“Come to the Well”
June 22, 2019
Isaiah 44:1-5; Romans 5:12, 5-8; John 4:5-15; 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
Today’s gospel takes place at Jacob’s well when Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down to rest. He’s alone since his disciples had gone into the nearby town to buy food.
A Samaritan woman approaches the well to draw out some water. … It’s at that point that we’re privileged to eavesdrop into one of the longest recorded conversations that Jesus ever had. … But what’s interesting is that we don’t even know the name of the woman whom Jesus engages in conversation! … And that’s likely not by accident. It’s been said that whenever anyone of significance in the Scriptures remain nameless, the person represents each of us!
So as we reflect upon this gospel, let’s imagine ourselves sitting at Jacob’s well too. After all, the theme of this year’s Women’s Conference invites us to do just that: “Come to the well.”
Not unlike the Samaritan woman, we “come to the well” today to satisfy our thirsts. But before we fully enter into the gospel exchange that takes place at Jacob’s well, we need to do a little soul searching at the beginning of this day of reflection and prayer. To say that we’ve come here today to “satisfy our thirsts” sounds noble – spiritual – doesn’t it? But it can also be a catchy phrase that really means very little if we don’t first stop to consider what motivates us in life – if we fail to honestly assess what captures our time and attention most – the things for which we thirst – the things that we seek to have at all costs. … In other words, what wells do we drink from most often in our lives?
Do we drink from the well of self-pity? … Maybe. … I do sometimes, especially when a day unfolds in a way that doesn’t even remotely resemble what’s on my schedule – replete with interruptions, problems, deadlines, phone calls, emails. … And I suspect that many of you do as well, trying to balance work, caring for your families, household responsibilities, checking in on an elderly parent, and the list goes on. … And then we get a phone call from a friend who tells us that she and her husband had to rush their five-year-old daughter to Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York because they just discovered that she has a rare form of cancer. … And we realize that our thirst for self-pity is indeed rather pitiful.
Perhaps we drink from the well of excessive self-care. … We obsess about how fit we are – or how we look – or what we wear – or how much our financial portfolios are making – where we’ll vacation – what new trinkets we need to buy. And suddenly, for all that we think we’ve accomplished and provided for our families, we overhear our son or daughter say to a friend, “I just wish my parents would accept me as I am and spend a little more time with me.” … And for the first time, we begin to discover what matters most in our lives.
Or maybe we drink from the font of righteousness – striving to do what is good and noble, seeking the straight and narrow way for ourselves and for those we entrusted to our care. … And much to our surprise, our daughter informs us that she’s moved in with her boyfriend – or our son has just left his wife and children for someone else. And we’re thrown off of our path of righteousness. We don’t know what to do. Do we preach at our daughter? Do we keep our son at arm’s length? … Or do we embrace the great commandment to love?
Now let’s go back to Jacob’s well and imagine ourselves once again in the middle of the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. What do we encounter in that exchange?
We discover a sullied, compromised personality in the Samaritan woman – a person who, certainly by the standards of the day, had no right engaging Jesus. … Her background as a Samaritan makes her an outcast for any faithful Jew. … She’s a woman – and with great respect to this gathering, that too complicates things in first century Palestine, as she approaches Jesus to engage him in conversation. … And even though we didn’t hear it in the shorter version of this gospel that was just proclaimed, the final nail in the proverbial coffin comes from the array of husbands that the Samaritan woman had collected over the years, having been married a total of five times!
Yet, what happens in this meeting? … Jesus engages her! … He reaches beyond the acceptable borders of religion, society and culture to encounter a suffering soul searching for meaning and purpose in her life – thirsting for far more than the things that she’s pursued to that point in her life that have continued to leave her vulnerable and broken.
While he certainly doesn’t agree with many aspects of her life, Jesus first treats the Samaritan woman with respect and dignity. By setting aside all of the taboos that should have kept the woman at a safe distance from him, Jesus implicitly assures her of her self-worth and, in so doing, is able to invite her to confront the reality of her life – with all of its struggles and challenges, disappointments and fears.
In her personal encounter with Jesus, the woman comes face to face with her own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. … Then something miraculous happens: The woman comes to realize the depth of God’s love for her – as she is! … Suddenly, she’s reconciled with God. … Her life is transformed. … She leaves behind her water jar – the symbol of everything from her past that was so important to her but that now loses all value before the love of God. … And very significantly, she is sent forth to share with others all that she has seen and heard from Jesus – the Messiah and hope of Israel. … Through her encounter with Jesus, her life is changed – transformed. … She’s given the opportunity to begin her life anew! … What a gift!
Now think back to the question that I asked us all to consider just a few moments ago. From what wells do we drink to satisfy our thirsts? … Do we seek the waters of self-pity – of self-centeredness – of self-righteousness? … Do we attempt to quench our thirst with the passing things of this world that are never enough? … Or have we begun to see that the waters of baptism that flow from the heart of Jesus are the only waters that can truly satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts – providing us with meaning and purpose, life and peace?
And just look where those waters flow! … They flow right into the midst of our broken world – into our families – our Church – our lives – that are all so very much in need of redemption. … As Jesus broke down the barriers that were meant to keep him from encountering the Samaritan woman, so too he breaks down the barriers created by our sins to embrace us with God’s redemptive, reconciling love. … He breaks down the barriers that we erect around others and ourselves because of unworthiness, reminding us that none of us is righteous but all of us are redeemed through the love and mercy of God. … And Jesus pours those life giving waters into the very Church that he established – a Church that in so many ways has let him down – a Church whose leaders have broken trust and wounded the most vulnerable in our midst – yet, a Church that is still home to countless numbers of humble, faithful souls who seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – and a Church that remains our only hope for salvation through the power of the Risen Christ in our midst.
My friends, we are more thirsty than we can possibly imagine. In a world that’s been turned upside down, we all desperately need a way forward in life. As he did for the woman at the well, Jesus wants to satisfy our thirsts. May we be blessed with the wisdom, courage and faith to make these words of the Samaritan woman our own, “Lord, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty again.”