That Woman: Thoughts on loving the lonely.

John 4: 5-26; 28-30

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.

7 A 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.’

16 Jesus 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 worshipped 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 worshippers 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.’

27 Just 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.

Our passage today is a familiar one.

Jesus meets a woman at a well in Samaria.

The passage is packed with sermon possibilities.

Living water.

Jesus as Messiah.

Worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Evangelism.

I could preach on this text for a month.

But as I read it over and over this week, I began to take notice of that woman.

How must this private, personal encounter with Jesus affected her?

Who was she?

What do we know?

Here are some things we get from the passage.

She is nobody.

John does not even tell us her name.

She was a woman.

In Jesus’ time women were second class citizens.

Little better than property to be used as long as desired then sent away.

This had happened to her five times.

We don’t know why she had five husbands, maybe some died, but the tenor of Jesus’ statement to her implies that she might have been five times divorced.

And divorce in those days was mainly a sign of disapproval on the part of the husband.

A simple piece of paper from the husband and the woman is no longer his wife.

She has been discarded.

She was also a Samaritan.

As a Samaritan, she was part of a community that was shunned by their religious cousins the Jews in Judea.

They hated each other, these Jews and Samaritans.

So when she shows up at the well and there is this Jew sitting there, what did she expect?

“Oh, boy …

What’s he going to do?

Probably be rude.

Maybe he’ll just ignore me.

Like I am unworthy of his attention.”

And we notice that she is alone at the well.

In Jesus’ time, going to get water from the well was a social event for women.

It was where they gathered and talked.

It was their coffee shop.

Their hair salon.

It was an essential opportunity for community and fellowship.

Some years back, I attended a series of lectures on mission work.

There was a story about a group that went to an African village to dig a water well in the village and install a pump to bring up the water.

The missionaries were trying to make the lives of the village women easier because they were walking a mile to the nearest water hole for water every day.

Two years later the missionaries returned and found the pump disconnected and the well covered over.

The women were walking to the water hole.

Why?

Because the women liked their walks to the water hole.

That was essentially their social life.

The well and pump took that away, so they stopped using them.

That is how important the walk to the well was.

Yet our Samaritan woman was alone at the well.

There is only one reason for that.

She was being shunned.

We don’t know why, but it might have something to do with her marriage history.

Whatever … she is truly alone.

Samaritan, woman, many marriages, alone at the water well.

It does not get any lonelier than that.

Mother Teresa described loneliness this way:

Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.

A hard life.

Psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann studied loneliness in the mid 20th Century and she said this:

[L]loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world.

But it is actually worse than that.

According to a 2013New Republic article:

Over the past half-century, academic psychologists have … delve[d] deeper into the workings of cells and nerves, they are confirming that loneliness is as monstrous as Fromm-Reichmann said it was. It has now been linked with a wide array of bodily ailments as well as the old mental ones. …

They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.

Loneliness has even been used as a punishment.

It was called banishment.

The Romans often employed banishment as an alternative to capital punishment, a fate nearly as terrible as death.

Loneliness is actually painful.

Really.

Listen to this:

Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans showed that the experience of being snubbed lit up a part of the subjects’ brains … that also lights up when the body feels physical pain.

That is loneliness.

Emotional distress.

Physically harmful.

Punishing.

Painful.

That is the that woman when she meets Jesus.

Then Jesus speaks.

“Can you give me some water?”

I can see her head whip around.

“Wait, what?

Are you talking to me?

A woman?

You want me to give you some water?

A Samaritan?

You don’t share with people like me.

I’m not worthy!”

This is a sarcastic response.

But Jesus presses on.

“I am not like those people who have shunned you.

I have something you might want.

Living water.”

More sarcasm from the that woman.

“What?

You have no bucket so you have no water from this well, and anyway, is the water you have better than the water that comes from this well dug by Jacob – you know – that Jacob?”

Jesus says, “You bet!

Drink water from this well and you will get thirsty again.

Drink my living water and you will never thirst again.

Ever.

Eternally.”

More sarcasm from that woman.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?

