Scripture: John 4: 7-18, 39
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 28, 2016
A woman who sits next to an attractive man on a bus. She says, “You look just like my 4th husband.” The man replied, “FOURTH husband. How many times have you been married?” The woman smiled, winked and replied, “Three.” Now, that’s a great pick-up line. But for the Samaritan woman, having had 5 husbands and living with a man who was not her husband was no joking matter.
Over the centuries, the Church has considered this woman to be promiscuous, “fallen”, the town “floosy.” In those days, fetching water was women’s work, and women happily turned the task into a social event. They came to the well early in the morning, late in the evening, but during the cool of day, laughing and cherishing their time together. The only reason a woman would go to the well alone in the scorching midday heat was if she didn’t fit in or wasn’t welcome with the rest of the women.
Somewhere along the line, her life had veered terribly off course. A poor choice here, a wrong turn there and suddenly her little-girl dreams of a fairy tale life were gone. With a long string of failed marriages on her resume, not to mention the current live-in boyfriend, she was the woman everyone whispered about and avoided.
Now to be fair, I must say that scholars are divided on the issue of this woman’s personal life. Some take the traditional view that this woman was of ill repute, a harlot of sorts. Others say, “No, she was a victim of her male-dominated society.” Women in her society had very little social standing. They were not much more than the property of their fathers or husbands. For the Law of Moses, to which the Samaritans adhered, allowed a man to divorce his wife simply by writing a bill of divorce, giving it to her and sending her out of his house without any alimony, child support or other financial settlement. Women, on the other hand, were not allowed to divorce their husbands. They had little or no choice regarding whom they married, or if they stayed married. It is entirely possible, then, that this woman was simply passed from one man to another, each using her as long as he felt like it and then divorcing her. As for the man she lives with it is again possible that she would like to marry him. He, however, may not want to marry her because she is considered “damaged goods.” Again, the choice is not hers to make. Aren’t we glad, women, that we live in a different society today?
Regardless of whether she is a harlot or a victim, she is scorned by her fellow villagers. And in addition to her multiple relationships, in addition to being a woman, she is a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. They were considered to be half-breeds. For those who were hearers of John’s gospel – the audience for whom he wrote – the word “Samaritan” was a code word for the bad guys, the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low. Yes, this woman has three strikes against her: she is a woman, she had had multiple relationships, and she was a Samaritan. She is the very embodiment of the outsider.
This woman comes with an empty bucket to the well, feeling empty inside. Jesus meets her there at the well and asks her for a drink of water. There are many reasons that this conversation should never have happened. He was a man; she was a woman. Women were not to be seen or heard, especially by holy men. There were a group of Pharisees called “The bruised and bleeding Pharisees.” Do you know why they were called that? When they would see a woman coming toward them, they would close their eyes and keep on walking, and sometimes they would crash into a wall and find themselves bruised and bleeding. So strong was the taboo against seeing and interacting with a woman in Jesus’ day.
He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. They should never have acknowledged each other’s existence, never been at the same place at the same time. Jews and Samaritans do not eat from the same dishes or drink from the same cups. That is a very clear violation of Jewish Law. But Jesus breaks the rules anyway. And later in the conversation, Jesus acknowledges that he knows she has had 5 husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband.
But to fully appreciate Jesus’ sympathetic dialogue, we must give some thought to what he didn’t say. He didn’t enumerate her sins, lecture her for setting a bad example, ask for an explanation, demand an apology, or tell her she was going to Hell if she didn’t shape up. Why doesn’t Jesus condemn her? Because this woman had been hammered enough. What she needed was not another rebuke, what this woman needed was a deep, refreshing drink of living water, what she needed was someone who was willing to show compassion. “Spirituality is not a test; it is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection” (Mike Yaconelli).
I love John 4: 28. It says that after talking with Jesus, the woman “left her water jar beside the well” and headed back toward town. I can picture Jesus noticing the forgotten water jar and smiling at the symbolism. She’d not only brought an empty jar to the well, she brought an empty life. And she was leaving both behind.
When others would not give her the time of day, Jesus spent quality time with the Samaritan woman. Jesus models for us the love language of quality time. Quality time means that we listen for our loved one’s emotions. Quality time means we give undivided attention to another. Quality time says there is nothing more important at this moment than you. Quality time refuses to interrupt another person.
Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his/her own ideas. If I give you my undivided attention while you are talking, I will refrain from defending myself or hurling accusations at you or dogmatically stating my position. My goal is to discover your thoughts and feelings. My objective is not to defend myself or to set you straight. It is to understand you.
Some of you may be thinking, “I would be happy to give quality time to a loved one, but I am just so busy and I don’t have the time to give.” Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages, says this. “We make time (for others) just as we make time for lunch or dinner. Why? Because it is just as essential to our relationships as meals are to our health. Does it take careful planning? Yes. Does it mean we have to give up some individual activities? Yes. Does it mean we do some things we don’t particularly enjoy, but activities that our loved one does enjoy? Certainly. Is it worth it? Without a doubt” (p.75).
I am discovering how important quality time is, especially for children, especially with our daughter, Daniella. There are times when I need to step over the laundry and pick Daniella up and take her to the park and push her on the swing. There are times when I need to leave the dishes in the sink and play peek a boo with her. There are times when I need not to pick my phone or turn on my computer, but instead sit with Daniella in the backyard and blow bubbles. There are evenings when I simply need to snuggle beside her for hours and miss my favorite TV shows.
Spending quality time with another is like offering living water. And for some, the water given to a parched soul truly is “living”. I would like share with you a true story about how quality time literally made the difference between life and death for one baby girl. Talk about “living” water.
Susan found out that she was pregnant and so she did what she could to prepare her young son Michael for his new sibling. They find out that the new baby was going to be a girl and day after day, night after night, Michael sang to his sister in Mommy’s tummy.
The pregnancy progresses normally for Susan. And the labor pains come. Every five minutes and then every minute. But complications arise during delivery. There are hours of labor and finally Michael’s little sister is born. But she is in serious condition. The infant is rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Mary’s hospital. The days inch by. The girl gets worse. The pediatric specialist tells the parents, “There is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst.” Susan and her husband contact a local cemetery about a burial plot. They had fixed up a special room in their home for the baby and now they plan a funeral. Meanwhile, Michael keeps begging his parents to see his sister. “I want to sing to her,” he says.
Week two in intensive care. Michael keeps begging his parents about singing to his sister but children are not allowed in Intensive Care. But she decides she will take Michael whether they like it or not. She dresses him in an oversized scrub suit and marches him into ICU. The head nurse yells, “Get that kid out of there. No children allowed!” Susan, who is normally very mild mannered, looks the nurse in the eyes and says, “He’s not leaving until he sings to his sister!” Susan takes Michael to his sister’s bedside. He gazes at the tiny infant losing the battle to live. And he begins to sing. In a pure voice of a child, Michael sings, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are grey.” Instantly the baby girls respond. The pulse rate becomes calm and steady. “Keep on singing Michael.” “You never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” She continues to improve. “Keep singing Michael.” “The other night dear as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms…” Michael’s little sister relaxes as healing rest sweeps over her. “Keep on singing Michael.” “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; please don’t take my sunshine away.” Michael comes and sings to his sister for the next few days and shortly thereafter, the funeral plans are cancelled and the little girl is well enough to go home! (A Brother’s Song and the Rest of the Story told by John Adams.)
That is the power of quality time, of undivided attention! When we offer quality time we are declaring to the other, “You are my sunshine!” When we offer quality time, we provide living water. Michael knew this. Jesus knew this. May we know this, too. This Lenten Season, may our love flow freely like steams of living water.