The Samaritan woman said to [Jesus], “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.) [John 4:9]
We don’t necessarily appreciate the tremendous value of water where I live in Northeastern Ohio because it is so accessible. We can go to a fountain or a faucet at virtually any time and quench our thirst. It’s something we do nearly without thinking.
But if you had been in Texas during the cold snap of a couple weeks ago it would be a different story. The people in Flint, Michigan, could also tell you a thing or two about the importance of water.
Most of us, I count myself chief among them, probably don’t drink enough water. We all know how necessary water is to our health and well-being. Our bodies can’t exist without it.
In today’s Gospel reading from John, we find Jesus, tired and thirsty, at a well in hostile territory, in the heat of the midday sun, with no bucket or dipper with which to scoop the water out of the well. So his only recourse was to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. She is alone, and women usually travel to the well in groups, to protect themselves from unwanted attention from men who are not related.
Jesus’ request was clearly a violation of social customs. Jews would not drink out of a Samaritan cup. They considered all Samaritans unclean and anything they touched would be unclean. (The image of the sign over a water fountain, “For Colored Only”, immediately popped into my head.)
It was also not proper for men to speak to women, Jew, or Samaritan, accompanied or not.
So on both counts, a Samaritan, a woman, Jesus should have avoided her. But his asking for a drink expresses his willingness to cross boundaries, to break down barriers, to turn the social norms upside down. Jesus’ mission goes beyond race, gender, and religion. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed or not, that this has been a recurring theme in the readings so far this Lenten season, and in the life of Jesus for that matter.
The societal prejudice that created a barrier to the relationship with Jesus would have remained intact had it not been for Jesus.
In our reading for last Saturday, the 20th of February, we encountered another story of prejudice when Nathanael asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The poet Maya Angelou once wrote, “Prejudice is a burden which confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible”
Jesus came to the Samaritan woman in the form of someone against whom she was deeply prejudiced.
Like the woman, and like Nathanael, each one of us harbors prejudice. It may be an individual or a group of people you reject because of the color of their skin or their religion or their way of life. Those barriers can be an obstacle to an authentic relationship with Jesus.
But rather than diminish us, rather than reject us, rather than condemn us, Jesus is willing to look beyond our faults and offer us that grace that transforms that burden.
In today’s meeting between Jesus and the woman at the well, we come to see water as the symbol of God’s sustaining grace and abundant mercy. As necessary and as vital as water is to our system, God’s grace is even more of a necessity.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” Jesus says. “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.” [John 4:13-14]
May that water cleanse us, that we may all recognize that grace within us, and wash away the barriers that get between us and Jesus.
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A reminder that there is no post tomorrow, the Second Sunday in Lent.