"Social Distancing," Rev. Fred Kinsey
Are Jesus and the woman at the well practicing social distancing?! Jesus, for his part, stays behind at the well all by himself while his disciples trudge into town to get some lunch. And the woman who comes to draw water – who remains nameless in this story – comes in the heat of mid-day, when she knows no one else will be coming. She expects to be alone. All the others will come early in the morning, or late in the afternoon.
No doubt, Jesus and the woman, kept their distance at the well. But their social distancing was not due to any Coronavirus outbreak. Neither did they have leprosy, which by the laws of Leviticus demanded the shunned lepers shout out “unclean, unclean!” when approaching others, to warn them to keep their distance.
We know, of course, there was a social distancing of men and women, in public places. But in this story, most importantly, is the separation, and distancing, of Jews and Samaritans. Ever since the death of King Solomon (10C BC) – when the kingdom of Israel split in two, and Samaritans no longer recognized Jerusalem as the capital, but worshiped on their own holy mountain, at She-chem, or what’s called here, Sychar – their social distancing hardened into a begrudging rift! Jews considered Samaritans apostates, and they each became fierce cross-town rivals. It only grew worse after the Exile to Babylon and Israel’s return in the 500’s, because the Samaritans had been able to hide out and stay in the hilly region of Samaria. They didn’t suffer, Exile. So by the time of Jesus in the 1st C. they were so rigidly separate, that John says matter-of-factly, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”
So like most Jews, Jesus and his family and clan, took the easier route along the Jordan valley, skirting Samaria, when traveling back and forth from Jerusalem to Galilee. But not Jesus and his disciples! They deliberately cut through Samaria, as if to provoke this encounter.
So there Jesus sat, by the well, and as soon as the Samaritan woman appeared, he bids her ‘Give me a drink!’ – a gender, social distancing, no-no. I hope he said please, but that’s probably just me! You can tell by her response, though, that her biggest surprise is that he, a Jew, should even address her, a Samaritan! Because of course, that bridge is closed. But Jesus is not concerned about dead laws and customs that don’t serve God. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’” Jesus replies, “you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
Unfazed and curious now, she replies, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” And then she shows him she knows her stuff, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Though they share the same scriptures, the strength of the Samaritan interpretation, is the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
No, not at all, says Jesus. What I’m saying is, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
I think that would have knocked my socks off, and right then and there, I would have fallen down and worshiped him! But the woman’s not yet convinced, and she decides to call his bluff! “Sir, give me this water, so that I many never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
But that leaves her caught in a kind of either/or bind. ‘Water is life, and life is water!’ We need both: real tangible clean and delicious water to drink from the well. And, the spiritual water that bubbles up from the life of Jesus.
To get to his point, Jesus changes the subject. “Go, call your husband, and come back.” She only says, “I have no husband,” perhaps distrustful where this is going. And Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying , ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband…” Aaha, says the woman, back on track, “I see that you are a prophet.” And she continues challenging their differences between Jewish and Samaritan beliefs, noting that although she’s impressed he’s a prophet, they unfortunately worship separately at different locations – Shechem and Jerusalem – and who are either of them to change that?!
But Jesus’ answer would have scandalized, both Samaritans, and Jews. “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. …But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…”
“I know that Messiah is coming,” who is called Christ, said the woman. “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” It seems to be dawning on her now. But to make it crystal clear, Jesus reveals that, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then the disciples came back, astonished he was speaking with a Samaritan woman. They don’t know the half of it! But, at least they manage to hold their tongues from saying the derogatory and demeaning things on their minds, about her.
The woman leaves her water jar by the well, and turns to hurry back to the city. Immediately she said to those in town, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And her testimony was so moving that they all joined her to go back and meet this Jesus. And when they arrived at Jacob’s well, Jesus was talking to his disciples about ‘fields that were ripe for harvesting.’
“So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked Jesus to stay with them; and he stayed [in Sychar] two days. And many more believed,” concluding for themselves now, that, “we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Once again, the disciples don’t come off especially good in this story! Maybe as Deacon’s who do the grocery shopping, but the true evangelists here, are the enemy-Samaritans, the woman and her followers, whose lives are turned around and who become enthusiastic followers of Jesus.
The woman at the well was the key to unlock this door. She’s not only an evangelist, but a wonderful debating partner with Jesus! She doesn’t give up or give in, but contributes and learns, through it all. She leaves her old life behind, which is symbolized so well by forgetting her bucket at the well, which she no longer needs. She has found the water that will truly quench her thirst, and has been baptized with the deep well-water that will save her life. No more does she have to be, one more faithless man’s property, in a series of loveless marriages. She has fallen in love with the Messiah who is called Christ.
Perhaps, for the first time, she has found her true vocation in spreading the good news. What if that’s what we all have found, those of us who believe, and who gather in Christ’s name? Here, we find our true calling. Here, and when we are Sent out into the world to put our faith into action, we are our most fulfilled selves.
As Liz Goodman says, “…Imagine the church as a place where people who don’t fit their type, find a place for realizing their potential. Imagine [church] as a people among whom each can find good purpose for power that is otherwise ill-fitting. The church can’t be a context for conformity. To follow Christ is to tap into some deep truth ourselves and to cultivate its growth, a process by which is built up, the beloved community of God’s reign.”
Perhaps we are a people who have already, felt, social distancing in our lives, long before COVID-19 arrived. Perhaps we have more importantly found our good health and deepest love through this humble assembly, being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, that has saved us, and made us one.
So, let us go out – be Sent forth – to share the good news of this deep, deep, spring of water gushing up to life in the new age!