Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent

John 4:5-42

So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “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 will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the 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.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)


Last week, we listened in on a philosophical conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, and here, we see its message lived out in practice. In fact, over the next few weeks of the lectionary, we are going to watch as Jesus reveals himself to people on the margins, experiencing some sort of separation.

Speaking of separation between people & groups we hear about 2 of those groups, the Samaritans and the Jews. We see Jesus lovingly reveal himself as God to the Samaritan woman, we watch as she comes to faith and shares her belief with her community, and witness how her community, who listens to her, comes to believe for themselves. The Spirit of God has chosen to blow through the city of Sychar!

There are multiple levels of restoration in answer to the separations happening in this story. 

  • There is what happens in the life of the Samaritan woman herself
  • There is her interaction with her community
  • There is the mystery of Jesus’s purposes and strength that the disciples witness, and there is the grander arc of unity and reconciliation on which this story is set.

In verses 20 the Samaritan woman tells Jesus that “You say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” She doesn’t mean Jesus as an individual, but the Jewish people as a whole (“you” is in plural in the Greek). Likewise, Jesus answers her with the second person plural, “You will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…” It is not just this woman who will worship, but all who are like her. This fits in the larger theme of the pericope: we have more in common with one another than we know—if we seek the unity that is founded on worshipping the Triune God.

When the church is worshipping in spirit and truth, it is meant to be a picture of the dividing lines torn down. All that could (and does) separate us, race and ethnicity, gender, social class or financial status, even denominational identity, speaks to the unifying power of the Spirit through worship. So why does Sunday continue to be the most segregated hour? In Christ, by the Spirit, for the Father, don’t we have more in common than we admit?


What is it about God’s people that has us always wanting to complain, divide up, and choose sides? I guess it’s because we’re people. Moses’ folks in the wilderness can’t help it that they’re thirsty; but, even in adversity, we still choose how we will respond, right? They bicker and complain and generally display bad form in terms of faith in their leadership. Of course, ultimately, this is a tale about their faith in God. Moses does not let the occasion pass without a bit of stinging rebuke, i.e., in naming the place of God’s miracle of “water from the rock.”

Paul’s encouragement to the Romans recognizes that we, as God’s people, can be a motley crew. Still, Christ is willing to die for us—so God’s mercy must surely be big, wide, and deep. God has patience with us; it’s probably a pretty good idea for us to be patient with one another.

Then we hear the story of the Woman at the Well! What a fabulous story, one that mostly speaks for itself. The interplay between the woman and Jesus is ripe with all sorts of great cultural and theological tension. Gender roles, religious differences, moral questions concerning access to God—it’s all there! I have always been fascinated by the waterpot as a symbol of both the woman’s burdens in life—like the daily trudge for survival; her lack of companionship, as she is alone at noon; the implied shame of her multiple failed marriages and current unstable domestic relationship—and her freedom upon encountering the Christ.


The Lectionary readings this Lenten season all highlight the meaning of our baptismal identity and calling. Today, two stories are literally water stories: the thirsty Israelites receiving water from the rock, and Jesus and the Samaritan woman discussing living water next to a well that was used by their ancestor Jacob.

As our baptism is inherently a calling for others as well as a gift of life for ourselves, the exploration of our baptismal identity always has a dimension of the stewardship and sharing of the life we have received. Jesus says to the woman that “the water that I give will become in [those who drink it] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:14). Jesus expresses something similar in John 7:37b-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” So, once we have received the living water, we become ourselves sources of living water–-springs, fountains, places where water flows or gushes abundantly out of the earth to enliven the world.

I love how we are told how the Samaritan woman, after her encounter with Jesus, becomes a font of living water that brings the message of Jesus to the spiritually thirsty souls of her village. They all come to see Jesus and come to believe in him.

It’s interesting that the story doesn’t divide the world into thirsty people and people who are sources of water. Jesus himself is thirsty, and he asks the woman for a drink. She is thirsty, seeking water from the well. Both of them then become sources of living water. John’s is the Gospel where Jesus says on the cross, “I am thirsty.” Jesus’ experience of need, God’s entry into human need and thirst in Jesus, is an essential part of his ability to share the water of life.

So our own thirst, if we use it to identify with and have compassion for the thirst of others, is part of our ability to share the water of life, literally and symbolically. 

We’re not expected to be sources of living water who never experience need ourselves. Rather, we’re expected to use our own need to connect with the need of others and share with them the gift of life we have received. At the same time, we’re called to name our own need and to see the other person as someone who has a gift of water that we need.

In that spirit Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. As both female and a Samaritan, she would have been considered a lesser person in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time. Yet this does not prevent Jesus from seeing her as someone who is able to give him something he needs. As the man who was robbed and beaten in Jesus’ parable (Luke 10:25-37) was willing to receive what he needed from the “Good Samaritan,” so Jesus himself doesn’t see the Samaritan woman as simply someone who needs what he has to give, but as someone who has something to offer him.

When we who are baptized hear about people who need clean water after a natural disaster, or about people whose municipal water is contaminated by lead through governmental malfeasance, or about people in areas suffering from drought, we are called to connect our thirst with theirs and to find a way to share the gift of water with them. And at the same time, we can receive a gift of life from them.

Baptism doesn’t separate us out into a group that never thirsts; it washes us into solidarity with all the thirsty people in the world. How do we live out that solidarity? What are the ways our congregation, our synod, and our denomination can bring water to thirsty people in our neighborhood and around the world? How can we become fonts of living water that spread the good news of Jesus to our thirsty neighbors?


Jesus journeyed to a somewhat strange and disputed site of water in order to point out that he was and would be with the people—Jewish, Samaritan and Gentile—to provide the living water of his presence for them on their life journeys.

During the Israelite experience of wilderness, and the political-religious wilderness of the first century, God was present to provide water, but even more, to provide God’s own presence. And God’s same presence is here for us today!