25 Mar 2014
“Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.” (John 4:6) (+)
I’ll extend the invite to all of you in the hopes that a few of you will choose to come to Bible study when we reconvene on April 29th. Then more of you could know that John is the most elevated of all the Gospels when it comes to Jesus. The artistic depiction of John’s Gospel is the eagle because the eagle soars to heights far above every other one of God’s creatures. This is why it’s a little strange that John is the only Gospel that doesn’t share the story of the Transfiguration that we read last Sunday. But John has other means of conveying the special nature of Jesus, and one of them comes right from the mouth of Jesus today. He calls Himself “I Am,” which is the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am Who I Am.”
But what I really want to talk about today is to whom Jesus reveals this exalted truth of the fullness of His nature as “I Am.” The story begins just a bit strangely. The other three Gospels tell of Jesus traveling to Jerusalem but once, and that is at the very end of His life. John has several trips to the holy city. On this first one Jesus instigated quite a bit of trouble and since it was not yet His time, He and the disciples decided it best to return home to Galilee, and the way John puts it in his Gospel, he says, “[Jesus] had to pass through Samaria.” This is not something Jesus wanted to do; it was something He had to do. And on this unwanted and unfortunate journey we are told that Jesus becomes tired, which is also out of the ordinary for John’s Jesus. It is noon, the sun is high, and Jesus is physically and maybe even emotionally, spiritually exhausted. He rests by the well as the disciples go in search of something to eat.
While sitting there a Samaritan woman comes at high noon to draw water. I never picked-up on this detail until a woman minister mentioned it. Why would she be there at noon, and why are there no others drawing water? Because this was a task that the women of Sychar would perform in the early coolness of the morning together. This would be their chance to gather as neighbours and friends. The Samaritan woman of our story is purposefully at the well at an unconventional time, and we soon learn why. She is ostracized by the women of her village. She has had five husbands, and long before this was tolerated, she was then living with a man to whom she was not married. We don’t know any other circumstances. She may have been a bit of a wild woman, but such women didn’t last too long in small villages of the ancient world. Moral justice was none too kind. What is more likely is that she was infertile. Husbands were leaving her because she could provide no son. But this is the woman to whom Jesus reveals the name “I Am:” a foreigner to Jesus, and one who was looked down upon by her very own neighbours and kin, and also not to be taken lightly, a woman. This is the one who can accept Jesus’ revealed identity.
Last Saturday Tim Fannin stopped by the rectory to take care of some Parish Committee business. We started talking about the next day’s sermon. I mentioned to him that I have some problems preaching on the Transfiguration. It makes perfect theological sense, and that’s what I tried to preach about last week, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that if the disciples witnessed this grand display of Jesus’ divinity how they suddenly lost faith when Jesus was arrested and crucified a short time later. Plus, what often happens in the Gospels is that Jesus will perform something extra-ordinary and then tell the witnesses not to say anything, but they do anyway. The three disciples, on the other hand, are told not to say anything and they don’t say a word, and even hide in the Upper Room for 50 days after the resurrection.
I can’t relate all that well to the Transfiguration, but I get it when a tired Jesus begins talking to the outcast Samaritan woman. It starts off with His request for a drink of water. Seems unremarkable enough, but Jesus has just trashed some important barriers between people. The woman reacts with surprise that a Jewish person would talk so politely to her, a Samaritan. When the disciples finally return, their first reaction is not that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan, however, but that He is speaking with a woman. And it doesn’t end there. You heard the story, Jesus knows that this woman comes with moral baggage. This doesn’t lead Jesus to judgment, but to conversation, a conversation that centers not on what separates us, not on pointing fingers, but on what we share in common.
The disciples at the Transfiguration were scared and confused. This Samaritan, this woman, this scandalized woman of five husbands and a boyfriend, runs up the hill to her village, to all those people who despised her, and she preaches for the first time in the Gospels that Jesus is the Messiah. The disciples in the story are stuck on the obvious. Jesus speaks to them about spiritual food and drink, and they can only stammer, “‘Could someone have brought him something to eat?’” They don’t get it. Just before this story, John tells us of Nicodemus and being born again. This wise, religious scholar didn’t get it either. It seems glory and theology aren’t the best ways to recognize all that Jesus is. But here comes this scandalized, Samaritan woman with all of these people following her to meet Jesus. She was able to believe and even to preach because it came from the heart. Jesus reaches around boundaries and barriers, both physical and moral, and extends the loving hand of God, and in this is revealed the fullness of His nature as “I Am.” This is the Jesus that can captivate people and bring them to God. This, I believe, reveals the divinity of Jesus far more convincingly than even the Transfiguration, and this is the Jesus we as church need to preach and to imitate. That this tired, thirsty Saviour may be found among us, and that He may inspire us to reach out beyond the walls we build up sometimes through our faith, may this be our prayer in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo