The following sermon was preached on Sunday March 12, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here

Photo by Yana Hurskaya on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Our gospel reading begins with the word, “so” which tells me that we’re starting in the middle of a story. Any time that happens, I always want to go back and see what happened beforehand.

Context matters.

In the verses just before today’s reading it says, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’… he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go to Samaria.” (1-4)

He had to go to Samaria.

Did he? Really?

That all depends on how you look at it.

Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would have argued that he most certainly did not have to go through Samaria. They would have said that Samaria was to be avoided at all costs and they had lots of alternate routes to prove it.

There was more than one way for Jesus to get where he was going and he really did not need to go through Samaria.

Except maybe he did. Not for reasons of geography, but maybe he needed to go through Samaria to fulfill his mission.

Last week we looked at John 3:16 and that verse begins, “For God so loved the world that he sent his son…”

Jesus came to save the world, and the world includes Samaria. Choosing to go to a place traditionally avoided by Jewish people broke boundaries and that sent a message about who Jesus was to Jesus’ community about who Jesus was.

And it sent a message to the people of Samaria as well.

In Jesus’ kingdom, salvation is always about belonging, and in Jesus’ kingdom, everyone belongs.

Why didn’t the Jewish people and the Samaritan people get along?

Let me answer that in a bit of a round about way. Once upon a time there were Christians, a single united group, and then the Christians began to disagree and argue with each other and before you knew it, there were Roman Catholics and Anglicans and Mennonites and … too many groups to count.

Samaritans are like Anglicans. Originally part of the Jewish family, still claiming their Jewish identity, but not always recognized by Mom and Dad.

One key area of disagreement between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples was over the correct place to worship. Jewish people worshipped in Jerusalem, and Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. A detail that will become important a bit later in our story.

Samaria is the last place a good Jewish boy should go, and yet Jesus chooses to go there.

Jesus goes to Samaria and he stops at a famous landmark, Jacob’s well. (6) While I have just highlighted the differences between the two groups, the fact that Jacob’s well is in Samaria highlights their shared history. They are all descendants of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel.

In her commentary on John, Karoline Lewis points out that this well was also a popular place for people to get engaged. Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 29), Moses and Zipporah (Ex. 2:18-22) and Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 24) all got engaged at Jacob’s well.

And now this important place in Jewish history is in a part of the country that Jewish people avoid.

Jesus is tired and he stops to rest. John tells us that it is about noon. The hottest part of the day.

While he is resting a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Already anyone who was listening to this story would have some questions about this woman. Why is she coming, by herself, at the hottest least practical time of the day to get water?

Maybe she ran out of water and so she has no choice but to come at this illogical time.

Perhaps she comes at the least practical time because she wants to be alone. Perhaps she’s an introvert and socializing with her neighbours at the well when it’s busy exhausts her and she is willing to go to the well at the hottest time of day to avoid that.

Or perhaps, as Karoline Lewis suggests, the time of day is more symbolic. It is the lightest time of the day, and we are about to hear a story where the light of truth will shine.

Whatever the case, I imagine that meeting a strange man at the well was not something she was hoping for.

She approaches and Jesus says, “Give me a drink.”

I always find it interesting that the Bible gives us a lot of dialogue, but we have to imagine the tone.

How did Jesus ask this question – did he sound grumpy, demanding, playful, polite?

We don’t know.

We don’t know what the woman’s tone was either, but I like to imagine that even if she was afraid of this strange man at the well – her well – that she hid it and there was some sass in her response to Jesus when she asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (9)
Whatever her tone, she does not cower. She does not jump to fulfill his request. She asks questions and expects answers.

Most of this story is a theological conversation between this woman and Jesus.

There are three key points in that discussion that I want to highlight today:

First, Jesus knows things about this woman he has never met that he should not know. He knows that she has been married 5 times and that she is currently living with a man she is not married too.

We read this story in church every three years and it’s possible that you have heard this detail – the fact that she had been married 5 times and was currently in a relationship but not married – used to disparage this woman, to imply that she had loose morals or was a bad wife, but that is not what is going on here because that’s not really how marriage worked at this time.

A woman couldn’t just choose to marry and divorce and marry and divorce again. Women didn’t choose to marry at all, this decision was made for them.

Here is what Karoline Lewis says about this:

“’I have no husband.’ Her brief statement is heartrending. It is not only a statement about her marital status but an assertion about her marginalized status. She is a woman, a Samaritan woman, without a name, who has been married five times. To have been married five times in ancient Palestine would be evidence of circumstances completely beyond the control of any woman at that time. Likely widowed or divorced, the fact alone of having had five husbands would have indicated some sort of curse against her family. What on earth did she do, or her ancestors, that she would be subject to such destitution?

In order to survive, it was necessary for a woman to be married, thus the numerous injunctions to care for widows. To have had five husbands could also mean that the woman had been divorced, often for trivial matters, but more likely because she was barren. If she was barren, that would mean that she would not have family to turn to in the case of being widowed, which would further exacerbate her dependent status.
The fact that she is currently living with a man not her husband does not correspond to a modern day ‘shacking up’ or “living in sin.’ Rather, her situation was probably a levirate marriage. By law (Deut 25:5-10), the brother of the dead husband was obliged to take in his dead brother’s wife, either by formal marriage or by living arrangements of some kind.” (60-61)

This is a woman who has had a very hard life for reasons beyond her control. Perhaps the reason she goes to the well in the middle of the day is because she knows her neighbours all feel sorry for her and she wants to avoid their pitying looks.

The details of this woman’s life aren’t what really matter in the story. What matters is that Jesus knows something about her that he should not be able to know, and this is how she knows he is a prophet. (19)

Jesus’s ability to know what he should not be able to know means he is someone worth listening too.

2) Having recognized Jesus as a prophet, she begins to engage Jesus in a theological discussion about the correct place to worship – remember I said this was a key disagreement between Jewish and Samaritan people – and about the coming Messiah.

She engages Jesus in a theological discussion and Jesus actively participates in the conversation.

At the end of this conversation, Jesus says that he is the Messiah the woman and her people are waiting for. (26)

At this point in the story they are interrupted by disciples, who had gone off to try and find food. The disciples’ return and the woman leaves but she doesn’t disappear from the story. (27-28) We know that she goes home and tells everyone about her conversation with Jesus and encourages them all to “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (29).

And the people listen to her and go to see Jesus. (30)

John tells us that, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. 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 Saviour of the world.” (39-42)

The Samaritan woman, therefore, is one of the very first evangelists.

There are a lot of other things we could talk about in this story – we haven’t even touched on the image of living water for example – but the final piece of the story I want to highlight is this: when the woman returns home to tell her community about Jesus, she leaves her water jug behind at the well.

It’s an unusual detail for Mark to include and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Maybe she knew she was coming back and she didn’t want the jug to slow her down as she went to tell people about Jesus. Maybe she was so excited she forgot.

Whatever the case, this woman has an unexpected encounter with Jesus that day and she let it change both her plan for her day, and her whole life.

How often am I so fixated on my own plans, on my own expectations, that I miss Jesus even when Jesus is standing right in front of me?

What do I need to let go of, and leave behind, in order to follow Jesus?

I don’t know for sure, but Lent, a season where we traditionally give something up or let something go is a great time to experiment and explore these kinds of questions.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.