By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 15, 2020
John 4:5–42 (ESV)
5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 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 indeed the Savior of the world.”
This week has been one that has really caused my mind to real. I walk through the store and shelving that is usually loaded with paper products, cleaning supplies , bread, and meat were empty. A few weeks ago I took on an additional part time job that I could do on my own time where I pick up grocery orders for others. I thought that this would basically be picking up a small order after work and dropping it off, but it has morphed into a job that is quickly becoming the method people are using to shop so that people can limit their contact with people outside their family units. I am not used to living in a community where people are advised to stay home, or where cultural traditions are disrupted over an illness. I have been on the phone with people seeking assistance, where their only hope is to get home and all their options have dried up. This new reality we live in has driven me to prayer.
This era of history is causing us to reexamine aspects of our lives. It is bringing awareness of our vulnerabilities, our fears, and our faith. As I sat with today’s passage I really thought about the woman at the well. We do not know fully who she is, we do not even know exactly what her situation might have been. Was she a widow multiple times over, or was she someone that just had trouble committing in a relationship. When we read through this passage we can become judgmental to a degree, and I will be honest I have always considered her to be a sinful woman but recently I have come to realize there are other possibilities to her current condition. The one thing that we do know is that she lived a life separated from the larger community. She is at the well hours after the rest of the community has been there.
Is she a caregiver? Has a plague entered the sleepy Samaritan town and she has cared for her husband only to have illness take his life? And as a result and righteousness she married her brother-in-law only to watch as the illness spread through the town so fast that she has not had time to officially marry the youngest brother? We just do not know. All we know is where she is and that she is a woman with a heavy burden placed on her shoulders. A burden she might not have wanted, and a burden that she willingly lives through even when the community looks toward her in disdain.
It’s interesting how the idea of a voluntarily quarantine can really change a perspective. It is interesting how one can assume to know something as truth, only to find that there are more possibilities when a different situation is introduced.
It is difficult for us to grasp the ancient world when we benefit from many scientific advancements. Although there was medicine in ancient times, it was not until the late nineteenth century that people really began to understand what was causing illnesses. At the birth of our nation doctors believed that “bad air” was the cause of many illnesses. Even the idea of sterilizing medical instruments was something unnecessary until a Quaker born doctor, Joseph Lister, took the theories postulated by Louis Pasteur and applied it to the washing of instruments and wounds to prevent infection. Yes, Lister’s concept of sterilization was what eventually became the popular mouthwash Listerine.
Prior to germ theory, and the discovery of microbiological life illness was believed to an imbalance of biles, bloods, and vapors. And many of these concepts would often get spiritualized making the cause of illness the work of demons. Imagine if your entire family suddenly without warning was infected with some sort of illness. Imagine if that illness began to snuff the life from loved ones. Imagine if your entire community saw you and your family as cursed. Then imagine that the illness spread from your family to another, you have moved from just being cursed by God to being a practitioner of the works of Satan.
This woman for some reason was not in good standing within her community, we do not know why and at best all we can do is speculate. But we do know that various superstitions placed wedges of separation between people, communities, and nations. This woman was of Samaria, we do not know as much about the people of Samaria as we do their distant cousins of Judah. The Samaritans were from the northern tribes, that through out scripture were regarded at those that displeased God. As a result of their disobedience they were conquered by Assyria, those vile people that the Prophet Jonah was sent to minister to. They displeased God, they were conquered, they were integrated to some degree with their conquerors and they were not pure. In the eyes of Judah, they were cursed people, people that should not be associated with. Their very presence in the general area of Judea was often considered a problem. If only they conformed to the ideas of Jerusalem and stopped their rebellion, then Messiah would come.
Jesus sat there by the well and he spoke to this woman. He spoke to her not as a Samaritan and Jew, but as a human being to another. He was tired from the journey; he was thirsty, and he did not have the tools to get a drink. Here comes this woman, possibly rejected by her community, Jesus knew her, he knew who she was and what others thought about her, and he did not allow perception to interfere with her humanity. He spoke to her as he would anyone that might have come to the well.
