Come and See
This week's text: The Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42). Read the full text here.
Two people, both alike in curiosity, in fair Samaria, where we lay our scene, a woman of Samaria and a man of Galilee, from ancient grudge break to new possibility.
A quick glance of this story shows a quaint tale of two unlikely strangers becoming friends, like the odd couple. But this is not a story of quick glances or quaint friendship. The rift is so much greater and the reconciliation will be that much more.
Generations before, there was a split among the Jewish people. Politics and geography were involved, and the people of God could no longer agree on how to live out their faith. The schism hinged on “getting God right,” and particularly…worshiping in the right location, this mountain or that. Samaritans and Galileans, both Jews, both descendants of Jacob…cut themselves off from each other. The result was ethnic violence and division to the point of danger. Picture the bloody years between Irish Catholics and Protestants, the continued clash of Sunni and Shia Muslims, the vitriol between old immigrants and recent immigrants. On the backdrop of blame, we are all made to be aliens from each other. Alienated and disconnected, our communication breaks down and speech turns to monologue. We talk AT, not WITH one another. People appear as one-dimensional sketches.
Too often, preachers read this text with a quick glance and see an opportunity to shame an unnamed woman for perceived sexual immorality, assuming that her multiple marriages reflect shortcomings in her character that Jesus is generously able to overcome. Perhaps her community saw her in this one-dimensional way as well, leading to her disconnection and isolation. But these interpretations miss the mark. This woman is not a serial sinner, but a serial victim. As a woman in ancient times, she would have had little control over her marital status and the multiple relationships would be the result of death (leaving her widowed) or…most likely…divorce because the marriage produced no children.
Jesus clearly stands against such prejudices. Jesus never declares judgement over her identity nor her situation. Rather, Jesus reveals that even amidst this long and conflicted history, even here, something new can happen. To the woman abandoned as a one-note song with no value or belonging, Jesus declares – I will never abandon you. Here, at the source of water from their shared ancestor, the well runs deeper.
It is in relationship, in mutual conversation that these two together reveal goodness and grace. Jesus acknowledges that he needs her help to access water, but also her epiphany, her discovery, and her witness to others. We see the holy combination of something tangible and something beyond. Likewise, she needs him to experience a relationship like she’s never had. In Christ, she is more than one-dimension. For once, she is known not in judgement but in whole. That kind of deep knowledge isn’t simply told but experienced and shown. Jesus doesn’t begin by proclaiming “I Am,” rather it is the result of ongoing relationship between multi-dimensional characters. This is the first time we hear Jesus use that phrase in the Gospel of John, and it is not by accident that it happens away from the respected circles and in the company of a nameless woman whose ethnicity is reviled.
This profound experience leads to movement. We move from monologue to dialogue as water moves from stillness to life. The woman first addressed Jesus as Jew, then Sir/Lord, then prophet. Finally, after she feels fully seen and known; she calls him Messiah. And she doesn’t stop there. She goes to tell others in her community and invites them to experience this wondrous liberation for themselves. She doesn’t try to convince them of a doctrine or a political platform, but uses the same language as Jesus – come and see. Faith and belief, reconciliation and resurrection are not the result of shouting matches but relationship and mutual conversation. And for that, Jesus comes to where we are. Jesus heeds no boundary or border. Jesus finds us at midnight and at midday and invites us out from our corners.
As a country, even as the church, we are separated by tribalism, by race, by where or how we were born. The division runs deep. It has grown so deep and so wide for so long, that we have convinced ourselves it is the way things always were and should be. We chastise anyone trying to cross the chasm, forgetting that it’s the only way out of this trap. We don’t know our neighbors. Even within our own families or our own home, we become isolated. It creates a world so marked by loneliness and brokenness that children shoot each other and adults scream blame at each other to no avail. We reduce ourselves and each other to one-dimensional figures and our conversations remain in monologue….and none of us are Shakespeare.
Jesus counteracts this dynamic. God sees us, knows us, and invites us into relationship, discovery, and discourse that mends and liberates. How does this change how we speak of and with one another? If the simple element of water can meet both our physical and spiritual longings, how do we recognize the same holy elevation in our daily conversations? May we seek know others as we are known by God. It is a long and slow endeavor, but through Christ, it is possible. Amen.