Every four years it seems that we pause as a country to watch the Olympics. I love keep up with the results and watching just about every sport. It is the only time that I watch hockey. There is something special about watching the joy as our fellow Canadians achieve their goals and sharing in the sorrow of when it does not go as planned. While I tune in every four years to watch these sports, the athletes spend countless hours working, training and living their sport. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of dedication it takes to become a top ranked athlete who has the skills to compete at the international level. It is a labour of love.
In many ways it is like the work of faith. Faith is a gift but it also requires work, time and dedication. It means being open to challenge and change. It means having the courage to get up again when life’s hard knocks come our way. Our gospel reading today tells just that kind of story.
She was a woman with no name – she probably did but it is not recorded. She was from the wrong country. So she was of no account – except for the fact that she was the first one Jesus told the truth about who he was. Except she was the first person in John’s gospel to invite others to come and see Jesus. Except that even without a name and being from the wrong country her story has been told by generations and generations of believers.
It is midday – high noon. Jesus is travelling from Judea back to Galilee. On the way, they stopped in a Samaritan city. This was a challenging place to stop because although both Jews and Samaritans believed in the same God they lived out their faith in different ways. Which means that the two peoples hated each other. They wanted nothing to do with each other.
Jesus is at Jacob’s well – the disciples had gone to the closest city to find food. Jesus is taking a breather. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water from the well. What happens next breaks every rule. Jesus says, “Give me a drink.” (John 4: 7) Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it? But she is a Samaritan and he is Jew. They do not talk to one another. But even greater than that men and women unless they are related do not talk to one another. And they are at a well.
Wells are significant places in the bible. They mean someone is getting married. It is like when you know who is going to fall in love in the movies based on how much the two hate each other or that special music or the slow motion meeting. Some pretty important people met at wells – think Jacob and Rebecca. A man and a woman at well in the bible means someone is getting married. Everyone in the story knows it.
The woman can’t believe it and she says it, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9) She asks good questions. This woman with no name could have just walked away, instead she wants to know more. As Jesus and the woman talk, it becomes clear that she’s had a hard time in life. She’s had five husbands – that means five funerals, five heartbreaks. A woman without a husband then was in a precarious place. She found herself in that hard place five times.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World writes, “The practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not. You lose your job. Your lover leaves. The baby dies. At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice, as your explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”
The woman in our story must have refused to stay lost. Every time she picked herself up again and kept going. This is one of the hardest things to do. Now here she is standing at the well with Jesus talking about deep matters of faith. Hearing the promise that soon nothing will divide his people from her people. Hearing that the living water Jesus has is for her. Knowing that Jesus see her as someone of value.
Jesus says, “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 give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) The woman goes back into the village and tells her story to anyone who will listen. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4: 29) At her word the people form the village came to meet Jesus and hear him speak. Because of her invitation, many people came to believe in Jesus. Amazing.
This woman with no name invites us to come and see Jesus. The one who knows everything about us. The one who loves us and invites us to come and drink the life giving water that sees us through life’s ups and downs. Now that is a promise. Joyce Cowley inspired by this passages wrote the poem “The Quiet Pool”
There is within each of us
a quiet clear pool of living water
fed by one deep Source
and inseparable from it’
but so often hidden
by a tangle of activity
that we may not know
of its existence.
We can spend the proverbial forty years
wandering in strange deserts,
sinking unrewarding wells,
and moving on, driven by our own thirst,
but when we stop still long enough
to look inside ourselves, really look
beyond our ideas about water
and what and where it should be,
we discover it was with us all the time,
that quiet clear pool which is ageless,
the meaning of our existence
and the answer to all our wanderings.
And as we drink,
we know what Jesus meant when he said
we’d never be thirsty again.