Reading: John 4:5-42
I feel quite close to this reading after our trip to Israel in 2013. Nev, Marg, Cathie Lambert and I spent two weeks driving around, visiting both the cities and the country side. As I think I said at the time, Jesus came alive to me, not in Jerusalem, where tourists and the faithful looked for him in the glitter and glamour of the Church of the Sulpchre, or in the monuments or churches which marked where he was crucified and died, but rather around the Sea of Galilee. We found him in the fisher men and women still there, on the farms and in the fields and towns. And we particularly found him in the West Bank with the Palestinians, as they eke out a life amongst the ruins of their land and lives.
Cathie was particularly interested in going to Jacob`s well, found in the Palestinian city of Nablus. Of course there was a church over the well, and who knows whether it was actually the well we hear about today. Yet there was something about it, something about the setting, which took us back to those times, and to the life of Jesus, rather than the magical stuff that has grown up around him. Cathie even drank from the well, and lives to tell the tale, and when the custodian was dropping the bucket it did seem to go on for a very long time. I, not being a risk taker, did not take a drink! But I did get a small container of it to take home.
That trip brought Jesus alive to me in a way that was very profound. Jesus as a mystic, activist and teacher. Jesus of courage, and compassion. Jesus as a God infused individual, for God was at the heart of his life, leading the way. As Paul Tillich puts it, `The particularity of Jesus` life and message points to the universality of God`s love and presence`. We Christians believe God is defined by Jesus but it does not mean, it cannot mean, that God is defined by Jesus. If we do not stress the universality of God we make Jesus into an idol.
So Jesus points us to a grander vision of life, for us and everyone and for all of creation, rather than an icon to worship and admire.
As I said last week, Jesus knew this, and the writer of Johns gospel knew this.
As I stressed in that sermon, John`s gospel is the most mystical and least factual of all the gospels. Understanding it on a purely factual level misses the point. John is a bigger picture gospel. When Jesus is referred to as the way, the truth and the light, this is the bigger picture. These sayings embody the universality of life found in the Father.
When Jesus says `No one comes to the father except through me`, the `me` is not an individual but the larger truth, way and life represented in him. When he says, `Love one another as I have loved you`, he is not saying there are some who are worthy and some who aren`t. All are included in God`s circle of love that redeems and brings life. And that new life is here and now if we embrace the message and act on it. `You are my friends, I tell you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, love that will last.`
Jesus was brought up a Jew, but he wanted to take his own religious traditions further, beyond its limits, to transcend the rules and regulations it had become entangled in. We heard his conversation last week with Nicodemus, who thought being born again was about entering the womb twice. He could not get this head around the spirit of God being present in all, and giving life to all, regardless of whether you believed in his miracles or followed the Torah law. In fact, Jesus himself said he did not trust these types of believers.
Today we have the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jacob`s well. This, while following the same theme as the Nicodemus story, operates from a completely different perspective. Rather than a pious well-off Jew, the woman was a Samaritan, despised by the Jews, a woman, who had very little power or position in society, and was probably also a sinner and an outcast, considering her marital status. So Jesus speaks to a Samaritan, a woman and a Jew. Already very countercultural and probably quite dangerous. In addition, the conversation with the unnamed woman comes during the day, rather than at night.
What is the message? Jesus quickly moves from his request for well water to his offer of living water. As with the born again statement from last week, the phrase has both earthly and heavenly connotations. Jesus is offering the spirit of life, the living water of love and compassion that is more true than the well water, or a spring to quench the woman`s thirst.
The living water, the never ending stream. In the fourth gospel, faith is not a matter of doctrinal adherence, but of life and love and action. From love grows everything that a human being needs. Love is the root from which it all stems, a love that arises from God and is given to all of creation. It is as essential as water, leading us to a life that can be rich and full of meaning.
But there is more to the story, that also speaks to us about how we should live with one another.
The Samaritan woman thinks firstly that Jesus is a prophet, and then maybe the Messiah. Either way she bears witness to what he has said, which is itself shocking. Why would the town people take the word of this outcast woman about a Jewish man they had never met? The power of the woman`s faith alone, contrasting with Nicodemus`s official authority is amazing.
So the story today is also a story of inclusion. From Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman, God`s love is not simply for the Jews from whom the story begins but for the entire world. God`s spirit is in all and for all people, not just the rich and well off, not just the educated and elite, but all people. Black or white, rich or poor, male or female.
And not just for those who are righteous, or think they are righteous. We are human and make mistakes, God does not leave on a whim and return when we get things right. God is on the journey with us. Life is messy and God is right there with us.
As Jack Spong says, Jesus is a barrier breaker. Before him falls the human division first between Jew and Samaritan then between women and men and thirdly between sinner and saint. A vision of the realm of God begins to come into view.
Whether you believe the story really happened or not, whether the well is really `the well`, doesn`t matter. For this is the essence of who Jesus was to the writer of John. Radical, inclusive, loving and compassionate. Jesus represents, reflects, embodies God in these characteristics, these qualities.
Jesus says love one another as I have loved you and as the Father has loved me. Make this a universal and all-embracing act and we will have life in all its fullness, declaring it the greatest commandment and the divine interconnectedness that is at the heart of life. Every person is a God carrier, a tabernacle of the holy spirit.
This is the truth of this story.