Summary of the Text
Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?
In the ancient world, your place as a woman was defined by your connection to a man: Father, Brother, Husband, Son. We’re not just talking about social status- we’re talking access to what’s needed to survive.
- Shelter from the extreme heat and cold of the desert
- Food in your belly and clothes on your back
- Protection from harm and abuse
- Loving relationships to sustain you through the cruelties of life
- Access to water on a regular basis
Where is the Woman of Samaria’s father? Most likely deceased. Where is her brother, her sons? Maybe she had none.
Where is her husband? Scripture tells us she’s had five husbands. Could it be in this harsh and cruel environment she’s lost five husbands to death? Could it be because men in this time and culture control marriage and divorce, she’s been thrown away five times? “Go, you’re not wanted.” The man she’s with now will not claim her legally.
She’s an outcast in her community. We know this because in the ancient world households went to the well based on their status. The most respected, admired women or their servants would visit the well first. She’s drawing her morning water at noon. She’s alone. Not in the company of the other women. Not enjoying their camaraderie and companionship.
This unnamed woman is barren of security. She’s been thrown away, driven away, shared and shamed, outcast, isolated. She’s a survivor of cruelty and abuse.
Today, she finds herself at Jacob’s well and there’s a Jewish man there. Does she wonder, “How much more shame and disgrace am I going to get today? Will I hear from his lips, “Half-breed! Heretic!”?
No. From lips of Christ she hears respect, truth, and Good News.
The conversation – They’re at a well, so Jesus uses the metaphor of water to share the Good News of Living Water, cleansing, refreshing, restoring, and new birth. These promises are available to her.
In the ancient world, men and women don’t speak like this to one another. Jews and Samaritans don’t speak together. The righteous don’t speak with the outcast. Jesus sees her, not what people label her. He sees how she’s been abused, her great need, her wounds. Jesus also sees her perseverance, her giftedness, and her keen mind.
Jesus gives her a chance to reveal herself and she does. She’s honest and he recognizes it. The conversation could have gone any direction at this point. She dives deep into cultural and theological waters. They speak like rabbi and to rabbi. Where do we worship and how do we worship and is there a place for me in worshiping God? Jesus and the unnamed woman of Samaria is the longest theological discussion in the four Gospels and one of the few times Jesus reveals he is the Messiah.
There are six core questions humans long to have answered –
- Am I safe?
- Do you understand my point of view?
- What is my purpose?
- Am I valuable?
- Do you love me unconditionally?
- Do I belong?
Deep, deep down, the questions she asks are these questions.
- Am I safe? My basic needs are tenuous.
- Do you understand my point of view? The Jews say I’m not worshiping in the right place in the right way.
- What is my purpose? I don’t fit my culture’s norms.
- Am I valuable? They’ve shamed me and abused me.
- Do you love me unconditionally? I’ve not experienced that.
- Do I belong? My community treats me as an outcast.
Deep, deep down, the questions she asks are the questions we ask God.
We could sum up these questions with this: Does God want me and does God love me. The answer is always Yes! Always! It is yes to the woman of Samaria, and it is yes to us. No matter what the world names us. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. No matter what we’ve done to survive. The answer is always Yes!
Yes, you are safe with God. Yes, God understands. Yes, God has a purpose and plan for you in the saving of the world. Yes, you are valuable and worthy. Yes, you are loved unconditionally. Yes, you belong to God and with God as a child of God.
Lisa Degrenia is an ordained pastor currently serving Coronador Community United Methodist Church. Lisa studied at the University of South Florida and received her Masters of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. She’s served congregations in Largo, St. Petersburg, DeBary, and Sarasota.
In addition to serving as a pastor, Lisa enjoys leading retreats, photography, theatre, travel, and writing. She is indebted to the many wonderful mentors and teachers in her life, including her mother who first gave her a love for words.
Lisa met her beloved husband Ed on a trip to NYC and they were married ten months later. They are blessed with two grown daughters, two sons-in-love, one new grandchild, and two dogs. You can find more of her work at https://revlisad.com/.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Chorus of Reckless Love by Cory Asbury
Video testimony by Rebekah Lyons, mother of a child with Down Syndrome on unconditional love.
Additional Sermon Resources
Opening Prayer inspired by John 4
We remember the woman at the well – her questions, her truth, her witness. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, so we too may ask deeply, reveal ourselves deeply, and share your Good News deeply. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us so we may worship you in spirit and truth. Amen.
Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, www.revlisad.com
Prayer of Confession
Jesus, we thirst
We thirst for love and belonging
We thirst for security and provision
We thirst for truth and hope
We thirst for healing for our wounds
We thirst for mercy for our sin, our guilt, our shame
Time of silent confession
Assurance of Pardon
Jesus, you pour yourself out for us and the world
So we may be born again of water and the Spirit
So we may never thirst again
We thank you and praise you for your eternal blessing and forgiveness
Help us lead others to the well of your saving love
Prayer of confession and pardon based on John 4 by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, www.revlisad.com
Beloved of God, go now in peace.
Go to love. Go to serve. Go to share the Good News.
Go with the blessing of God – Father, Son, Spirit. Amen.