Waking the Woman at the Well
Woke refers to being alert to how racism, sexism, poverty, guns violence and homophobia are supposedly systemic in U.S. society. Well, we're waking the Woman at the Well, and you are aware, aren't you, that there are 2 meanings to the verb woke'?
If we woke her in the 21st century social justice sense, this is how it would go. Jesus would applaud her for serial monogamy. "You have had 5 husbands, and that is a real accomplishment. One tried to smother you; one tried to move you away from family; one wouldn't let you work outside the home; one was in favor of Roman rule; one died; and one just up and left." Truth is we don't know the circumstances of her marriages. But in the famed words of "Duck Dynasty's" Phil Robertson to college friend Terry Bradshaw when they met in an airport 40 years after playing college football together: "After 4 marriages, you probably should ask, Did I have something to do with their failing?'" But we're waking the woman 21st century style. And divorce is a good thing, an empowering thing as long as the woman or man thinks so. And living together is even better, and 21st century Jesus is pleased this woman has at last realized this. Marriage is an outdated social contract designed to keep women a second-class citizen. She's better off without it.
Being opened-minded, broadminded, big tent religion is being woke. You worship on this mountain in Samaria and the Jews in Jerusalem? It's all good. As long as your religion is true for you, that's what counts. You worship whomever, wherever, and however you want girl. There is no revelation saying this or that object of or way to worship is true. "Who am I," our 21st century Jesus says to this 5-time divorcee, fornicating woman, "to say you Samaritans are wrong for discarding all but the first 5 books of the OT?" You go girl; you be led by the spirit that you feel; that you believe; that frees you to believe whatever you like.
But our waking of this woman wouldn't be complete if we didn't hear Jesus making her seeker-sensitive. He sure wouldn't tell her that the Father seeks worshippers. No, no that's pre-WW II Christianity. The modern man seeks God; everyone by now ought to be woke to that fact. Since they do, don't go rubbing their faces in their sins with the Law. Don't go putting roadblocks to faith by insisting on the historic creeds or by saying that "I believe the Bible" is not enough of a confession. Don't do that; that turns away seekers.
Now the Woman at the Well is woke in the bright light of our 21st century. However, if this is true, she is woke in the second sense of the verb wake" i.e. to hold a vigil beside someone who has died. Because if Jesus had left her in her sins of divorce, living together, and false worship, she would be dead in her trespasses and sins. If He left her in the belief that there was no one true faith, Samaritans can believe this Jews believe that, her religious opinions would continue to lead her to the worshipping of what she didn't know.
Jesus didn't wake her in their 21st century way or in the second sense of that verb. He woke her in the 1st century. First He seeks her. She is a pariah in her own community. Or do you suppose a woman on her 6th man 5 husbands in wasn't regarded as a homewrecker in the 1st century? Why is she at the well at a time when other women aren't there to get water and socialize? And Jesus shows He is woke to the racism between Jews and Samaritans, and isn't part of it. She wonders aloud, "How can you a Jew ask me, a Samaritan for a drink?" Virtually all translations take "For Jews do not associate with Samaritans" as a parenthetical explanation by John, but you could take it as the woman's explanation. She's well aware that Jews literally have no use for things in common with Samaritans. But Jesus reaches out in her darkness as if there is no divide, no wall, no judgment.
Jesus then wakes her to her spiritual need using a physical one. The trip to the well was a daily necessity for most women. She tries to avoid the other women but can't always. Everyday it's a decision do I go now or later? Who will or won't I see? Think I'm making too much out of this? Can't you hear longing if not desperation in her voice when she responds to Jesus being able to give the water of eternal life? "Sir, give me this water." Why? So I won't get thirsty and have to come here, this dreaded place where the judgmental, resentful, women confront me, to draw water ever again. And how does Jesus respond to her face upturned to the Gospel? He shoves it the dirt: Jesus responds, "Go, call your husband and come back." What? Where'd this talk of a husband come from? From the woman's sin and guilt that she carried all alone till now. Secrets sins, private guilts are like cockroaches. You try to swat them and they scurry to hide. And so this women scurries from her private sins and personal guilts to hide in the publicly disputed religious question about the right place to worship.
