WOMAN AT THE WELL: WATER, WORSHIP AND WITNESS
(Delivered by the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville, New York, 03/19/2017. Text: John 4:4-54)
It is amazing how wonderful things can happen even in the most mundane of places.
We live in an apartment building in Queens, New York and one of the places in our neighborhood I frequently hang out is the nearby Laundry Mat. New Yorkers live very busy lives and frenetic lifestyles. We seldom have time for socialization. So it is in the laundry mat where I meet my neighbors and have the opportunity to chat with them. Even Mayor De Blasio go to the Landry Mat.
In the Laundry Mat, you have the chance to meet and talk with men, women, and even children. From the time we load up our clothes to the washer, to the time we transfer them to the dryer and fold them up on the table, it’s a good couple of hours. I have had great conversations with people in the laundry mat, gained many friends and in some cases was successful inviting them to church.
During the time of Jesus, such places of meeting was not the Laundry Mat but the Well. It is still true in many rural areas in Asia and Africa where people do not have running water. In rural Philippines, for instance, it is common for men to carry two jugs of water suspended on a bamboo pole. In rural India or Africa, it is common to see women carry a jar of water on their heads.
Like my Laundry Mat, it is at the Well that people, especially women, come and meet. Such is the case of this Samaritan woman in the gospel today. There was nothing extraordinary with what she intended to do. She thought she would simply draw the water, fill her jar and then trudge back home. But at this ordinary well, she met a man who told her extraordinary things; or shall we say, she found extraordinary meanings to very ordinary things through an ordinary encounter with an extraordinary man.
The conversation she had with Jesus gave her tremendous insights into three W’s: Water, Worship and Witness.
We take water for granted, but we couldn’t survive without it. We drink it, bathe in it, swim in it. We nurture our plants with it and even put it in our cars. Most of us in the city, have no trouble obtaining it for we have steady, running water. We also have drinking fountains and bottled water and for those with money and luxurious houses, they even have Olympic size swimming pools.
But the well in biblical history has so much similarity to my Laundry Mat. Significant relationships started at the wells. Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at a well, and brought her home for Isaac. Jacob met Rachel at a well. Moses met his wife, Zipporah at the well. And Jesus, taught his first woman evangelist at the well. The encounter began with Jesus asking the woman, “Will you give me a drink?,”
It seemed like an ordinary a request, but for the Samaritan woman, there was something strange. So she said, “Sir, you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
The question gives an insight into the racial and cultural discrimination of that time. The puritanical Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans, whom they called dogs. Although the Samaritans were direct descendants of the Joseph tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the Jews believed they are mongrels, mixed-race people, a product of people living in Samaria and other peoples at the time of the conquest by Assyria. In other words, they were not pure Jews. A typical Jew would wake up in the morning and thank God saying, “O God, thank you that I am a Jew, not a Samaritan; a man and not a woman.”
So when Jesus asked water from a Samaritan woman, He actually broke the racial, ethnic, religious and gender barriers! The water by the well became the contact point by which God and human exchanged common needs. “Will you give me a drink?” became a profound request from the incarnate Son of God who would later utter on the cross, “I thirst.”
Then Jesus said to the woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again but whoever drinks the water I give, will never thirst again, because it will become a spring to eternal life.”
Jesus was speaking heavenly things but the woman was earthy: ”Sir, give me this water so I won’t be thirsty and don’t need to come here to draw from the well.”
“Go call your husband,” Jesus said and the woman replied, “I have no husband.” And Jesus said, “Yes, you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband,” Instead of being embarrassed, the woman marveled at Jesus for she believed He was a prophet.
The conversation then turned to worship. Between the Jews and the Samaritans, the point of contention was the place where God ought to be worshipped. To the Jews, it was in Mount Zion in Jerusalem where God ought to be worshipped; to the Samaritans, it was in Mount Gerizim in Shechem, Palestine. But Jesus again shattered the myth when He said: “Believe me, Woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. God is Spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth!”
The English worship comes from two words, “worth” and “ship.” It means God is worthy of our worship. Last Thursday, one of my former acolytes in another church I once served, met a terrible accident. She was “brain dead” when we visited him at the hospital and the parents were greatly devastated. Shawn was only 11 years old; he was handsome, very smart and so much promise ahead of him. But he was cut off from life at this young age. Being my former acolyte, I felt so attached to Shawn and my heart was breaking as I saw the pain and agony that his mother and father were feeling. It is definitely an experience no one needs to go through. In our culture, children are supposed to bury their parents and not the other way around.
It reminds me of the difference between Praise and Worship. Praise is thanking God for what He has done and all the blessings He has given us. But there are times in our lives when misfortune knocks us down, when pain and misery almost crush us to the ground, when suffering becomes intolerable. When you are in this position, it is hard to praise God. It is at this point that worship takes over, because worship is thanking God for Who God is. God is worthy of our worship----in any circumstances we are in.
The story of Job was a perfect illustration. Job was a righteous man and lived in total obedience to God. But one day, Satan said to God, “Job, your servant is righteous because you have given him everything: good family, wealth and fortune. Take them away and he will curse you.” God said, “do anything to him but just spare his life and we shall see.”
From that point on, God removed the wedge that covered Job. One after another, misfortune came to Job. He lost his cattle on a thousand hills, he lost his crops, he lost his family, and lastly he was afflicted with boils all over his body. All his friends expected Job to curse God and die but Job but Job, the paragon of patience and long-suffering, took off his robe, filled his body with ashes and knelt before the Lord, saying ”Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I return to my Maker. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Now, that is true worship! Blessing or no blessing, God is worshipped and adored.
The amazing encounter with Jesus transformed the woman into a witness to the Good News. All her life she was seeking for things that could not satisfy. Then she heard the Savior talked about the well that never runs dry, of the water that will spring into everlasting life. And she became the first woman evangelist, the bringer of the Good News to the Samaritans.
She went back to her community, the village in Samaria and told everyone about his amazing encounter----and many believed in her story. If John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus to the Jews; then this unnamed Samaritan woman was the forerunner of the Jesus to the Samaritans. And when Jesus finally came to Samaria, the Samaritans urged him to stay longer and he stayed two days, teaching them and performing miracles they have never seen before, to the point that they finally said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now, we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” Amen