Gushing Romance, by Pastor Kinsey
They met at Jacob’s well. It’s like saying, meet me at the Andersonville Water Tower atop the Swedish-American Museum. Everyone knows where it is – or, at least we did until Thursday – when after 87 years, it had to come down for safety reasons. And, 87 years is a long time, for an icon to be remembered. But Jesus met the Samaritan woman, at the landmark where Jacob first met Rachael, in the same spot, at the same well, in the valley of Mt. Gerizim, some 2,000 years later. That was where Jacob and Rachael fell in love, and had their first kiss. Later, Jacob gave that plot of ground to his son Joseph, his favorite son, of all his 12 sons, who was the first born son of Rachael.
Everyone knew Jacob and Rachael’s love story, which, like our gospel story, also happened in broad day light. But a lot had also changed in two millennia. Long story short – Samaritans and Jews were intertwined, and separated, in a complex and difficult relationship, ethnically, socially and religiously. But while all those issues simmered on endlessly, you could count on them to boil over when it came to claiming the true center of worship. Since the Exile and return home from Babylon, the Jews, of course, claimed Jerusalem’s Temple, the true home of YHWH, while Samaritans worshiped at Mt. Gerizim – overlooking the valley where shepherds grazed their flocks, and Jacob’s well was located. It was within this tension that Jesus and the Samaritan woman were engaged in creating a new story, that resonates with meaning as deep as the well, even for us today.
Do you remember your first kiss? Where it was? What the circumstances were?
Do you ever go back there? Is it a place of refreshment like Jacob and Rachael’s well? Or is it a place that is forgotten, maybe even a reminder of division or not being recognized for who you truly are?
Jesus’ encounter with the un-named Samaritan woman was unusually intimate, but without any sexual overtones. This was strictly a Rabbi-student relationship. There would be no temptation to kiss. Though, the intimacy was equally surprising for the Samaritan woman, as it was for Jacob and Rachael. There is something almost intentional, about Jesus coming to Jacob’s well, and their meeting. He’s not stalking, but waiting, you could say, waiting for the first Samaritan that comes by to draw water. But why?
Every other Israelite would have avoided the enemy region of Samaria. Normally, the travel route was to the east, along the Jordan River Valley, and then up the road from Jericho, straight up, to get to Jerusalem. But Jesus aims intentionally to walk through Samaria, the road less traveled by. The necessity is not geographical, as Warren Carter points out; it’s theological. And “[this necessity] reveals God’s inclusive love for all.” It reveals God’s attempt to lead us away from ‘our drive to divide.’ Or as Brian Blount has said, “Jesus might as well be on a trip from the past (the world as it is) into the future (the world as God intends).” And similarly, the gospel writer John adds, parenthetically, a little aside, in case readers like us wouldn’t know, that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” And so, in a word, the region of Samaria, is taboo. And, if that’s not enough, add a second barrier, women had no place in public life. They were not to be seen or heard, especially not by holy men. Thus the surprise, when Jesus’ disciples return from town with lunch, only to find their teacher in deep conversation with a Samaritan woman.
Indeed, their engagement was not just a passing “hello,” but this conversation is the longest one Jesus has in all of the Gospels. It’s more involved, than with any of his disciples, and longer than with any of his opponents. And from the get-go, it is intimately theological. To the woman’s first question, about drawing water for Jesus, wondering if he knew she was an ‘enemy-Samaritan’ and a woman, Jesus replies, “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.”
Okay, I’ll bite, says the Samaritan woman. Where do you get this water? Jacob drew water here for Rachael, but, Sir, you don’t even have a bucket!
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” says Jesus. It’s like a ‘famished craving.’ And if you keep looking for fulfillment in places like this, you’ll only feed your addiction, and you’ll never be well. But if you drink the water that I will give you, you will never be thirsty. I will give you water from a gusher of a well, that is life itself, and never ending.
Alright then, give me some of that, she says! thinking it’s in the well, or attainable by cup, somewhere. Except, it doesn’t quite work like that! Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Theologically. In kingdom language. And to convey that, he starts over, changing the subject.
Notice he doesn’t draw away from her, doesn’t give up on the relationship that is fraught with so many obstacles and pitfalls. He draws closer to her, as long as she is open to it, revealing that he knows all about her life. The woman too, when Jesus makes it personal, may have been tempted to give up, and draw away from him. What business does this Jewish guy have talking about her serial relationships: five husbands, and the man she’s with now that she’s not married to. “So,” she says, trying to change the subject, “I see that you’re a prophet.” I can respect that, but do I have to remind you, we worship here on this mountain, while you have the Temple in Jerusalem?
And so, the woman hangs in, even after her identity has been revealed, which opens up the opportunity for Jesus now to disclose the inner truth about his life. The hour has now come, says Jesus, when true worshipers will be judged not on where they worship, any longer, because God is spirit, and those who want to worship God will do so in spirit and truth, he says, without boundaries.
Aha, says the woman. You’re talking about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. The anointed one of God will know everything about us, and reveal the truth to us. Yes, said Jesus, and, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
And just then they were interrupted by the Disciples.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman, are our gospel love story, at Jacob’s well. There is no kiss, and there was no marriage. But there were lots of children. Children of God, that came from their encounter. And to this day, the Samaritan woman is honored in many cultures. In southern Mexico, the Samaritan Woman is remembered on the fourth Friday in Lent, when the delicious Horchata drink, and other fruit flavored waters, are given away to Guests and Strangers to commemorate her. The Orthodox know her as St. Photini, or, in Russian, Svetlana, meaning, “equal to the apostles,” for she is honored as Apostle and Martyr, on the Feast of the Samaritan Woman.
Do you remember your first encounter with Jesus? Were you surprised? Did you find refreshment, a greater sense of fulfillment, a quenching of your thirst?
Jesus knows us more intimately than anyone. Yet, he doesn’t pull away from who we are. Like a spouse or significant other who knows our innermost thoughts and secrets, Jesus offers us his fully revealed self, as the Christ, the Messiah, our holy one of God, who lives with us by the power of the Spirit. Jesus offers us a completely safe space, near refreshing waters, to engage with him. Jesus breaks down the barriers of social class and race, ethnicity and religion, and the stigma of sexuality and gender, that divide us and keep us from worshiping the God, who is spirit and truth.
And so, in the presence of the Messiah, we know who we really are. This gift of faith, the presence of Christ, helps us to break through the ‘famished cravings,’ which seek to sink us in a death spiral of despair. Now, instead, we desire to drink deeply from the well of abundant life, in Jesus, which has begun now, and quenches us forever.