If I get some of that water, I never have to come to the well again, alone.

Give me some of that!”

Jesus moves on.

He knows all about her marital history.

She takes this as a sign that Jesus is a prophet.

Jesus has her attention now.

That woman starts to realize that this guy is actually interested in her.

In her!

They are having a conversation.

At the well!

When was the last time that happened?

She warms to the occasion.

No more sarcasm.

A real question.

Keep the conversation going.

“Why Jerusalem and not Gerizim?”

And then Jesus says something that stuns here.

“It doesn’t matter.

It is not where we worship.

It’s who we worship and how we worship.

Who we are and where we come from does not make a difference.

We are all part of God’s community.”

That woman has heard something like this before.

“The Messiah is someone who knows such things and says such things.”

And Jesus tells her that he is that Messiah.

A Messiah who welcomes her to his living water, to his acceptance of her despite her history, to his community, the community of all who worship God.

She is no longer alone.

She has a community.

Now her response is enthusiastic.

She has news to tell everyone.

Even those who confined her to isolation.

There must be some kind of change in her because the listen to her and follow her to Jesus.

She is renewed.

She is changed.

Reborn.

What does that woman look like today?

Here is a story that was in the news this week.

Aaron Stark was a high school student in Denver in 1996.

After the Parkland shooting he wrote a letter to a Denver TV station about how he almost became a school shooter.

He was then interviewed on TV.

Stark describes having a rough childhood.

He was abused and neglected at home.

He was bullied relentlessly at school for his weight, intelligence, and often unwashed clothes.

Stark said that he felt completely unloved.

He was depressed and suicidal.

That was when he considered buying a gun to shoot up his school.

His real hope was that he would be killed himself.

Then this happened, Stark said.

“I was extremely suicidal one evening, and a friend of mine, without having any idea what was going on and what state I was in, invited me over for a party that I didn’t know was existing. She had baked me a blueberry-peach pie, and I got there, and everybody had the pie, and it was all for me.”

Stark said that moment changed him.

He felt loved.

Just for a moment.

Stark said, “That literally saved my life that night. I wasn’t going to survive that night if that hadn’t happened.”

He was renewed.

He was changed.

Reborn.

Stark concluded the interview with this.

“If you see someone who looks like they need love, give it to them. Even a small hug, a word, or a smile could actually save lives. Compassion is the only real way we can stop this. Love people even when they don’t deserve it.”

I think this is what Jesus was doing in our text.

Stark and that woman were unloved outcasts.

Lonely and rejected.

Then they experienced love, even for a moment.

Their lives were changed.

To the benefit of many.

The Samaritan woman took many to Jesus.

Stark decided not to buy a gun.

Both saved lives.

What does this mean for us?

Jesus teaches us to visit the lonely.

Give them a moment of love.

Who are the lonely in today’s world?

They’re the outsiders:

The elderly.

The sick.

The poor.

The bullied.

The disfavored.

The unemployed.

The different.

The strangers.

The homeless.

The hopeless.

The people who have little to live for.

So what does Jesus want us to do?

To encounter the lonely the way he did with that woman and give them a taste of love.

How?

Visit them.

Befriend them.

Welcome them.

Spend time with them.

Include them.

Even those who are different from us.

Who disagree with us or are just disagreeable.

It is like the “Halvorson” benediction we hear every week:

We are to go from this place as a people who are sent.

Wherever we go this week, we are to consider that God is sending us there.

And wherever we find yourselves this week, we are to consider that God is placing us there.

To tell people that the love of Christ rests on all of us and can reach out, touch and include everyone.

We are to go in Christ’s love and peace and power.

And if you do, maybe you will make something good happen.

Like that woman’s evangelism.

Or maybe you will prevent something awful from happening.

Like Stark’s change of plan.

Do you know someone who is lonely?

Do you know the Samaritan woman?

Tell them they are loved.

Are you lonely?

Are you the Samaritan woman?

You are loved.

The God of all creation loves you and invites you to be part of God’s community.

Feel the love.

And be renewed.

Changed.

Reborn.

And know you are not alone.

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