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John 4:1-42

March 3, 2002

Wesley, Doncaster East

Gathering water from the well. Can you imagine what that must have been like? You had no water unless you got it from the well. The well wasn’t exactly next door: it was quite a walk away. And, of course, women had the job of getting the water. Men had more important things to do: they had to get together with all the other men in the village square.             

Now as far as they were concerned, everything important took place in their part of the world. They discussed world events, crops, and even religion - what the law really means and how important it was to know why the Samaritans are right and the Jews are wrong. They rarely discussed these things with women - after all, what did they know? Everything important belonged to the world of men. If anyone important ever came to their village, you could be sure he’d show up in the village square – that’s where it all happened!

 Meanwhile, back home, the women went about their tasks. One such woman is the “she-ro” of our story. She’d been the first one out of bed that morning. She lit the fire, began breakfast, woke the kids, roused her husband, finished breakfast, broke up a fight between two of the boys, served breakfast, cleaned up a mess made by the youngest, cleared the table, washed the dishes, entertained the kids for an hour, sent them out to play, and finally sat down to rest briefly before going about her next task. Meanwhile, her husband was out doing man’s work – in the village square talking over important matters with the "boys.”

Now it was time to get water for the evening. She got the huge water jar and swung it up to her head. It was easy to carry - it was empty - but it’d be quite a load when she returned.

As she walked, her mind began to wander - as it often did on the walk to the well. She passed other women returning from the well and she saw herself reflected in their images. Women walking carefully and skilfully along the uneven ground, balancing a heavy water jar on their heads, moving along as if the jar were a fancy hat. But, of course, it wasn’t - it was a heavy weight that could give you a neck-ache for weeks, if you so much as slipped on a pebble and lost your balance.

Women had been carrying water this way for generations - ever since Rachel, and even before that. In fact, it was at this very well that Rachel had met her future husband, Jacob. She thought of that story as she walked to the well. Maybe this would be her lucky day as well! Maybe she’d meet a man who’d take her away from all this! Yeah, right!

When she arrived at the well someone was already there: a traveller passing through who’d stopped to rest. She could tell he wasn’t from Samaria - he was a Jew. She shuddered, hoping she wouldn’t have to talk to him. Jews could be such difficult people to get along with. She walked to the part of the well farthest away from him and set her jug down to draw water.

He spoke to her. The nerve! “I want a drink,” he said. Typical of a man not to be able to get a drink for himself without the help of a woman! But why would a Jew be speaking to her anyway, even if he were thirsty?

 “You know, it’s not polite for a Jew to talk that way to a Samaritan, especially when you’re here in my country. You want to withdraw that request? We can pretend it never happened.”

Then he got even weirder. Didn’t she know who he was? Why, if he wanted to, he could get even better water than this. He knew where he could get spring water, the purest kind, and it would come direct from God. Then he said, “Everyone who drinks of this well water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”

She took a closer look at him. He must be some kind of holy man, she thought, one of those crazy people who walk the countryside talking to themselves. She decided to test him. “Sir,” she said, “give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Then he did the typical man thing. "Get your husband,” he said. “I’ll talk to him.”  Of course - if there was something important to talk about, he’d have to talk with the man of the house. She began to lose interest. If he wanted to talk to the men, he could find them himself! She wasn’t going to leave her water jug and run off to find some mates for him to rabbit on with!

"I don't have a husband," she blurted. She hoped this’d put him off so she could be on her way.

"Right," he said. "You don't have a husband – you’ve had five husbands. And you can't call the man you’re living with now a husband!"

That was a low blow! How did he know so much about her? And what did he know about how hard it was to be a woman in this world? She had mouths to feed - and she did it the only way she could. After all, a woman couldn’t make it on her own in this world. She always had to depend on some man - even if some men just weren’t dependable.

Besides, it was a man's world. A woman couldn’t always control what happened to her - she had to get by the best she could. How could he have the nerve to blame her? If he knew so much about her, surely he knew why she did what she did.

"Sir, I see you’re a prophet," she said. "If you are a prophet, answer this question. We Samaritans have always worshiped at this mountain. But you Jews say that people can only worship God in Jerusalem. Which is right?"

"Neither," he said. "A new day’s coming when we’ll all worship together. It won't be at this place or that, but it’ll be wherever we are. Because it’ll be a new kind of worship."                                 

She paused and stared intently at him. She knew exactly what he was saying. He might be surprised to know it, but she was a fair scholar of the Bible.

"I know that such things will happen when the Messiah comes," she said.  

"That’s who I am," he said.

She was stunned. This was almost too much to take in. Could it be? Could he be the one? Then it came to her. Of course, who else but the Messiah could have known so much about her? And who else but the Messiah would have spent so much time talking with a woman, overturning generations of tradition in the process?

As she stood there dazed, they were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of his companions. They brushed past her and looked at her as if she didn’t belong there. Nor could they understand why Jesus had spent so much time with a woman. They had their own ideas about the priorities of his mission.

The woman left her water jug, ran back to the village, and did something she’d never done before. She burst into the village square, right into the middle of the men, and told them the news. At first they were startled that she had the nerve to speak out so boldly in the presence of men. But when they heard what she had to say - that she’d met the Messiah - they decided that this was too important to ignore, so they followed her to meet this strange person.

And Jesus began to teach his disciples with a story. "It’s like a harvest," he said. "You’ll find yourselves harvesting what others have planted."

Then he asked the men from the village how they’d known where to find him. "Well, we heard from the woman, but we don't put much value in what a woman says: we had to come and see for ourselves."

He sighed and looked at the woman, and maybe he smiled. They just didn't get it - but he did. (Dennis E. Smith and Barbara McBride-Smith, alt.)

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