Our Lenten theme this year is “In the Desert, a Healing Spring.” When we came up with that theme back in January, we had no idea that, just six weeks later, when we moved into Lent, we would encounter so many desert places. We had no idea of all the ways, right now, that we would be searching so earnestly, with all our hearts, for a healing spring – longing for healing in so many ways – healing for our bodies, healing for our troubled and worried spirits, healing for our world.
What better way to think about all that this morning than with this Scripture where two people – Jesus and the Samaritan woman – encounter each other – in the desert – at a well – a spring. In the desert, a healing spring. Let’s bring all our desert places into theirs, and see how they approach each other, and what they make of their world. Let’s look with them, for some Living Water, for us, and for the world, today.
Now the first thing to notice is that this really is a desert scene. Literally. Jesus and the Samaritan woman encounter each other at a well in a desert world, in the middle of the day – high noon – the sun is blazing hot – and they are each likely weary – Jesus from his travels, and the woman from lugging a big clay jar down from her home in the village to the community well. In the heat of the desert, they’ve both come for some life-sustaining water.
And there’s another type of desert at work here too. You see, Jesus and the Samaritan woman live in a world of separation. They live in a world that is structured to keep them apart, two people separated by categories of gender and nationality and religion. Jesus is Jewish and a man. The Samaritan Woman is (obviously) a Samaritan and a woman. The Jewish leaders and people of the time generally view the Samaritans as apostate and unclean – they have chosen the wrong way to worship God – on a hill in Samaria, rather than a hill in Judea. And so the Jewish people of Jesus’ day have nothing to do with the Samaritan people. And the Samaritan people return the favor.
Add to that – Jesus and the woman have different genders in a world that is shaped by patriarchy – where it is scandalous in this context for a man to deign to speak to a woman.
Even so, here they are, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, together, on their own. Here, in this desert of barriers and boundaries, we have this long glimpse of just the two of them together. (This is one of the longest one-on-one conversations that Jesus has with anyone in the Bible.) It’s just Jesus, and the Samaritan Woman, and us.
Look at what they do.
Jesus is travelling through Samaria; he is exhausted, and so he rests at this well, as his disciples go off to find some food. It’s just Jesus sitting there alone, tired out, in the heat of the noonday sun. And along comes the Woman, also alone, coming to the well at the hottest time of day.
Now Jesus knows the rules. He knows who he is; and he knows who she is. He knows the barriers, and the boundaries, and the prohibitions that should keep them apart. And Jesus ignores them all – he doesn’t just ignore them, he smashes through them. Jesus talks to this Samaritan Woman. He engages her in conversation. He takes her life seriously. And he offers her the gift of Living Water – on the very same basis that he would offer it to someone who was Jewish or who was male -- on the same basis that he offers Living Water to everyone else.