Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42

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Lent 3A

Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42

The story of Nicodemus from last week’s gospel and this week’s story of the Samaritan woman are both unique to the Gospel of John. They are told one right after another---and we are meant to look at them side by side. And when we do, we hear Truths we need to hear.

Let’s start with Nicodemus. A prominent Pharisee. A learned man. A man of status. We know his name. Nicodemus had heard about Jesus; he was curious. However, due to his hesitation and fear, Nicodemus comes to seek Jesus in the dead of the night. Not wanting others to see him, the darkness shelters Nicodemus from curious eyes.

This week, the main player in the story is a woman. A woman without a name. A woman without status; a woman without a husband. Now, before we go castigating her to the realms of a great sinner and some kind of woman with loose morals, let’s remember the culture and society she lives in. We are not told why she has had five husbands. Have they died? Did one or more of her husbands divorce her and leave her with nothing? We do not know. What we do know is that no woman could afford to stay single and alone. To remain a woman alone was to be without shelter or security. After all, as a woman, she was merely property. Let’s not be so quick to think we know her story.

But we do know she is unnamed; we do know she doesn’t know much about this Jesus character, and we know she is a Samaritan (and therefore an outcast to the Jewish people). This means she has nothing to lose, so she comes to the well at broad daylight. This is unusual. Most women came in the early, and cool, hours of the morning. Obviously, she chose to come at a time when the well is absent of others. We do not know why, but it is a telling detail---she is staying at the edge of her community for some reason. And in the brightness of daylight---not the dark hours of Nicodemus’ visit-- she encounters Jesus.

These two stories are a tale of compare and contrast. Nicodemus--- for all his learning and knowledge, for all his intellectual background---he is unable to comprehend Jesus’ words. He cannot think outside of the box into which his religious system has placed God. He cannot seem to open his heart and soul to mysterious truths because his logical and literal head cannot wrap itself around them. His need for reason keeps his heart from hearing the Word of Truth declared by the very Word standing directly in front of him.

But this unnamed woman? She has a religious system as well; there is nothing to lead us to believe that she is any less devout than Nicodemus. Yet, she is able to open herself—her heart and her mind---and allow herself to be vulnerable to a new Truth, a new reality. She can move past her religious expectations to make room for this One promising her living Water---this One who is the Messiah.

Darkness isn’t only Nicodemus’ cover----it also illustrates his lack of understanding. Nicodemus’ literal take on the Law and life has closed the door of his mind, so he fails to have an ah-ha moment with Jesus. For Nicodemus, darkness symbolizes his misguided certainty.

The woman, on the other hand, leaves literal matters behind, and her questioning leads her to recognize Jesus for who he really is. She is willing to accept the mystery. Not held back by certainty, she moves from unbelief to belief, from the darkness into the light. Recognition as bright as the noonday.

This unlikely woman allows herself to be drawn into relationship with Jesus. She is pulled from the edges of her community and becomes a source of Truth for her neighbors—an evangelist who points to the revelation of God.

The conversation Jesus has with this woman is the longest conversation he has with anyone in Scripture---Jesus talks longer to this unnamed, no-status woman, a Samaritan nonetheless, than to anyone else in the entire New Testament---including all twelve of the disciples. And at the end of this conversation, this woman who has no name, no status, no learning, this woman from whom society expects nothing ---it is she (not the learned Nicodemus) who understands. It is this unexpected one who becomes the great witness, saving others through her declarations and action.

These Gospel stories lay a choice before us.

Today and every day, Jesus stands at the well, waiting for us to approach. Will we, like Nicodemus, hesitate in the darkness of our own certainty, or will we, like this most unlikely woman, step out in the bright light of faith---taking a risk in order to encounter Jesus, the Messiah who offers us living water?

Are we ready for our thirst to be quenched? Do we desire to be known by the One who saves us? Can we believe and trust that it doesn’t matter how the world labels us, but it is how God defines us that is our true identity?

Jesus stands at the well, inviting us to know and be known, inviting us into relationship with the great I am--- offering us the bread and the wine, the water and the cup, the Body and the Spirit, our salvation and redemption. Our wholeness and wellness.

Do we have the courage to leave our circle of certainty in order to enter God’s mystery?

Will we be bold enough to move from the darkness into the Light?

Jesus stands at the well. May God grant us the desire and daring to taste and see.

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