Series: It’s All About Jesus!
Sermon: The Woman at the Well
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
February 12, 2017
Scriptures: Jeremiah 17:7-13 NRSV and John 4:1-24 NRSV
The story of Jesus with the woman at the well is in sharp contrast to last week’s story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night. First, it is noontime; broad daylight, in a very public location. Secondly, she is a woman, and not just any woman. She is a Samaritan woman, uneducated, and we are drawn to question her moral character. In the gospel, she doesn’t even have a name. She is, from a first century Jewish man’s perspective, a low-life nobody.
Jews went out of their way to avoid Samaria. The animosity was historic. They were the “other.” And yet, more than once, Jesus breaks down the “us versus them” barrier. Jesus offers his love and grace, his living water, to this woman from the other side of the tracks, totally ignoring the so-called rules that prohibited association with Samaritans, with a woman not of his family, and a woman with a checkered history with men. To Jesus, she is a child of God and he doesn’t hesitate to ask of her what he needs, and offer her what she (and all the rest of us) needs: Living Water.
This story is a wonderful example of Jesus taking humankind to the next level of thinking. At one level of thinking, we are totally egocentric. It’s all about me and my tribe. Everyone else is an outsider, someone to be killed or enslaved. At the next level, the world is expanded a bit, from egocentric to ethnocentric. Author, Ken Wilber describes it this way:
“This stage, anchored in being identified with one special group as opposed to all others, has a very strong “us versus them” mentality. Usually, its own group is seen as – and deeply believed to be – special, select, the chosen people, even divine, identified by God himself as the one and only truly sanctified group in the world – all the others are infidels, apostates, nonbelievers, even demonic, and are usually bound for hell or unending reincarnations. And especially historically, when this ethnocentric stage first emerged, it was not a sin to kill infidels…”
Jesus, in his interaction with the Samaritan woman, and all the other “outsiders” that he ate with – the sinners, the prostitutes, tax collectors, and unclean, modeled what it might look like to go to the next level of thinking. To think and live with a Worldcentric mind-set meant looking at all people as worthy of regard. No longer divided by ethnic, or other boundaries, Jesus was looking upon all people, Jew and non-Jew, male and female, ALL people, as worthy of God’s love and redemption. His living water is offered to all, not just a select few.
This Worldcentric way of thinking would have us treating all people fairly, regardless of race, color, sex or creed. In the period between 1770 and 1870, this Worldcentric thinking was what led to our Civil War and the abolition of slavery in every modern-rational society on the planet. Minds and hearts were turned by the passion of those who realized the truth of what Jesus was showing us.
These ways of thinking and relating are still active in the world today. They are akin to our developmental stages as humans. To be able to look at our shrinking world and see all people as our brothers and sisters, and view them as beloved children of God is a sign that we are still paying attention to what Jesus was showing us.
There at Jacob’s Well, Jesus told the Samaritan woman all about her past, revealing to her that even though he was aware of all the dirty details of her life, she was still welcome to become a follower and to avail herself of his Living Water. There was no entry exam. No spiritual test of right belief, or perfect living pre-requisite. Jesus’ Living Water is available to all whose souls are thirsty.
So, what is this Living Water? In other scriptures Jesus promises the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that would give life to all who believe. For a people who lived in deserts, water was a sign of life. It is a necessity and without it, we die. Without the Holy Spirit’s leading, we too can die. We fall back into egocentric thinking and forget about the grace that God has offered to all, the pearl without price. We fall into habits of worshiping idols, material things that cannot sustain us and yet we give our very lives in pursuit. Our spirits grow dry and thirsty as we bounce from one object of delight to the next when the newness wears off. We use people like objects to satisfy our desires, and in the end, we find ourselves lost and alone. The pain of loneliness and unfulfilled longing drives us to numb ourselves with mindless activities that become addictions – whether it be our televisions, our cellphones, or drugs of another choosing. We spend so much time pursuing these things that we lose all meaningful human connection and begin to see others as outsiders and threats, objects to use or to profit from. It is a vicious cycle that eats away at our lives, leaving us in a living hell.
Jesus came to show us a better way, the way of life. People are not objects. They are, like us, creations of God, born with spiritual gifts to offer the whole. When we drink from the Spirit, it is not a mind-numbing Kool-Aid, but an enlivening force that awakens us to new ways of seeing and relating to God and one another. This is why Jesus said the greatest commandment of all is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
The woman at the well was patiently tutored by Jesus as she went from literal thinking to seeing beyond and understanding Jesus’ point. She was so excited, once she understood what he was saying, that she ran into the village, to the very people with whom she lived on the margins and courageously told them about Jesus. They came out to Jesus and invited him to say with them. And he did. This is a part of the story often overlooked.
To linger and mingle with people different from ourselves is something we rarely do, but it is something our youth will do on their mission trip to Detroit. I’m not saying that the people in Detroit are the Samaritans, but the experience of getting to know people different from ourselves and offering them the love of Christ through loving service changes minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit pours into the cracks of our assumptions when we take time to be with those who are different from ourselves and leads us to genuine regard and compassion. We can be moved from egocentric, past ethnocentric and into Worldcentric; seeing others as brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children of God who need compassion and help to live life to the fullest. To practice loving our neighbor as we love ourselves can be world-changing; not only for the neighbor, but for us as well. Who is your Samaritan?
Drink deeply from the Living Water that Jesus offers. Be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and know that you, too, can have abundant and eternal life. Amen.
 Ken Wilber, Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction, (Integral Life, Deep Dive eBook, 2017), 11-12.