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notre dame montreal


Sermon for Lent 3

Jesus and the Woman at the well - Looking outward not inward

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

As we’ve seen before, the gospel of John gives us a slightly different perspective from the other, synoptic gospels. There are no parables, and John has Jesus speaking in Symbolic discourses which often refer to His relationship with the Father.  In John we also see the miracles which gives insights into Jesus’ identity, and we also both of these elements in this week’s reading

We read of one of these discourses last week in the exchange with Nicodemus, we have another one this week in the exchange with the Samaritan woman, which starts out with a statement of who He is.

In what He says, Jesus shows who He is, He is greater than Jacob, He is the gift of God and the living water.

If the story about Nicodemus illuminates why Jesus had come, to bring people into the light of the glory of God, this weeks’ reading shows what this means.

Just like the water into wine story, the Samaritan woman is touched by the presence of Jesus and transformed.  Like the wine we have to assume this was something much better than she could ever have expected.

(John tells us that the water into wine miracle is the one which is the overarching sign, the one which helps us understand all the others and we see this in the transformation of the Samaritan woman.)

And transformed, she then goes and tells others of her miraculous experience.

And if the story about Nicodemus was about the inward and the need for personal salvation, this story is about the outward and the outworking of what that personal salvation and recognition of Christ as Messiah means for us and for others.

It’s not surprising then that when she goes off and the disciples come back to Jesus, He speaks to them of what a following Him means for others, of harvest and of mission.  Of telling others about the Good News of Jesus

Being touched by Jesus, being found by Jesus, as the Samaritan woman was, has outward implications.

Jesus tells them the harvest that He speaks about is different to the one in the well-known Jewish proverba, ‘Four months more and then the Harvest’, a stitch in time saves nine, type of saying.

The harvest is now, the fields are ripe, there is an urgency to gathering people into the Kingdom of God.

People are ready to hear about Jesus, drink the living water, and to respond.  The time is now, the sower and reaper rejoice together.  The time of waiting for the Messiah has come.

Now all that might be interesting and help us understand a little more about the context of what John might be saying and why he uses the words and phrases he does in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

But what might all that mean for us today?  Fortunately, John gives us some clues.

The encounter takes place at a well.  Wells were human made structures; holes dug into the ground to imitate the effect of a spring.

Springs are a God given things, part of His creation. 

There were lots of springs in the area around where the encounter takes place, only a stranger, in this case Jacob, would have dug one.  It’s a deep well which would need lining and constant maintenance.  It would take a lot of effort.
People will dig their own wells, in effect trying to imitate the real thing, if they can’t see the springs, or know that they are around.

It’s a helpful image of the world in which we live, where people strive through their own efforts to find the answer to life.  And it can be hard work.  Rather than the imitation, people need to be invited to the real thing.

Jacob had created a space where it was possible for the Samaritan woman to be found.  Yes, we do need to be more proactive as we tell people about the Good News of Jesus.

But we need to remember this is God’s mission, not ours.  We have a missionary God who has a church. we are not a church who have a mission.  (Moltmann)

Yes, we need to play our part, but some of that is creating spaces, in our lives and in our churches where people can simply be found by God.

Just like Jesus, the Samaritan woman interprets Jesus’ response literally, ‘How can I be born from above (again)’, give me this water so I never thirst again, it would be quite convenient not to have to come to the well each day.

Sometimes when people are found by God, they don’t always understand what they see and hear, it’s not something they’ve come across before so it’s not surprising it’s all a bit confusing.

But the living water we receive is not just for us or our personal wellbeing or convenience. It’s for others.

The living water, the part of God’s creation that we have should flow out from us to others.  It’s an outward sign of what’s happened inwardly.

What Jesus says helps her understand that He is no ordinary person, what He says about worship shows that God is in His essential nature, Spirit.  A Spirit, a relationship that is open to all.

As the Scribes and the pharisees would stand by and wonder what might be happening and what it all might mean, in the meantime, the non Jewish people flock to Jesus and into His Kingdom.

Sometimes, the most unexpected people come into God’s Kingdom as those in it look outward, rather than inward.

The Coronavirus pandemic has created something of a paradox and has both outward and inward dimesions.  It’s a time when we look inward, at our own personal actions and self-interest, even the self-isolation people with the virus need to undergo.  All this has the impact of pushing us apart.

Yet we know that its more than ever a time when we all need to pull together if we are to overcome the pandemic.  We need to follow the guidance we are given, but also look out for each other, by the actions we take, the hand washing, perhaps honing people we haven’t seen to check they are OK, dropping them a card if they are unwell, looking out for those who are vulnerable who we haven’t seen for a while, out family, neighbours and friends.

The two stories in the gospel we heard over the last 2 weeks, tell us that there does need to be the focus on the internal, on ourselves as we are transformed.

They also tell us that the purpose of that internal self-transformation is so that we can look outward, so that the living water we have within us flows out to others, creating spaces where they too can be found, like the unexpected Samarian woman, by God.

And, as we might expect in a reading from John, there’s a twist in the tale.  We’re told Jesus stays with the Samaritan people 2 days.  On the third day, something different was about to happen.  Now where have we heard that before around Easter time?