The Third Sunday in Lent: Year A

“Love, Forgiveness, and Eternal Life”

A sermon by parishioner Tom Kelly

Today’s Gospel from John Chapter 4 has something for everyone.

It is abundantly full of things to consider and reflect upon.  If I talked about this Gospel for an hour (which I won’t), I couldn’t cover everything.  It is really an amazing Scriptural passage.

I’d like to start by summarizing John’s Gospel, then talk about its significance, and finally, what it means for us today and how can we apply this to our daily lives?

John starts by letting us know that Jesus and his disciples are on a long journey from Judea to Galilee by way of Samaria.  They are all tired from the long journey, and they stop in a town known as Sychar.  The disciples went into the city to buy food.  It’s noontime, and Jesus sits down by a well.  It was called Jacob’s Well because Jacob had built it and then gave the land the well was on to his son, Joseph.  We will recall from the Old Testament that Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandson of Abraham.

There is a Samaritan woman at the well drawing water, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water.  This begins the longest dialogue between Jesus and another person recorded in Scripture.

The conversation that ensues is quintessential Jesus.  Once again, Jesus does what is least expected.  He is a disruptor.  He does not follow the customs and norms of his time.  He is constantly challenging the status quo and the religious and political leaders of his times, and today is no different.

There is tremendous significance to this encounter.  First, he chooses to have this conversation with a woman.  In those times, women were certainly not of the same status as men.  And this was not even a Jewish woman, but a Samaritan woman.  John tells us in clear terms that Jews did not associate with Samaritans or share things in common with them.  They were outcasts in Jewish society.  So, before the conversation has even begun, Jesus has demonstrated by his actions AND his words that he has elevated women and he has elevated the outcasts.  If he chooses to speak to the marginalized, he certainly expected everyone then, and all of us now, to do the same.

Jesus then begins to speak of a different kind of water than that which can be drawn out of Jacob’s Well.  He starts to talk about the living water, which he gives, from which those who drink will never be thirsty and which leads to eternal life.

Can you imagine what the Samaritan woman was thinking?  She comes about a man she has never met, and he asks her for a drink.  Soon, he is talking about living water and those who drink it will never be thirsty again.

Jesus then changes the subject and asks the woman to go get her husband and come back.  The woman tells Jesus that she does not have a husband.  Then Jesus staggers the woman again by telling her what would seemingly be impossible for a stranger to know.  He says she is right, she has had five husbands, and the man she currently has now is not her husband.  She begins to understand that Jesus is no ordinary man.  She calls him a prophet, but Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah.

That was about all that this woman could take.  She leaves her water jar behind and runs back to the city and tells everyone to come and see the man she has just met who was able to tell her everything she has ever done.

In a few short minutes, Jesus has made it clear that worshipping God is for Jews, Samaritans and everyone else.  God is actively seeking true worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.  And Jesus makes clear that the Father is seeking those who worship in this fashion.  It is very important to underscore this particular phrase.  I think we are accustomed to believing that we are ones constantly seeking God, but Jesus reveals that the Father seeks us, too.

When Jesus’ disciples return from buying food in the city, John says they were “astonished” that he was at the well speaking with a woman.  This is how unusual this dialogue was.  Even those who were walking in the presence of the Son of God on a daily basis….those who knew him best….were astonished.  It’s quite a powerful and descriptive word….they were “astonished.”  When was the last time that you were astonished by anything or anyone?  It’s not a regular occurrence.

John’s Gospel goes into great detail to tell the story of the encounter with the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ words always stand the test of time.  2000 years later, they hold their relevance and their meaning.

What can I….what can we….take from this Gospel in 2023 to apply to our daily lives?

First, Jesus is authentic in every way.  He does not just speak words.  He practices what he preaches.  He lives what he says.  He doesn’t just tell us what to do, he demonstrates what to do with his own actions.

He is reaching out to someone with a lower social status and someone who is not fully accepted.  Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus engages with the lowly, the marginalized, the poor, the lepers, and the outcasts.  He dines with sinners and tax collectors.  He talks to women, and Samaritans.  Who are these people in our own lives?  Do we see them?  I know in my own life experience, I try to challenge myself to see them, and that’s become so much harder to do during the pandemic.  I can stay in my own bubble, where I will not encounter too many of these folks, but they are there.  Not everyone is fully accepted in society.  There is still racism, bigotry, and misogyny.  There are still those who are considered to be less.  We have poverty and homelessness.  There are strangers to our country who need welcoming, some are refugees who come here unable to speak the language and with little in material possessions other than the clothes on their backs.  In his time, Jesus made a conscious choice to spend much of his time with these folks and I feel I am always aligned in my faith when I try to follow his perfect example.

Another theme I hear loud and clear is consistent throughout all of the Gospels, and that is love and forgiveness. It is remarkable and dare I say “astonishing” that Jesus chooses this woman for this interaction.  He did not have this conversation with one of the religious elite. It is not an accident and there is a very clear message here.  The Samaritan woman has been married five times, and is currently living with a man who is not her husband.  In a world full of judgement and scorn, Jesus shows none.  Love, acceptance and forgiveness comes from each of his words. He talks to the woman about the living water and eternal life, clearly demonstrating that it is available to her.  This is same lesson of love and forgiveness that Jesus is always talking about.  In another Gospel story, again interacting with a woman, this time someone who was about to be stoned to death for the sin of adultery (I don’t know what the penalty was for men, we don’t hear too much about that), he asks those who have not sinned to cast the first stone.  When they walk away one by one starting with the eldest first, he asks the woman if no one has condemned her and when she says no, he says “Nor Do I.”  We hear in the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son that no matter what we have done, no matter what it is, we can go back to our Father.  Not only will our Father take us back, but he sees us coming at a distance.  He is moved with pity.  He doesn’t wait for us to make it all the way back, he makes our journey easier by meeting us half way on the road back to him, and then has a huge celebration upon our return.  There is so much here that can be applied to our lives today.  I must…we must….do our best to refrain from judgment.  Grudges and petty differences should be put aside.  Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we are told that we will be forgiven in the same way that we forgive others.  It’s not easy, but forgiveness is one of the radical demands of the Gospel.  Unforgiveness is a heavy burden to carry on the heart.  Jesus lets us know that he and his Father are always right there for us with love and forgiveness and he wants us to be there for others in the same way.

If there is one thing I am certain of in my faith….absolutely 100% positive and certain….it is that Jesus and the Father love us and will forgive us.  This is promised over and over, it is a cornerstone of our Christian faith.  Today’s Gospel reminds me again that forgiveness is mine if I ask for it, and I must give it to others when asked for it.  No matter what.

Finally, another theme that inspires me is Jesus’ words about the living water and eternal life.  It reminds us that our existences do not come to an end with our time on this earth.  Eternal life….another astonishing thing to consider.  Eternal life, can you imagine?  How do we find this living water which after drinking we will never thirst again?  The words of Christ are very clear and very explicit:  “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  I believe that God is calling us to have a personal and truthful relationship with him.  It’s not important if we are worshiping on the mountain, or in the temple or church, or in Jerusalem.  No matter where we are, at all times of the day and night, that is a perfect time to love and worship our God.  God loves all of us.  If we believe, and we do, that God created all of us, we must believe that God did not create any of us to be less.  Jesus promises eternal life to the Samaritan woman and he promises it to us.  God loves all of us.