3rd Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

John 4:5-42
(Third Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Bob Bertram

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 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.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem. 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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 Savior of the world.

If you are planning to preach on this text, you might find the following Refrain between Preacher (P) and Congregation (C) useful:

P: Like worships like.
C: But who can be like God?
P: What if God became like us?
C: Then we could be like God.
P: Then we could worship God.

DIAGNOSIS: Having a dry well

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Suspicious
At first, the woman at the well — let us call her the well-woman — had a problem accepting Jesus for who he really was. She even regarded him with suspicion. Why would a Jew talk to a Samaritan unless it be that he, a male, had designs on her as a female? (She’d had experience with men.) And he asks her for a drink. Yeah, sure. Sounds like a come-on. She questions his motives. In short, her problem is that he, just externally, looked too much like her and her kind — if only because, like her, he was tired and thirsty and possibly had other needs besides. (Refrain)

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Disbelief
Internally, the well-woman and the disciples had a deeper problem, disbelief. When he told her of his mysterious “living water” and when he told his disciples he had “food” they knew nothing about, she and they were naturally incredulous. That’s another word for unbelief. Even when the woman succumbed to his claim and said, “Sir, give me this water,” she was believing in the wrong water. All she could think about was not having “to keep coming here to draw water.” That’s still a kind of unbelief. And who of us doesn’t know that unbelief at firsthand? Like can only appreciate like. (Refrain)

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Separated
The eternal depth of the woman’s problem (and ours) appears as Jesus exposes her sordid life. She panics, suddenly realizing whom she is up against: “a prophet,” she guesses. For who else could see through (dia-gnose) her shameful past with such x-ray vision? So she scrambles to come up with what meager religious resources she has for saving face. She invokes her ancestors’ sacred mountain, even though she hints it may not be as worthy as the Jews’ holy city. Jesus agrees and then, twisting the blade, he reminds her that such fleshy preoccupation with where we worship only distances us from God, who after all is Spirit. And to worship a Spirit-God you yourself must be spiritual. The woman tries again, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus trumps her, “I am he.” She drops everything and heads back to town. If he were the Messiah, then how could she (“flesh”) face him (“spirit”)? The only way out is to separate from him. Unlike repels unlike. Jesus is the Truth about us, the painful Truth. When he is “truthing” us, the Truth hurts and threatens to alienate us from him all the more. Granted, we must “worship God . . . in truth.” But only “in truth?” Without the “spirit,” that’s not enough. (Refrain)

PROGNOSIS: Having Living Water

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Seeding and Harvesting
While the well-woman is off getting help from the men in the village, Jesus explains things to his mystified disciples. But as he does, in the distance the villagers can already be seen approaching. Jesus likens them to “fields ripe for harvest,” a crop which he only minutes ago had sown (through the well-woman) and which in the next few minutes his disciples could proceed to reap — perhaps by baptizing the newcomers or somehow receiving them into the movement. How’s that for quick turnaround time? But the explanation goes deeper to the depth of the eternal solution. What is happening here in this sowing and reaping is that the unlike God is coming to the unlike sinners, not they to him. (Indeed, in short order doesn’t Jesus go back to Sychar with the villagers and stay with them?) Though they may be coming out to question him, they are simply the seedlings meeting their sower coming back. And though the disciples may bring in the new members officially and ceremonially, they are hardly the ones who did the sowing. (They weren’t even there for the conversation with the woman, and might not even have wanted to be.) Still, so close do the reapers follow on the heels of the sower “that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” You can hardly tell one from the other, so alike are they in this single, coordinated one-two action. Furthermore, what else is that action of sowing and reaping but Jesus’ completing the very work of the One who sent him, his Father? This is GOD who is seeding the unlike sinners. So intimately has the unlike God become like the unlike sinners that he is just starving to be with them. And to cultivate and gather them to himself is his very food and playing on the divine name, Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM. How much more like us could the unlike God possibly be! (Refrain)

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Worded, alike
If that is the eternal solution to our problem, we internalize it as our own by believing it. That is what happened with the villagers of Sychar. At first they believed Jesus merely “because of the woman’s testimony.” Such faith is only second best, but not because it was based on the testimony of a mere human woman. No, the weakness in her testimony is that she based it merely on the sensational “sign” which Jesus had performed on her, exposing her sins. That is still too hung up on the unlikeness between us and God. But soon the believers of Sychar advanced to a much more solid foundation. “Many more believed because of [Jesus’] word.” And what was that “word?” We’ll see in a moment, from the people’s confession. But before we get to that, notice this: so well do believers discern that the unlike God has become like us, in Jesus Christ, that they can even imagine God with food and drinking water like ours — not literally like ours of course, but comparatively like ours and of far better quality. Like believes like. (Refrain)

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Confessing
Notice how the people’s faith breaks out in confession. There is no internal solution without an external one. Their faith goes public, out loud, “We know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” You would never have known who Jesus really is, just as the woman did not, without this public testimony about him. What if all you had to go on were his human exterior, that tired itinerant rabbi at the well thirsting for a drink, daring to talk to that controversial woman? What you need besides is this word of testimony about him. You cannot have the one — namely, his in-the-flesh humanity — without the other, the word about him. Still, aren’t they both, his humanity and the word, extremely external, really quite fleshy? They don’t seem spiritual at all. Yet when you use them both together, no matter how outward and fleshly they both are, you are indeed worshipping God, the Spirit-God, “in spirit and in truth.” (Refrain)


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