Washing away social convention at Jacob’s well

John 4:1-42  

6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (Read the whole passage)

You may remember this story from the season of Lent last year. Nicodemus too, the story we heard last week was also from the season of Lent. And the story of blind man next, also from Lent last year. Yet, as we continue our journey through the Narrative Lectionary this year, we are hearing this stories with different ears. Ears that are listening for revelation rather than preparing for crucifixion. We hear this stories with an eye to how Christ is revealed among us, as God’s son.

So last week as Nicodemus came by night, Jesus told him to be be born again or anew. Today, Jesus offers a Samaritan woman Living Water. Water that will keep her from ever being thirsty again.

The contrast between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are striking. It was Nicodemus who sought Jesus in the darkness of night, with questions to ask. But today, it is high noon in the desert and Jesus is the one coming to the woman with questions of his own. The scandal of this scene is lost to us. We only see a thirsty man asking a woman for a drink. But when Jesus approaches this solitary woman to ask for water, he is breaking rules and overstepping his place in the the culture of the day.

For a man to speak to a woman in public was unthinkable. Women belonged to their husbands like property, and for another man to even give the appearance of tampering with that property invited scorn and suspicion. Jesus’ request of this poor woman could have endangered her life should she be accused of adultery. But it is not only the issue of gender that makes this scene scandalous.

For a Jew to interact with a Samaritan was unthinkable. Samaritans were also people of Israel, but they chose to worship differently… not at the temple. This theological difference, meant that for Jews, Samaritans were unclean. For Jesus to be close to a Samaritan, to drink from her bucket, would have meant he would become unclean. But this is not all, there is still more scandal to come.

Unlike the obvious cultural boundaries of gender and religion, Jesus creates a personal scandal. The woman has come to the well at noon. The hottest and least ideal time of day to fetch water. All the other women would have come to the well early in the morning and then again late at night. But this woman, for whatever reason, has chosen to come in the middle of the day, probably in order to be a alone. And it is scandalous for the woman, that Jesus interrupts her quest for solitude.

And so when Jesus meets the woman at the well and asks for a drink, it is all the things, these social conventions, that prevent the woman from hearing what Jesus has to say. Just like Nicodemus last week, this woman isn’t hearing what Jesus is getting at because of all the other noise, all the social conventions, the categories she is put in and identities she had been given by the world around her.

As human beings we are good at finding reasons to build walls, to categorize and judge one another. The arbitrary and abstract social conventions of  religion, gender, or race keep us form hearing one another, they keep us divided, they give us reason to be cut off from the rest of the world.

We put up walls because we think they are going to protect us, walls that we hope will keep us safe, and we build them to keep the bad folks out. But our walls only end up hurting us. They isolate us, the turn us away from our neighbour and from our communities. The walls and boundaries can become oppressive structures, that keep always in the dark, always alone and always wary of others.

From Lutheran and Catholics, to Christians and Muslims and Jews, to conservatives and liberals, men and women, indigenous and non-indigenous, there are all sorts arbitrary reasons why we hold back from each other.

Whether it is the town we grew up in, or the job we work at, or the church we attend, or the hockey team we cheer for… we are just as adept as the Samaritan woman at giving reasons as to why we should’t give a glass of water to people like Jesus, who show up at our wells thirsty for a drink.

As poeple of faith, we know just how powerful those social conventions and inherited identities can be. We live with the the fruits of them every day. We long for our congregations and communities to be full and vibrant as they once were, but we are wary of those who aren’t like us, those who don’t fit in before the arrive, those who don’t know how things work around here. We live with this tension, of wanting our communities of grow again, while clinging to the arbitrary identities and societal rules that give us reasons to stay divided.

When Nicodemus, despite his curiosity, couldn’t get past his identity and the rules that came with it, he asked Jesus how a person who re-enter their mother’s womb and be born again? Jesus’ response is the sermons that contains John 3:16.

Yet when the Samaritan woman does the same, she asks for a literal drink of the spiritual living water than Jesus offers… and perhaps knowing that the sermon lecture didn’t turn out so well last week Jesus does something different.

He doesn’t berate the woman as he does Nicodemus, nor does he preach or pontificate. Instead he cuts through all the noise and conventions that would say talking to this woman is wrong because she is a Samaritan, a woman and alone in the heat of the day.

He cuts through it all and shows the woman that he knows her.

Jesus knows her story, her life, her pain and suffering, her isolation and alienation.

Jesus knows her. She isn’t just a woman, and a samaritan, and someone isolated from her community. She isn’t just abstract social conventions, but a real person.

And Jesus knows her.

Then something changes in the woman.

The abstract and arbitrary social conventions and identities don’t matter anymore. All the reasons that seemed to stand in the way of even talking to Jesus don’t matter anymore.

Jesus becomes more than a man at the well, a jew and an interrupting stranger.

Jesus becomes a real, tangible person standing at the well, water bucket in hand, meeting this woman face to face in the heat of the sun.

And unlike Nicodemus who left Jesus still uncertain and confused about who Jesus is, this woman recognizes just who has offered her living water.

The One who is found in the Living Water of the Life, the Messiah come to save, the Christ who breaks through all the other things that try to define us – the Christ who knows us.

It is here too, at the water that we gather round in this place that Jesus becomes a real tangible person, offering us living water.

And like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus breaks through all the identities that we bear, arbitrary names that we carry that would make us think we shouldn’t even talk to one another or to God.

In the waters of baptism we are washed of that other noise in our lives. All the identities that separate us, all the social conventions that dictate who we are allowed to interact with, all the things that seem so real and concrete and immovable.

Standing at the font, when flesh and water meet, when the screams of an unimpressed baby or the tears of a moved adult are mixed together with the promises that the Word of God speaks in our midst, all that other stuff is washed away.

And the only identity that matters is the one that Jesus gives us.

Child of God.

And as children of God, we are reminded of our identity every time someone is washed in the waters, we are given the Living Water of Christ.

The Living Water of Christ that connects us rather than divides, the living water that satisfies our thirst, the living water that brings us to new life.

The Living Water that Christ offers us is the water that changes who we are at the core of our being, the sign that we belong to God.

The Living Water that swirls around the font is where God binds us together into one Body with no social conventions between us, with no identities that keep us from knowing each other.

The Living Water of Christ tells us who we are.

And so like woman who is given this Living Water, this woman who Jesus knows, we are given the same. Jesus gives us that waters of life and in our dying and rising to Christ in those waters we – each of us and all of us – are made Children of God.

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