Two people, two different stories? Perhaps not. In the Gospel of John, Jesus reveals himself to a variety of people, and the ministry of spreading the word, sowing and reaping the Good News begins. Today’s Gospel reading, John 4:27-42, puts us right in the middle of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has already asked her for water. And told her the story of her life, a prophetic moment for her. Remembering back to John 1:45-51, the calling of Nathanael, Philip goes to Nathanael and says, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus.” When Nathanael goes to Jesus, Jesus prophetically tells him what he was doing, sitting under his fig tree. One interpretation is that Nathanael recognized that as a reference to Micah 4:4, and that Jesus is telling him that he is a righteous man, and the promise of the peace of God has been fulfilled. Nathanael proclaims “you are the Son of God!” The Samaritan woman knows that they are at the well of Jacob, Jacob who wrestles with God and meets God. Samaritans were a people who considered themselves the true pre-exile Jewish people, a people who only followed the Pentateuch of Moses as the Law. When Jesus tells her about her many marriages, one not a marriage, could she not hear it as an accusation of her disobedience to the marriage laws in Deuteronomy, and like the flawed Jacob finds herself wrestling with God?
While Nathanael was called righteous, she has lived her life doing the best she could. She is us. Jesus tells her that he gives living water, water to quench, water to wash away sin, eternal water. The time to worship the Father in neither the Temple (Jews) or on Mount Gerizim (Samaritans) is coming. She says that she knows the Messiah will come. He tells her that he is that One. Immediately, she runs back to her community, abandoning her water jug, to spread the good news, saying to them, as Philip said to Nathanael, come and see a man whom I think is the Messiah. That is the good news, the Gospel news. I don’t think this passage is about a shamed woman at all. I think this about Jesus, in these two related narratives, calling the righteous and the sinner, male and female, Jew and Gentile, to Salvation.
Now we are at the beginning of our text for today. And enter (stage left) the disciples with lunch. They don’t say to Jesus, “Who is she?” or to the woman, “Who are you?” They ignore her. Female or Samaritan or both, she is invisible to them. They urge Jesus to eat something, and Jesus again pivots. As he had told the woman he had water to quench every thirst, he now answers the simple plea to sit down and eat something with the revelation that he is fed by obeying his Father and completing his mission. And he is on a mission through the exchange with the woman and her choice to spread the word. And his disciples don’t get it. Did somebody already give him lunch? Drawing on a familiar rural saying “One sows, another reaps,” and the one about the four month wait from the time of sowing to the harvest, Jesus tells them that the harvest is already here.
And coming up the road stream the townspeople that the woman has brought, Jesus’ harvest reaped from that which Jesus sowed from his Father to the woman, and the woman sowed to her community. This is how the Gospel is sown and reaped. Jesus is offered and accepts hospitality and stays with these Samaritans for two days, which must have been a strain on his disciples’ sense of propriety. He had to have taught, healed, broken bread with, and blessed them. And the people, male and female, come to believe, not by rejecting the woman that brought the news, but by hearing and seeing Jesus himself with their own ears and eyes, and hearts. They call him the Savior of the world, Savior, σωτήρ, sótér, deliverer, a word used here to describe Jesus as the Christ, and in only one other place in the Gospels (Luke 2:11).These detested Samaritans get it. They are converted. They turn to Jesus and believe him to be the Christ. Here the Gospel is shown though one woman, to her people, and who knows how much farther that mission may have gone.
We are called, or we wouldn’t be here in Lent. And we are like Nathanael and the woman; both righteous and the result of our messy lives. We are all broken. But the great healer is Jesus. And we are called every Lent to hear his words and walk with him and recognize in him Freedom and Truth, the freedom and truth of his Father’s love for him, and his and his Father’s love for us. A love that will lead to the Cross. As the Cross will lead to the Resurrection. We are called to turn, exposing ourselves to the unpleasant, often very painful, vulnerability of our flawed and messy lives. We are called to accept God’s love and mercy. We won’t instantly become perfect. Even to become a little more righteous takes faith and patience. This Lent look deep inside, not to fix anything, because we can’t, but humbly to submit to God our Father, and ask for healing from Jesus our Savior. Our healed selves (work in progress) have an aim. We in Christ seek not only our own but our communal salvation. We can start by asking for healing for ourselves, through our spiritual counselors, through our interaction with our messy community, by facing these uncomfortable bits, holding them up in our pain and confusion, saying, “Abba, help me, in Jesus’ name.” It is tough, painful, and takes time. But God is merciful, and we can learn to hear the voice of Jesus in our lives, read the words of Jesus in Scripture, put on the mind of Jesus by prayer and practice. And the Sacrament helps. A lot.
We are needed. It doesn’t take CNN or the New York Times to reveal the horrors of this world. That is what the Great Commission is all about, the sending of the 12, of the seventy, of each of us. In this passage Jesus doesn’t say a word about works of mercy for the needy. What he says is that he is the Christ, who quenches that deep thirst which is the longing for God. He doesn’t only feed with bread and water or wine, but that he is the food and drink for eternity. So the first step in our own conversion is Jesus. All the corporal works of mercy will flow from us when we are filled with God’s love. Then we are ready to become God’s hands and feet.
Lent is a time to turn ourselves to God and listen. Good works are good, as is fasting. We don’t need meat or chocolate for 40 days. And if it keeps us mindful, use the discipline. We have no control. Only God does. But we can discipline ourselves. Be mindful. Pray. Read Scripture. Let those practices open us to God. And then be Phillip for Nathanael, be the woman for her people. Sow Christ, and reap the world.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.