The 3rd Sunday in Lent
In the Name of him who loves us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Grace, mercy, and peace be with you. Amen.
How many of us have ever gone through times in our lives when we have been utterly overcome with guilt, discouragement, or depression? Perhaps it was when we may have suffered the breakup of a relationship – or the loss of a job – or have experienced a terrible tragedy or loss – or have experienced extreme financial distress – or when we have said or done something to someone that we desperately wish we could take back – or when someone has hurt us in a way that pierces to the very depths of our souls. And I can go on and on. All of us, I am sure, have gone through some times like these in our lives. Perhaps some of us might be experiencing some of these times even now.
I believe that this is what it was like for the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel text. As we heard: “Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.” And it was during that time – during the middle and hottest part of the day – that the Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well.
It was obvious to Jesus, as it would be to any casual observer, that something was very wrong. In the culture of that day, the women of a village usually would wait until it was near evening – when it was cooler – before going to the well to fill their water jars. Not only that, that was the time for social gathering – for them to exchange the latest news and to just laugh and talk with each other.
But not this particular woman. She came to the well during the wrong time of the day, and she came alone. Our gospel text does not describe her body language, but I can well imagine what it was like: stooped shoulders, an expression of hurt, grief, possibly bitterness, and certainly hopelessness in her eyes.
What would we have done when this woman came to the well? Most of us probably would have ignored her. We would have pretended to be thinking of or looking at something else while she was drawing the water – anything to avoid getting into a conversation with her.
But not Jesus – he could see that she was hurting – and so he began a conversation with her by making a simple request; “Give me a drink.” And from then on, that conversation began to change the woman’s life. Starting with the concepts of physical thirst and physical water, Jesus soon turned the conversation to deal with the spiritual thirst of her soul and her need for the “living” water of God’s love.
It is at this point, however, that most people begin to throw up defenses. A saying that I have heard is that people often say that they want to “find” God, but they do NOT want to be “found out” by God! When talking about “religion”, people usually want to keep the discussion on a theoretical and academic level (such as which mountain is the “right” place for worshiping God). They do not want any religious discussion to become too “personal”.
This is what it was like for the Samaritan woman at first. She seemed to want to talk about anything except what was really bothering her. But when she finally asked Jesus to give her “living” water so that she would never again be thirsty, he got to the real heart of the issue by saying to her: “Go, call your husband, and come back.” And she answered, “I have no husband.” And Jesus said, “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. What you have said is true.”
This was the turning point of the entire conversation. This woman had been “found out” by Jesus. Her deepest and most painful “secret” had been exposed. But instead of experiencing condemnation, she instead felt an overwhelming sense of love and compassion from this man. And somehow, through Jesus, she also experienced GOD’S love and compassion as well. She began to experience the incredible joy and freedom that came from knowing that she did not have to hide her “secrets” anymore. For the first time in her life, she knew that she could be completely open and honest with herself, with others, and even with God – and yet still know that she was a person who was deeply loved. When she finally was not trying to “hide” anymore, that is when she began to receive Jesus’ “living water” to satisfy the thirst of her soul!
Now she could tell others, with joy and wonder; “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” “Come and see a man who knows me inside and out and yet still considers me to be a person of great value!” “Come and see! Come and see!”
Our gospel tells us that many people from the city then went out to see Jesus. They came because of the woman’s testimony about what he had said and done for her. They, too, were thirsting for Jesus’ “living water”. As a group – as Samaritans – they knew the pain of being rejected and discriminated against by the Jews (as our gospel text stated – “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (Jn. 4:9b)). And as individuals, each of them, just like the woman, also had their own “secret” hurts and needs as well.
The people invited Jesus to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And after getting to know him, they said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” In other words, they found out for themselves that they could be absolutely open and honest with Jesus as to who and what they were – even about their shortcomings and failures – and still experience the joy and wonder of God’s love through him. Through Jesus, the thirst of their souls was completely satisfied.
What about us here today? I think that one of the main things that keep us from fully experiencing the “living water” of Jesus is refusing to admit our NEED. We all have some “skeletons” that we want to keep hidden from others, and even from ourselves. It might be something like a troubled or abusive relationship, divorce, bankruptcy, drug or alcohol or gambling addiction, a crime that we have committed. It might be something less “dramatic” such as experiencing neglect or discrimination or bullying due to race, gender, and whatever. But each and everyone of us here, I know, have certain issues in the past or present that may cause us shame and pain. Things that we don’t want others to know about. Things that we don’t want to admit to ourselves. And, yes, things that we don’t even want to admit to God!
Healing, however – especially spiritual healing – only begins when we stop trying to keep all of our sins, failures, and shortcomings “secret”. This does not mean that we have to proclaim them to everyone from the housetops, but it does mean losing our fear of being “found out”. When the very worst about us is known, then we are finally free from having to try to keep it hidden. And then we can truly know that if others still love us, their love is REAL – because they love us for who and what we really are, warts and all! And yes, we can also experience GOD’S love for us in the same way! When others, and God, know everything about us, and yet still love us, we can know for certain that we are indeed of great value!
That is the “living water” which the Samaritan woman at the well, and later many other Samaritans in the city of Sychar, experienced in today’s gospel reading. Their guilts and fears were “washed away” when they understood and experienced through Jesus that God loved them – and would always keep on loving them no matter what. Even when their shameful and painful “secrets” were “found out” by Jesus – they did not receive condemnation but only love, compassion, and forgiveness which quenched the deepest thirst of their souls.
In the same way, God knows us completely – and yet still continues to love and forgive us completely. Again and again and again! Nothing that we do will ever cause God and Jesus to stop loving us. And when we believe this – really and truly believe this – that is when we experience joy and peace in our lives that will never fail.
Yes, we are known. We are loved. We are forgiven. Our sins are washed away and our spiritual thirst is completely satisfied. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270