March 27, 2011 – Third Sunday in Lent
Lessons: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
John 4: 16-17 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!”
This is an excerpt from the story of the “Woman at the Well”. It’s a great love story between Jesus and a woman whom he met in the noonday heat at Jacob’s well. Perhaps she comes at the hottest part of the day so as to avoid the gossip of other women. Most women would have arrived in the cool of the early morning to draw water for their family. The Woman, as she is called – for she is not given a name – has been dismissed in five marriages and the man she is with now is not her husband. Her actions could be punishable by death and she needs to get water when the risk is low.
And if her plight were not enough to cause her trouble with this Stranger, she also feels diminished because she is a Samaritan and not a Jew. The deck is stacked against her yet Jesus asks her for a cup of water as though they were mutual companions on this journey of life.
There are many intriguing moments in their discourse but the one that captures my heart is his invitation to have her return to town and bring back her husband. Somehow love told Jesus that her life was a mess and this was the one request she could not grant. It’s somewhat like a parent; informed by the teacher that Johnny had failed his math test then asks Johnny to see the results of the day’s work. Johnny has two choices: to produce the failed exam or to lie that he left it in his locker. The parent wants to give Johnny the opportunity to say, “I failed” so that he can know he’s loved anyway and that they can help him learn what he has yet to grasp.
The Woman then looks Jesus in the face and says, “I have no husband.” I think it the most important line in the story and gives Jesus something to work with to help her. It stands in stark contrast to Adam who said, “she made me eat the fruit”, and Eve’s “the serpent made me eat.” God could not do anything to help them with that answer, and Adam and Eve could only hide. The Woman’s willingness to tell the truth, in the face of the danger it presented, truly set her free.
It’s hard to tell the truth, but when you do the baggage of the story is allowed to fall away. I give thanks for this Woman as she stands as a model of one willing to risk her life for the sake of her own soul. In the end, she was transformed and her community along with her. Her encounter with the Messiah was simply contagious.