Through Christ, We Are The Living Water

This past Sunday, February 8th, was the first Women’s Sunday at Hitchcock…at least since I’ve been here 🙂  The women of the church chose the  story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well as their text for the service, and “Through Christ, We Are The Living Water” as their theme.  I gave this introduction in worship between the reading and the reflections; it (clearly) draws heavily from Frances Taylor Gench’s amazing book, Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels.

So I wanted to take a few moments to connect the dots between this morning’s text and our time for reflection that Lynne, Lisana, Catherine, Liz and Rene have so thoughtfully prepared.  Because so often when this story from John’s gospel is told, we miss the point of it.

Our view gets clouded by what a seminary professor of mine calls “interpretive litter”[1]—generations of speculative imagination about certain details of the Samaritan woman’s life and character.

The details I’m referring to are the circumstances surrounding the Samaritan woman’s marital status—those 5 former husbands, as well as her current live-in.

Fred Craddock says it well—“Evangelists aplenty have assumed that the brighter her nails, the darker her mascara and the shorter her skirt, the greater the testimony to the power of the converting word.”[2]

These details about the Samaritan woman’s relationships comprise a mere three verses of this 37-verse story, and yet they have dominated the way that she has been perceived for centuries.

But when we look at these three verses, we see that the text doesn’t tell us why the Samaritan woman has had so many husbands. [3]

We don’t know if she is a widow, or if these husbands have divorced her.  If she was widowed, she could’ve been caught in the system of levirate marriage, in which the brother of her deceased husband was required to marry her.  If she was husband-less on account of divorce, it could not have been by her choosing, as divorce was an exclusively male privilege.[4]

Perhaps equally as important as the text’s silence on this matter is that Jesus essentially follows suit.[5]

He does not pass judgment on her situation, and doesn’t care to linger on the topic.  He doesn’t send her away with the instruction to amend her ways and sin no more.  They keep talking—they move on.  And so should we.

After sweeping this interpretive litter aside, we are left with a remarkable exchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus.

            For starters, it was against social convention for Jewish men to initiate conversation with an unknown woman, period, let alone in public.  We catch a glimpse here of the boundary-breaking ministry of Jesus, and of the grace that God extends to everyone.[6]

This conversation is the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and anyone, male or female, found within all of the New Testament. [7]

And it is truly a conversation—we chose to present it as a dialogue, with Karen and Constance taking on these roles of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, to emphasize this point.  The Samaritan woman holds her own throughout, and in doing so, engages Jesus in serious theological conversation.[8]

At the end of this reading, John notes that many Samaritans came to faith because of the woman’s testimony.  She is the first and most effective evangelist in all of John’s gospel,[9] and as such, she has a lot to offer to us today.

The Samaritan woman teaches us that by sharing our faith with others—even a tentative faith, even a faith that still has questions, even a faith that might lack maturity on account of its newness—we can effectively bear witness[10] to the living water that only Christ can provide.

It is by sharing our stories of faith, and how our faith has called us to respond through the language of our lives, that we can share that living water, and even be that living water to a thirsty world.

And so, as the women were preparing for this Sunday, they chose to follow the lead of the Samaritan woman.  They come this morning to bear witness to what they have seen and experienced—to the living water that they have found.

[1] Frances Taylor Gench,  Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 111.

[2] Fred Craddock, “The Witness at the Well,” The Christian Century (March 7, 1990):243.

[3] Gench, 116.

[4] Gench, 116.

[5] Gench, 116.  Gench quotes Gail O’Day, The Word Disclosed: John’s Story and Narrative Preaching (St. Louis: CBP, 1987), 41-42.

[6] Gench, 117.

[7] Gench, 110-111.

[8] Gench, 111.

[9] Gench, 120.

[10] Gench, 118-119.