The Gospel Story for the Third Sunday in Lent – John 4:5-42: Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

In lieu of our regular Sunday Sermon (due COVID-19 preventing congregational gatherings on Sunday mornings), Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Green has distributed some written thoughts on this week’s Gospel.

The Gospel passage for this third Sunday in the Season of Lent is the story of the woman at the well. It is one of the most well-known Gospel stories that many of us could easily summarize. On the surface, the story tells of ethnic prejudice, and of a woman shunned by her community. We enter the story more deeply when we see that it reveals a great deal about Jesus’ character. Above all, the story of Jesus and the Woman of Samaria presents Jesus as a teacher, even as he fully embodies God who is all loving and accepting. As baptized Christians and followers of Jesus, we are called to follow his example.

The story begins as Jesus and his disciples travel from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north. To make their journey shorter, they decide to take a short cut through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s well while his disciples went to the village of Sychar, roughly a half-mile away, to buy food. It was about noon, the hottest part of the day, and a Samaritan woman came to the well at this inconvenient time to draw water.

Jesus Meets the Woman at the Well

During his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus broke three Jewish customs. First, he spoke to her despite the fact that she was a woman. Second, she was a Samaritan woman, and the Judeans traditionally despised Samaritans. They were the enemy. Third, Jesus asked her to get him a drink of water, although using her cup or jar would have made him ritually unclean.

Jesus’ behavior shocked the woman at the well. But as if that weren’t enough, he told the woman he could give her “living water” so that she would never thirst again. Jesus used the words living water to refer to eternal life, the gift that would satisfy her soul’s desire; a gift only made available through him. At first, the Samaritan woman did not fully understand Jesus’ meaning.

Although they had never met before, Jesus revealed that he knew she’d had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband. He had her full attention!

Jesus Reveals Himself to the Woman

As Jesus and the woman discussed their views on worship, the woman voiced her belief that Messiah was coming. Jesus answered, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

As the woman began to grasp the reality of her encounter with Jesus, the disciples returned. They too were shocked to find him speaking to a woman. Leaving behind her water jar, the woman returned to town, inviting the people to “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Meanwhile, Jesus told his disciples the harvest of souls was ready, sown by the prophets, composers of the First Testament, and also by John the baptizer. Excited by what the woman told them, the Samaritans came from Sychar and begged Jesus to stay with them.

Jesus stayed two days, teaching the Samaritan people about the Government of God. When he left, the people told the woman, “… we have heard for ourselves, and we know this is truly the savior of the world.”

Points of Interest from the Story of The Woman at the Well

To fully grasp the story of the woman at the well, it’s important to understand who the Samaritans were–a mixed race people, who had intermarried with the Assyrians centuries before. They were hated by the Judeans because of this cultural mixing and because they had their own version of sacred scripture, and they had their own temple on Mount Gerizim.

The Samaritan woman Jesus met faced prejudice from her own community. She came to draw water at the hottest part of the day, instead of the usual morning or evening times, because she was shunned and rejected by the other women of the area for her immorality. Jesus knew her history but still accepted her and ministered to her.

By reaching out to the Samaritans, Jesus showed that his mission was, and is, to all people; to you, me and to everyone.

As you sit quietly, knowing that you are in the loving presence of God, consider the following question for prayer and reflection. Following this question, there is a poem called “Pandemic”. It invites us to use this time of solitude as a sacred, holy time with God, and to remember that in God, we are all connected to one another. Without fear or despair, may we all reach out our hearts and embrace this time with love and compassion.

Question for Reflection

Our human tendency is to judge others because of stereotypes, customs, or prejudices. Jesus treats people as individuals, accepting them with love and compassion. Do you dismiss certain people as lost causes, or do you see them as valuable in their own right, worthy of knowing about the gospel?

Pandemic. A poem by Rev. Lynn Ungar.

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.