The Woman at the Well
The woman at the well
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Some of you may recognize that poem. It was written by Emily Dickinson and first published in 1891. I also think it is a good introduction to today’s Gospel reading. I don’t believe anyone really wants to be a nobody. Some folks may choose to live their lives in a manner that doesn’t attract much attention to them, perhaps so they can enjoy some peace and quiet without interruptions. But we all want to be someone.
But in our Gospel reading today we met someone who, in the authors view, was a nobody. She had everything going against her. She was a woman in a very patriarchal society. She was a Samaritan, a people despised by the Jews. Then there was her past, five husbands and living with a man to whom she wasn’t married. She had her three strikes but to top it all off, the author of the Gospel didn’t even tell us her name.
Jesus had been walking through the desert and came to the city where this woman lived. He was hot and tired and thirsty. He was vulnerable. Perhaps you have been in a position yourself where you were tired and thirsty, and needed a drink. He sat near the well. The woman came to get some water and Jesus spoke to her. “Give me a drink” he asked. The woman understanding the relationship between Jews and Samaritans asked why Jesus, a Jewish man would ask her for a drink.
This woman, this outsider, this nobody, could represent any number of people in our own society. She could represent people who have made poor decisions in their lives and ended up hungry and homeless. Perhaps she could represent people in our society who have tried illegal drugs and have become addicted to them. Or maybe she could represent people in our society who have lived in poverty most of their lives and have lost hope of ever experiencing something better.
There are many people who are considered nobodies in our society, people who are blamed for the state of our economy because they are not gainfully employed, people who depend on public and private assistance to survive, people who have turned to crime in order to support themselves and their habits. These people generally are not on the radar, except when they break the laws. Generally society leaves them to fend for themselves, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of their lives. For the most part, much of society doesn’t want anything to do with them.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he knew her past. He knew what mistakes she had made in her life. He knew of the poor decisions she had made. But yet, he offered her his grace, he offered her himself, the Living Water. He broke traditions and initiated a conversation with a woman, a Samaritan, a person many may have considered a nobody. Yet, with all she had going against her, he was compassionate and understanding.
This is the model Jesus gives us. Jesus calls us to stand with the poor and vulnerable, the hungry and the thirsty, the ones many consider nobody.
Just imagine if all the people who are struggling in our society could read this passage. All the people struggling each day to feed their children, keep a roof over their heads, stay away from drugs while the people they know, the ones who would accept them continue to get high. Imagine if they could see themselves in the woman at the well, a person who has made mistakes. Imagine if they could recognize that Jesus loved her regardless of her past, of her nationality, of her gender. Imagine if they could understand that Jesus loves them just as he loved the woman at the well. Imagine if they could see that Jesus also offers them the Living Water. Imagine if they could see that no matter what they have done, Jesus would forgive them, and invite them to be in relationship with him.
As we continue our Lenten journey to the cross, we are reminded by this passage that we have been forgiven for our mistakes. We have been offered the Living Water. Jesus loves us no matter what we have done. We are invited to be in relationship with Jesus, to experience his presence in our lives, his peace and joy, his guidance and his compassion.
We are also reminded that as followers of Jesus, we too are to show compassion, especially to the poor, the vulnerable, and the weak. We are reminded in this season of Lent of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, and that we in fact belong to him.
I would like to end with a short writing from Henri Nouwen, that addresses just whom we belong to.
“At issue here is the question: "To whom do I belong? God or to the world?" Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.
As long as I keep running about asking: "Do you love me? Do you really love me?" I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs." The world says: "Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much." There are endless "ifs" hidden in the world's love. These "ifs" enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world's love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain "hooked" to the world-trying, failing,and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
When Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well the Living Water, he said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but 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.’
Unlike the world’s love, Jesus’ love for us is unconditional. It is not predicated on our being the right gender, the right nationality, the right political party, having the right education, or having a past that is free of sin. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t see anyone as a nobody, we are all somebody in his eyes. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus loves us, unconditionally, unfailingly, and without end.