We are now turning the corner and moving into the third week of our Lenten journey. Sunday we will hear the story of the woman at the well in the gospel according to John. It is a story I have traveled with over the years and have wondered if “she” might have more to say than what we hear recorded in the ancient text. Perhaps, just perhaps, she might have quite a bit more to say in fact…here is what I can imagine hearing…
May you never forget you are loved,
I am a woman without a name. You know me as the Samaritan woman. That label, that description, probably doesn’t bother you the way it used to bother me. It doesn’t bother me now, but that wasn’t always true. I used to gauge what I thought about myself by what others thought of me. I don’t know if you can understand that, but it is an awful way to live.
For most of my life I bought into the shame, the guilt, the way others looked at me and talked about me behind my back; I thought they were right. It’s an awful way to live but I didn’t know any other way.
Do you know what it feels like to be labeled, mistrusted, judged and criticized? I hear it still happens in your time and I am sorry to hear that –I would have thought by now people would have changed. Do you really still judge someone else without knowing them, or hearing their story or taking time to understand why they are different?
Anyway, I have come here today to share my story with you; to tell you more of what you didn’t hear in the story that was just read and how it changed my life.
Since that day I have needed to tell anyone who would listen that there is a different and a better way- a way that has changed everything in my life– but first I must tell you what happened that day.
It was a hot day and I had gone to Jacob’s well to fetch water as I did every day for my family. The other women of my village came early each morning, but I wasn’t welcomed among them.
The other women were mean and judgmental. They criticized and judged the decisions I had made in my life and left me feeling alone and ashamed and worthless. So every day I waited. I waited until the sun was shining overhead and I knew I would be alone because no one fetches water at the hottest point of the day.
But when I arrived that day, a man, a Jew no less, was sitting at the well. At first I panicked; I didn’t know what to do. You see for years the people of Samaria and Jerusalem were enemies- we despised each other.
It was like the worst kind of family feud you could imagine. Each group was convinced that they were the rightful heirs of God’s promises. And at that time we each believed that the temple should be built in our lands; we Samaritans considered ourselves the purists and we knew that the Jews were heretics.
And then, to my astonishment and horror- he started talking to me! Me- a woman and a Samaritan! Do you have any idea how outrageous that was? I was in such shock that instead of turning and running away I did the unthinkable- I actually talked to him!
And then, before I knew it something started to shift inside of me. I had no right to be talking to this man or to any man, but somehow I pushed on and we kept talking. I asked questions and he answered. When I didn’t understand, he explained in ways that helped me see, and feel, and experience something I had never known.
For the first time in a long time I simply didn’t feel like ashamed or worthless. He listened to me and looked at me in a way I had never experienced; not romantically- but deeply, as if I was the most important person in that moment.
Have you ever felt really heard, and seen, and really understood? That was the moment I realized what it felt like to be loved, truly loved. I was seen and heard for who I really am, mistakes and all.
Now I know this sounds crazy, and I am still not sure how to describe it but I have committed my life to sharing that love with anyone who will listen. I began that day by returning to my village and telling those who had never listened to me before what I had seen and heard and felt.
And then, even more amazing- they listened!
They believed me and they came to see for themselves!
Then they too experienced what I had seen and heard and felt.
And to think that Jesus somehow chose me to be his messenger –
I still to this day can hardly believe it happened, but it did!
Here is how I have come to understand the living water that Jesus offered me that day at the well. Do you go to a well everyday to collect water for your families?
Well let me explain how we do that so that you can understand what I learned. Then you will need to find a way to explain it to someone else with an example from your own life, your own time. When I go to the well I have a bucket attached to a very long rope.
I throw the bucket down the well and it makes a popping sound as it hits the water and then I jerk the rope to right side the bucket so it will sink deep down to the cool clean water at the very bottom of the well.
You see, that’s where the clean water in a well is; deep down inside far below the surface. On the surface is everyday, unavoidable debris, but down below the surface is the water you want- clean and pure water.
Every day I have to use all my strength and conviction to pull up the bucket through the layer of debris and from that deliberate motion of the pulling most of the debris stays in the well and what I go home with is a bucket of the well’s purest water. That’s how I have come to understand the love Jesus offered me that day and everyday since. I am not educated in the ways you are and maybe you have better ways to explain it to yourself and to each other.
But for me, I imagine my bucket and collecting clean water, to remind me of what is most important and true. Every day I remember that I am loved for who I am deep down inside, and that love helps me push past the debris in my life- the people and judgments, or my own self-doubt, trying to minimize who I really am in God’s eyes.
I wonder if you have a story to help you tell others what God’s love looks like in your life. I wonder what image helps you when it gets hard, and you start doubting and believing things that aren’t true about yourself?
The world will always have people who don’t understand something about our lives- choices we have made, things we couldn’t control, complete misunderstandings.
We are often caught up in the world of someone else’s fear or insecurity- and in that moment they react badly. It will hurt deep inside if you let it, that’s why you need a bucket- or another reminder that you are not alone and you are loved.
We also do the same to others and need to seek their forgiveness for creating debris they end up slogging through as well. Now none of that sounds like very good news, but it is very much the truth.
What is good news, is discovering a kind of unexpected love that can turn your world around. What is good news, is realizing the source of that love isn’t a prize to be won, but a presence waiting to be noticed and embraced.
What is good news, is you can put on your running shoes, go to your village, tell anybody who will listen about this kind of love, and I guarantee you, amazing things will happen and you will change your life and the world forever.
Image: Living Water by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman, Digital Painting, Sanctified Art