Over Lent we hear of Jesus standing on the precipice of the wilderness looking to the future, seeing visions of an alternative narrative to ‘reality’. This week too, we stand on the precipice. Only instead of the literal sense, this precipice is a well. A life-giving construct that contrasts the desert/wilderness with imagery of life-giving water...
Just yesterday we baptised Sophie, our youngest. When I sat down with this sermon yesterday afternoon, I realised I was looking at ‘water’ differently to how I was earlier in the week. In baptism, we encounter the ‘living water’ and receive the new life promised in the revelation of the Messiah. But life is a cycle and yesterday I witnessed just one part of that cycle because where I was at earlier in the week was sitting with this Parish beside the well.
Sit with me a moment in this image, close your eyes.
Picture a well, a deep cavernous well. The environment around us is dry.
You’re sitting by the well and day after day laboriously you make your way to the well, drawing water for others.
It is exhausting.
Just sit for a moment with this for a moment…
We know that what we offer gives’ others life, but my first question for us today; have we drawn enough water for ourselves?
Returning to the Gospel, one of the fascinating aspects of this scripture is Jesus initiates the conversation, Jesus asks for water!
This painting (see above) by Bronwyn Coleman depicts to me the Samaritan Woman’s protection over the water in which she holds; she is cradling it, nurturing it. Yet we see the hand of Christ, offered out as the ‘initiator’, requesting from her something… water. Her body language (hints to me) that she may feel not worthy to give this. Looking at her face weariness draws to my mind, this is the jug that has been the labour a continuous labour and yet in this tiny fleck of blue; in Jesus’ seemingly insignificant request for water, the narrative enters an unexpected space. The temporal (water) is about to be overcome, your well is not worthless but ‘what if I can give you more’?
Further along the passage, the disciples are astonished at this interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan, but note, the disciples say nothing, they are like deer in headlights. But if they stop a listen they would see how this new life works: that is, to get to this new life; to ‘never thirst again’ the woman must encounter her past. Jesus acknowledges for better or worse, the experiences that make the Samaritan women herself.
So as I stand now at this well, in this Parish what do I see?
I see a group of people who have given their lives to providing water from the well; providing life-giving water to others.
I see anxiousness, questions of what does ‘new-life’ herein mean for me?
As with the Samaritan woman, the past does not remain in the past; it shapes who we are and where we go. New life is not born from ‘nothing’; new life is born of history, and we need to be diligent in celebrating that. New-life breeds transformation and that is what John’s gospel encapsulates;
So how does this caricature help in ‘unlocking’ today's Passage?
Let us look at the Samaritan woman’s responses.
An unconventional request for water
Firstly, this woman is such an outsider that she remains nameless. Yet, in the eyes of Jesus this woman was valued, Jesus initiates the conversation. Anyone who has been on the ‘outside’ knows what it feels when a person approaches you, a person speaks to you that ‘socially’ puts them out on a limb. In situations where this happens, you sometimes begin to question, even more, your worthiness, your self-doubt almost heightens.
An overcoming of Jesus’ knowledge of her past
For the Samaritan woman, this is further exacerbated when Jesus highlights her past. The past that arguably has contributed to her ostracising from her community.
I am not sure about you, but I know when my ‘life decisions’ are challenged it is easy to take it personally and when we feel under threat, what do we do, we get defensive. This woman has a gift, not only does she respond to truth but she discerns the conversation and recognises something in Jesus;
V19 Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
V25 “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”
In the painting the Samaritan woman’s eyes are on the ‘water’. This life-giving water that Jesus is offering. She can see the fruit (the water) but not the tree (Jesus).
We then encounter Jesus’ astonishing revelation;
V26 “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
I imagine these eyes following the outstretched hand that holds the ‘life-giving’ water, continuing up to meet Jesus’ eyes. Everything I have known has now changed, at this moment! The outcast (I imagine) just wants to cup this hand in her own, this hand of the Messiah that holds the ‘eternal spring’. The well, this jar, seemed so significant when this stranger came up to her and asked for water, but that is now eclipsed in comparison to this revelation.
The Samaritan woman now has a task, that is ‘tell’, ‘live’, ‘show’ this revelation of the Messiah.
And what fascinates me at this point is that The Samaritan woman was an outsider and again (like desert and water) this contrasts heavily with last week's engagement with Nicodemus, the insider. Despite being the outcast she goes to the city and she ‘invokes the very words that Jesus says to his first disciples, “Come and see” (1:39)’;
V29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.
And many more believed because of his word.
They said to the woman, “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.”
The passage begins with the Samaritan woman being approached by Jesus and we conclude with the Samaritan woman being approached by her ‘renewed’ community. Integration into a new community with ‘life-giving’ water and reintegrated into the old community by connecting with her past and embracing ‘new-life’.
So what does this mean for our Parish, for us?
Perhaps we need to take a step back and look for the places where we see Jesus taking the initiatives in our personal and Parish lives. Take a step back, look at our long history. Do we need to reconnect? Do we need to reinvite to come and see? Perhaps you have been drawing the water so long that your personal well is running dry. Take time, read over your baptismal promises once again, take your own time to receive that life-giving water again.
Yesterday’s baptism, although a relatively private affair reiterated for me that life-giving spirit. That somehow (for me) it continued a cycle for this Parish. Not letting go of our jugs but filling them with life-giving water and inviting this community in which we live, work and worship to come and see, come and see our past. Come and be part of our future. Amen.
by Peter Jeffery, Sunday 19 March 2017
Jo Inkpin, Penny Jones, Jeni Nix, Peter Jeffery, Ann Edwards, Elizabeth McConnell