The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
5 So he came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. 36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
The Woman at the Well, mosaic in The Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood,
St. Petersburg, Russia, by N.N. Kharlamov 1863-1935
If there is one thing we need so much,
It is to be embraced by human touch;
As it was for a special daughter,
Who went to a well to receive living water.
In an article in Psychology Today, there was an interesting article that relates to our current situation. The article was titled, “Skin Hunger” and the author gave some statistics worth sharing. Three out of four adults in America agree with this statement, “More people live alone today than ever before.” One out of four Americans do not have a single person to talk about important issues. Lastly, over the last ten years the statistic of “Loneliness” has grown 16%.
In the Gospel today, there is a special daughter who goes to the well to draw some water. According to St. John, we should get really excited about the fourth chapter. The story of Jesus with the woman at the well is extraordinary because it is the longest conversation that our Lord Jesus has had with anyone, as recorded in the Bible. The woman is someone we feel that we can easily summarize, judge her perhaps but it’s worth reminding that she is someone’s daughter. That is always a good way of preventing yourself from becoming overly critical of anyone. No matter what they may say or how they behave, just remind yourself that they are someone’s son or daughter. This woman who came to the well was someone’s daughter.
In this story, there are several things happening. The well that she meets Jesus is Jacob’s well. You remember the story don’t you? Quick summary, the story of Jacob meeting Rachel is the ultimate love story. He is thirsty from walking all day, trying to escape his angry brother Esau who wanted to kill him from stealing his birthright. Along comes Rachel with her herd of sheep and she is going to draw water. There, on top of the well is a big stone that requires some strength to move. Jacob wanted to impress her so he rolls up his sleeves, flexes his muscle, then stands back, proud of what he just did. Seven years, times two, later, he earns her hand in marriage from her father. That is the “well” story.
Here is the woman, from Samaria, outside the covenant of the Hebrew people, and she is seen as impure. A Jewish rabbi certainly would not have spoken directly to her, and most definitely would not have touched her in fear that she would pass along her impurity to him. The timing of the event is important, telling us more. She meets him at noon. In that day it was most common for the women to draw water during two times of the day; in the morning and before sunset. Why is the Samaritan woman drawing water at noon? Is it because, even within her own race, she could not blend with others in this routine? As the story goes, Jesus has impressed her so, because he has chosen to talk with her, a woman, a Samaritan, and an even lower class within her own race. He tells her about life, and this thing called “Living water.” It is something she is so excited about that she wants to tell others, forgetting just for a short moment of who she is. She forgets being alone in the world and outcast. Her skin hungers for more, then Jesus told her to go tell her husband. Can you see her disposition change? Can you see her drop her head? “I do not have a husband,” she says and Jesus responds, “You are right for you have had five.”
At this moment we must not judge her. It was rare that a woman could survive public shame and disgrace after two failed marriages. There is the possibility they all died. It is possible, but for the story to make sense, it is most probable she was considered to be expendable. Do you think she could have gone anywhere? There is hardly a statistic to explain just how terribly alone she was. She was trash to many others. Interesting enough, the many pictures of art around this story show the disciples just off to the distance with a look of shock. “What has Jesus done?” “We will never live this down.” “How could he,” may have been perhaps surrounding their disbelief, yet Jesus went out to touch her, to embrace and remind her she is not alone. She was so excited about all of this and went back to her village to tell others. That’s nice, but wait there is more to the story.
Where did she go? Who did she tell? This long discourse is more than a drop in the bucket (no pun intended). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the story continues. The Western church liked to write everything down and the Eastern church enjoyed aural transmission, with each retelling an opportunity to make it more authentic. According to the tradition of the Orthodox, and places of Samaria, they coveted this interaction. The Samaritan woman was baptized and knew the Apostles well. They recounted the stories of Jesus. She received a new name through this new birth, with living water; with human touch, and she was called “Photini.” The name means, “Enlightened”; remember Saul became Paul. They referred to her as, “The Equal to the Apostles” and she told her story with passion, converting many, including her five sisters and two sons.
In a dream, Jesus called her to Carthage and then to Rome. It was in Rome that she went before Nero, confronting his evil head on, proclaiming Jesus as the true king. Infuriated by her and all Christians for that matter, he ordered her and her family to be brutally tortured but they survived. Tradition records the details of being beaten, yet suffering no pain; tempted yet not yielding. Ultimately they were all put to death, years after their imprisonment and torture, but the greatest sign of her human touch, offering living water, was received by another daughter. Nero’s daughter confessed Jesus as Lord, along with her household. Imagine how Nero must have burned by this. His own child and grandchildren, worshiping someone other than himself. No longer would he have dominion over them.
The story of Photini is preserved by the mosaic found in the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood, that beautiful church and monument in the heart of a godless society in Russia. This is once again the sign of Christ, moving into the places that seem vacant, and alone. Jesus does not apply social distancing in these cases where people go without the living water he promises. He goes to the places where people are isolated and where they need, more than anything, where we are reminded,…
If there is one thing we need so much,
It is to be embraced by Jesus and his touch;
As it was for a special daughter, we are like her,
Who go to a well to receive living water.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Psychology Today,
 John 4:5-42