Sermon on the Woman at the Well (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)


But the hour 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. 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.” 

The story of the woman at the well is the longest recorded conversation with an individual that Jesus had in any of the gospel accounts.  And isn’t it really  just like Jesus to linger in public talking to a half-breed divorcee? She walks up and in the unforgiving light of a noon sun Jesus just sits there for everyone to see languishing in conversation with a discarded woman. Much has been made of the outsider status of this person Jesus talks to the longest… she’s a woman and a Samaratin but she might as well be a homeless trannie with bad teeth or an Enron executive, or a meth-addict, or Ann Coulter, or the guy who bullied me in High School. The point being that Jesus just sits there chatting it up with whoever we wish he’d have the good taste to dislike as much as we do.  I’m sure there were important things to do, important people to see but he just seems to have no concept of time. I imagine his disciples were beyond irritated – they kept butting in tapping their watches Um…Jesus?  It’s lunch time.  And Jesus just sits there talking with her as though he’s got all day.

She’s carrying more than a jar with her.  The woman at the well. As she walks up to the well at the noon of the day…hours after the respected and respectable women of her village have already come and gone she walks up burdened by a water bucket and a story.  The text is silent on why she has had 5 husbands, the church has always assumed she is a floozy but she very well may have simply been discarded, widowed, abandonded or maybe some combination of all these things, but the point is…I’m willing to bet that her past whether it be as victim or vixen is connected to why she’s at the well at noon and not at sunrise with the other women.

She’s come for water but she carries with her a jar and a story.

There’s this thing about this passage which has always baffled me.  It’s toward the end…she has a conversation in which Jesus lets on that he knows she’s had 5 husbands and the man she lives with now is not her husband and she runs back to her village saying come and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done...  as though that’s a good thing.  I, for one, would very much not enjoy having someone tell me everything I’d ever done; other than sounding really time consuming, there are things I really don’t want to be reminded of.  So then why would Jesus telling her everything she had done lead her to believing he might be the messiah?  Here’s the thing: I think there’s more to it than Wow this Jesus is a great psychic soothsayer fortune teller guy.  I think it had to have been more than the fact that he told her what she’d done.  I think it had to have been the way in which he told her what she’d done without implying that what she’d done defines who she is. 

Perhaps standing there in the stark and unforgiving light of the noon sun she came carrying more than a water jug.  She came carrying her past as a mark of identity thinking and being treated as though she is nothing more than the sum total of her mistakes or the sum total of her victimization.  And taking his sweet time Jesus says yes.  what you have done and what you have left undone and what has been done to you and what has been left undone to you has really happened, yes, it’s true.  And it is not who you are. And in that moment suddenly the distance between how others see her and how God sees her disappears.

She came carrying more than a water jug in the stark light of a noon sun, she came carrying the past as a shackle and the future as the key.  She knew the future was the time in which the messiah would come and make everything right, a time some time out there when the Christ will be revealed. And Jesus says to her I am he. Jesus speaks to her the truth of who she is by speaking to her the truth of who God is. Jesus says to her now is the time in which God seeks you in the very truth of who you are in this, the present moment.
In today’s gospel Jesus says the hour is here for us to worship God in truth and God seeks such as these.  The hour is indeed here in which God is seeking you in truth…the truth of who you are not the regrets of who you were, not the ideal or the promise of who you might become – God is seeking you now in the truth of who you are.

There is a crass but true saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “When you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future you’re basically pissing on the present”  How often are we not present to others, not present to ourselves and not present to God in the moment because of regret, nostalgia, and worry.  We too allow ourselves to be so absorbed with either the hurt or the glory of the past or we allow ourselves to be so absorbed with either the fear or hope of the future that we miss the only thing that is real which is the sacrament of the present moment.

I love the way Paul in his epistles uses the word “now”. In his letter to the church in Corinth he writes: For God says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, Paul writes, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! I just don’t think that when Paul says Now he meant that one moment in time 2,000 years ago when he penned the letter.  I think he meant the NOW.  The present moment continues to be the “acceptable time” in which God is present to you in the truth of who you are.  In other words, Ram Dass didn’t invent that whole Be Here Now thing. 

So, if the Samaritan woman at the well did come burdened with more than her water jar, then I think verse 28 is pretty great – it goes like this: -then 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?”

I guess that’s what I wish for you. That you know how known you are.   That you are filled with the love of a God who knows you and loves you…that you are so filled with the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the present moment that you leave your water jug or whatever it is you think you came here for …leave it here at this table where God is seeking you in the truth of who you are.

You may be here this evening and feel like nobody could ever love you, if they knew who your really are. But the good news is that God knows it all, God’s seen it all, and God loves you. May you leave behind whatever it is you think you came here for and instead be filled with the truth of this present moment, the truth that there is quite enough of God’s love for everyone, because God sees you through the indiscriminate eyes of Jesus.

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