This action surprised her. She could not believe that he would speak to her. Immediately she became defensive, why are you a Jew asking me for a drink? She tries to establish that they have history and promise too, Jacob dug this well do you think you are better than him? He shares with her a teaching of the Messiah, and she basically laughs and says, “Whatever, you do not even have a jug, but if you can bring me living water sign me up because I’m tired of living through this life as it is right now.”
Jesus accepts her as a person. He does not allow ancestry or nationality divide them, when this is brought up, he points to what they have in common. When they connect in this area he then begins to work on changing aspects of her life.
We want people to be righteous. We want people to live a holy lifestyle, but often we want them to be righteous before they are even aware of the benefits of a different lifestyle. We push for change, but we have not inspired a reason for it. I can know a great deal of information about many things, but it is not until I am shown the true benefit of change that I invest.
A worldwide health crisis threatens us. I have a degree and education that has given me a basic understanding of various aspects of microbiology. I know what viruses are. I know what bacteria are. I know what to use and how to act when potential pathogens are around. I have even participated in growing some of pathogens for the sake of research. I have knowledge, but the reality of my lifestyle did not reflect the knowledge that I have. I will be honest; I did not make it my custom to sing happy birthday while I washed my hands. I knew it was important but it really did not matter because I’m not going to perform surgery, but then all the toilet paper is gone and suddenly I realize that if I do not change my behavior I might contribute to the illness of others.
I had knowledge but the reality of my lifestyle did not really matter, because it worked for me. The same could be said for this woman. Her life was not great, but she was resigned to it. She did not care if others accepted her lifestyle or not. Then a man asks for a drink and tells her to go get her husband. Notice if you will Jesus, knew full well that she was not married yet he accepted her lifestyle at face value. She was living as if she had a husband, but it was not reality. She brought up the fact that it was a relationship that many considered sinful, Jesus did not have to point it out to her. But once it was, he did not shy away from the truth. She quickly understood, and then she gets into a theological debate. The Jews say that we must worship in Jerusalem, but we have our own way here. You have your tradition and we have ours, how dare you come here and tell me I’m wrong. And Jesus responds with something that has often been at the center of my faith, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. ”
Spirit and truth. That is what we should focus on. We can get caught up in many things, but what it comes down to is Spirit and Truth. Are we living and worshiping like this? This idea has been central to the testimonies of Friends from their very beginning. If we believe that it is true, then we should live it out every day not just on a day that tradition says is holy. Our lives, our faith, our beliefs, and our actions should all be one. I cannot go to Target and cease to be a pastor for five days out of the week, I am who I am wherever I am. And so are you.
Then there is truth. What is truth? This question has kept philosophy students occupied for centuries. Even scripture recognizes that humanity struggles with knowing truth. For centuries the greatest medical minds believed that illness was the result of bad air or imbalances in your bile levels. When scientist began to say that illness was caused by germs, they were laughed at and ridiculed. It took time and a great deal of research to convince people that what they thought was true was not true at all.
This is where the harvest field narrative comes to play. Some labor at planting and others reap the harvest. Some do research and others practice. Some speak and inspire, and others apply those concepts in life. Lister learned about germs from Pasteur and became a successful surgeon. Pasteur’s ideas were not accepted until Lister used it in a practical manner. The gospel is foolish until someone sees it lived out in front of them.
We have a great deal of fear griping our community and nation. We need to be mindful of this. The truth is that there is a pathogen, a virus that can make people very sick. The truth is that it affects some worse than others. The truth is that we are not immune, and we do not have a proven method of healing. The truth is that God has provided in our DNA the ability for our bodies to handle pathogens through our immune system. The truth is that if we provide environments of sanitation and hygiene, we can reduce the severity of this fearsome virus. Should we not be concerned? We must be concerned because our lives mater. How you live your life within a community affects those around you. The truth is that if I do not show a different lifestyle to the world, they may not realize that there is hope.
Jesus shows us how to approach life. He shows us how to interact with those around us. And he encourages us to be active in our lives. Build relationships even with those that might have different perspectives and live in truth. As we enter this time of open worship let us recognize how our lives are intertwined. Let us recognize that though we have different perspectives that God is focused on something more important. Let us embrace the spirit and truth and live it out in our daily lives. Knowing that encouraging people to eat, and wash their hands is not being led by fear but promoting truth. And encourage people where they are to focus on life with God and their community is the most important work they can do.