That Woman: Thoughts on how to respond to loneliness.

That Woman

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.

Eternal life.

Jesus as Messiah.

Worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Evangelism.

I could preach on this text for a month.

But as I have read it over and over, I always focus on that woman.

And how Jesus reached out to her.

Who was she?

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 divorced.

The tenor of Jesus’ comment to her implies that she might have been five times divorced.

She has been discarded.

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

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 is he doing here?

A Jew!

What’s he going to do?

Probably yell at me and try to chase me off so that I don’t contaminate him.

Make him unclean.

Or maybe he’ll just ignore me.

Like I am unworthy of his attention.”

And we notice that she is alone at the well.

It’s noon.

Long past the hour for getting water.

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 social time.

It was their essential opportunity for community and fellowship.

That is how important the well was.

Yet our Samaritan woman was alone at the well.

There is only one reason for that.

She was not welcome at the normal time.

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.

As Mother Teresa once said:

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 2013 New 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?

A Samaritan?

You want me to give you some water?

We don’t share with each other, Jews and Samaritans.

You don’t think we are worthy!”

But Jesus presses on.

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

I have something I am willing to share with you.

Living water.”

That woman gets sarcastic.

“What?

You have no bucket, so you have no water.

 And anyway, how can your water, wherever it comes from, be better than the water that comes from this well dug by Jacob – you know – that Jacob?

Grandson of Abraham?”

Jesus says, “Oh, I’ve got plenty of water.

And it’s a different kind of water.

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.

And I’ll share my water with you despite your checkered past.

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.

A Samaritan woman and a Jewish prophet.

At the well!

When was the last time that happened?

Like … never.

“Ok then,” she says, “let’s talk about our differences.”

“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.

Not just a prophet?

Messiah?

So she asks.

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

And Jesus tells her, “Yep, that’s me!

I’m here to share with you to my living water, despite your checkered past and despite where you come from.  

I want you to be part of my community, the community that worships God.

If you do, you will no longer be alone.

You will be part of God’s kingdom.”

The impact of Jesus’ words is striking.

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 they listen to her and follow her to Jesus.

She is renewed.

She is changed.

Reborn.

What does that woman look like today?

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?

The usual folks:

The elderly.

The quarantined.

The sick.

The poor.

The bullied.

The disfavored.

The unemployed.

The different.

The strangers.

The homeless.

The hopeless.

The people who struggle with the pain and suffering of loneliness.

And that feeling is a bit overwhelming these days.

We might not be shunned, but we are more separated than we have been in my lifetime.

We are socially distanced.

We wear masks.

We can’t go to our “wells” for social connection.

We can’t go to our “Jerusalems” or “Gerazims”.

So what does Jesus want us to do?

To treat each other the way he treated that woman and give them a moment of community.

How?

What was that old ATT commercial?

Reach out and touch someone?

While gathering together might not be safe, we have a plethora of other ways to connect.

Use them.

Talk to each other.

Befriend each other.

Welcome each other.

Spend time with each other.

Include each other.

Even those who are different from us.

Who disagree with us or are just disagreeable.

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

Like that woman’s joy.

Or maybe you will prevent something awful from happening.

Like Stark’s change of plan.

Tell someone they are not alone.

That they are part of your community.

That the God of all creation loves them and invites them to be part of God’s community.

And if you are feeling alone these days. I want you to know that you are not alone.

You are part of this community, even when we meet online.

And know that the God of all creation loves you and invites you to be part of God’s community.

Now take a moment.

Feel the love.

And be renewed.

Changed.

Reborn.

And know you are not alone.

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