; as far as the purists were concerned, Jesus should have steered clear of this entire town. But instead, he talked to her, asked questions, received her and her story, and quenched a thirst that ran deeper than probably even she was aware of.

And so the healing Jesus did that day broke down a ton of barriers – barriers that had isolated this human being from her community and barriers that had been established around the entire people of Samaria. And I think that all of that is a miracle of healing.
And Jesus didn’t do that much really, he just sat with her and listened and let her know that she had been heard; he confirmed her story back to her, watered her and in doing
those simple things offered new life to one person, and it took off from there. Notice what he didn’t do: He didn’t hear her story and try to fix it. He didn’t hear her story and thereby conclude that she did not qualify for this living water. He didn’t even say “go and make things better and then we’ll talk about whether or not you get to have some of this to drink.” He just received her, gave her story back to her, and since he knew that she was thirsty, he gave her something to drink that would last.

As we talk about healing this Lent, there’s a big lesson in this for us, probably several of them. Healing is often equated with “fixing” or “curing” and we can all probably relate to that desire to immediately “make things better”, as a community we’re living through one of situations now, but none of that happened in this story. Jesus didn’t change this woman’s life-situation at all, he simply sat with her, received her, and she was more whole because of that. She was more whole because she was no longer alone with herself. And she was empowered by that which I think is another lesson for us. The receiving we do is also a strengthening and a hope-giving. The scandalous outsider who had just been received and watered, went back to her people and did an amazing and forgiving sort of thing; she claimed them as her people. Instead of walking alone, or walking away, she stood among them, she stood as them (which she hadn’t been able to do a mere few hours before) and while there she told them what had happened. Then they went to see for themselves, then they came to believe for themselves and they invited Jesus to be among them and he did and he stayed in their town for a couple of days. And so there was healing, healing like “a spring of gushing water” all around and it started with one little ripple.

Now I like to think that the next day she went down to the well early in the morning and she talked with the women there and they received each other and told the stories they carried in their hearts, because they all had them – we all have them. I like to think that the healing continued to move through these people. I like to think that the waters of new life, of reconciliation and love flowed more freely than they ever have before for a very, very long time.

We’ll never know exactly how it played out for the people of that town in the weeks that followed that encounter. But we can affect how the story plays out here. “The fields are ripe,” Jesus told his disciples that day. They’re ripe here too – field upon field in need of healing, in need of restorative, life-giving sorts of presence. We can directly affect healing in this place among these people and beyond these doors. Who is it that you will receive, whose story will you hold, down at the well of your life this week? Go, ripple away.