The stories today are full of water. Water gushing from a rock to satisfy the thirst of a complaining people in the wilderness; that same rock of salvation worthy of singing and shouts of joy; God’s love poured like water into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and at the well, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Its water everywhere. “Come, let us sing and shout to God, for the living water of life that Jesus and the good Samaritan woman at the well give to us, give to all!
I learned that the painter of Reformation times, Lucas Cranach the Elder, produced a painting between 1525-1537, titled, Christ and the Good Samaritan. (https://lucascranach.org/en/DE_MdbKL_41/) It has two panels, on the bottom quarter, a family, parents and four children kneeling in prayer, with the family coats-of-arms in the foreground, and above, a depiction not of the “Good Samaritan” assisting a traveler beaten and robbed by thieves and left for dead as we might expect given the title, but instead of the Samaritan woman meeting Christ at a well, with the disciples or villagers staying back in the distance. Christ and the Good Samaritan Woman at the well, a fascinating and wonderful new perspective on her role in meeting Jesus and helping others, including us, to meet whom we too might see is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
Her story is presented as a beautiful dramatic play in five scenes. First, the Good Samaritan Woman and Jesus, both thirsty, having the longest conversation of any in the Christian scriptures, about water and deeper understandings and metaphors; about women and men, Samaritans and Jews, relationships and accepted behaviors; about worship in spirit and truth, the Messiah and salvation, all culminating in Jesus’ profession. “I am.” The second scene, the disciples and Jesus, shocked at Jesus talking to a woman but afraid to ask or say anything in contrast to the Good Samaritan Woman. Third, the Good Samaritan Woman inviting people of her city to “come and see” – the phrase in John that invites others to new life and salvation with Jesus – come and see a man who knew everything about me, who “cannot be the Messiah, can he? Fourth, back to the disciples and Jesus, and Jesus’ teachings about food, harvest and labourers in metaphors and new understandings of God’s mission. And fifth, the Samaritans who believe the Good Samaritan Woman and her witness, coming to Jesus and asking that he “stay or ‘abide’ with them,” – a key word in John’s Gospel that indicates strong and deep faith. And Jesus abides with them for two days, and they and many more come to believe, no longer because of the Good Samaritan Woman’s testimony, but having heard for themselves, they proclaim, Jesus truly is the Saviour of the world.
The Good Samaritan Woman at the well with Jesus, a wonderful drama in water and words. According to scholar Gail Ramshaw, at least as early as the fourth century, this drama was used to explain baptism and faith to those preparing for the sacrament at Easter. And further, that in the early third-century house church excavated in Dura Europas, Syria, a wall painting of the woman at the well was set near to a tub-sized font in a room dedicated to baptizing. So, on this Sunday we join with centuries of Christians to enjoy the narrative of the thirsty woman and so join with her to worship Christ, our living water. A beautiful baptism story inviting us to be bathed in, to drink the living water that Jesus offers, to never be thirsty again, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life by God’s grace.
The Good Samaritan Woman at the well with Jesus, also a story, a drama, challenging us to see this woman of faith and her witness, and all women of faith and their witness, that have been silenced, lost, overlooked, diminished, and to tell their and her story in memory and honour of her leading us to Jesus and the waters of life. From the worship resource Sundays and Seasons this week, the authors note: The woman at the well is the exact opposite of Nicodemus in almost every way: sex, status, wealth, public regard, work. Combine last week’s gospel (John 3:1-17) with this week’s gospel. How does John set this up as one continuous story? (with… the final appearance of John the Baptist and his summation of who Jesus is… in between.) The story reminded me of the important 1983 book by theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, that in words from a 1996 article by Christy Atler in the journal Leaven, sought “to revive the place of women otherwise overlooked and/or down-played in the early church. It also endeavored to rediscover women in the patriarchal world of the Bible to ‘not only restore early Christian history to women but also (to) lead to a richer and more accurate perception of early Christian beginnings.’ Recognizing that the New Testament text was written according to androcentric presuppositions, Schussler Fiorenza approaches the context of the biblical text affirming the theological principle of inclusiveness within the early church. Inclusiveness in Christianity allows for a greater acceptance of women and an expansion of their roles. Though the text may be silent on the whereabouts of women and their specific roles within the church, Schussler Fiorenza casts New Testament women in a fundamentally new light.” (https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1903&context=leaven)
That new light includes how we see the Good Samaritan Woman at the well with Jesus and those who are “other” in our own time and lives. Again, from Sundays and Seasons, as with all Bible stories that we think we know, we might do well to take another look! …We may assume this gospel simply urges us to stand with the marginalized, especially women. Yet while standing with marginalized women is a commendable action it can lead us, after doing so, to congratulate ourselves for being just like Jesus. A more critical and searching look at this text calls us to the reality that Jesus doesn’t just stand with the other, Jesus stands with (our) other; (our) church’s other. (Our) church’s “Samaritans” may be (Queer people), evangelicals, urban people, (Indigenous, Black and other people of colour,) rural people, conservatives, liberals, the poor, the rich, the dying, single parents (and diverse families). (Our) church’s Samaritans could very well be the key to this text. Because…, when we draw lines between ourselves and other people, Jesus is always on the other side of that line. So communities and individuals who thirst for the living water would do well to look to who our own Samaritans might be. And when we find them, we should perhaps not be surprised to also find Jesus; a Jesus we thought was all our own but who, in reality, is the living water who comes to us in the strange and the stranger.
The Good Samaritan Woman at the well with Jesus leads us to the water, waters of “cleansing and rebirth” as we say in the baptismal liturgy, and all the grace and new life that these storied waters hold. Including what water means in our world and lives on a changing planet and climate change impacts on waters all over the earth. How do we treasure water, as the Good Samaritan Woman treasured the water of Jacob’s well, for human thirst, a thirst Jesus shared. How do we protect and sustain water for generations to come and respond to polluted and unsafe drinking water for as many as one third of the people of the world, for many Indigenous communities in our nation, and increasingly for creatures across the planet. All the water in today’s stories remind us of our and creation’s need for water, the sacred water of life and our shared responsibility to protect water, the life-giving gift of Creator and grace that it is.
The words from Romans are an honest and hope-filled reminder of who we are as God’s people. Complaining in the wilderness of “Sin,” “weak, ungodly, still sinners and enemies” of God, yet Christ died for all. That we and all are “justified by faith,” having “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, …because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” And “reconciled to God through the death of Jesus, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by Jesus’ life.”
All this water, water everywhere, pouring out from a rock, a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life, waters of love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the waters of this font, the sacred waters of the Salish sea and all creation, water within us, above us, below us, around us, all pure grace, grace upon grace in which we stand and bathe and live and serve, endure and hope, sing and shout for joy, in Christ and by God’s Spirit, all together, with no one and nothing left thirsting ever again, in all our relations, let it be so, forever. Amen.