Jesus is having none of that. In quick succession Jesus blows away the religious truths she banks on: You Samaritans worship what you don't know. Salvation is from the Jews remember she has just identified Jesus as a Jew and the Father is seeking worshippers not at any particular place. The woman is quite woke now. She collapses everything into the Messiah, the Christ coming. This is Quinn the mighty Eskimo finally arriving. "Everybody's in despair/ Every girl and boy/ But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here/ Everybody's gonna jump for joy." Or if you're unfamiliar with this 1968 Dylan song, hear the title track of "Jesus Christ Superstar" fading in ever louder. She asserts, "When Christ comes, He will explain everything to us." She uses the same Greek word Jesus will use 3 times in John 16 for the Spirit's work of taking the things Jesus wins for sinful humanity and revealing them to them.
Everybody wide awake now? The woman is about to be. You'd see the symmetry of this if the text started with verse 4. That says, "It was necessary for Jesus to pass through Samaria." It was necessary for Him not them, the disciples traveling with Jesus. There was no physical necessity to do this. You could get from Galilee to Jerusalem without going through Samaria. There is a spiritual necessity. The word necessary' is attached to Jesus' suffering and dying in place of sinners. All the Gospels use it. Matthew 16:21, "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer many things." Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22 use the same word to say the same thing. The holy God-Man's suffering, damning, dying and being raised are all divinely necessary to redeem fallen humanity. In this first year of doing that, another necessity of the God-Man is to seek and wake this benighted, bedeviled woman at the well.
And woke she is and she lands on Jesus. When Christ comes everything will be all right. Then Jesus says, Ego eimi. The insert, and most everyone else, translates, "I who speak to you am He." That gets the point across but not the spiritual poetry or power. Here's Jesus literal response: "Says to her the Jesus: I AM the One who speaks to you." The great I AM of Exodus 3. Yahweh, the name of the God of promise and salvation in the OT, stands in the flesh speaking with her. He's not only saying He's the Christ she is waiting for but the Christ is none other than the Lord.
If you ever seen in the flesh a famous person, it's a big deal you'll probably never forget. We could have a get-together where we did nothing but share our stories of the famous people we've met. We may have seen them dozens of times on TV or the big screen, but nothing is to be compared to seeing them in flesh and blood. And right here is the poverty of all Protestantism. They are not woke to seeing the flesh and blood of Christ in 21st century time and space. O they may sprinkle their babies with or adult believers with water, but they don't see this as sprinkling them with Jesus' blood. And they pass down their aisles bread and probably grape juice but it's no more than a picture, a reminder to them. For us, we're women at the well: Jesus is here again this morning in the flesh He gives to us as bread. He's here giving us the water of life in wine that is His blood.
But if you're really wide awake, you're woke to the problem the woman at the well also had. She's confronted by the God who gets tired, thirsty, and hungry. He promises the water of eternal life and look at Him. Yes, look at Him. He comes to you today in plain looking Water promising to forgive your sins, rescue you from death and the devil and to give you everlasting life in Water?! He invites you to "Take eat; take drink; this bread is My Body given into death on the cross for your sins; this wine is My Blood shed there to cover your sins." We don't hear "Jesus Christ Superstar"; we hear "Coward of the County." That is until Resurrection which is the equivalent of the coward showing his real bravery by stopping and locking the door.
But this isn't Easter; this isn't the Exaltation of the Man Jesus; the text is still in the time of His Humiliation where Jesus doesn't fully use His divine powers as a Man in order to take our place under the Law and suffer the punishments our sins deserve. Had Jesus not hidden His deity water would've sprang from the rocks to give drink to the Creator present in the flesh even as it did for the OT church in the wilderness. And had that happened, Jesus wouldn't have suffered as sinners deserve but we would.
But it didn't and He did. And now wide awake in the 21st century we're back in the 1st and see we're the woman at the well. Jesus comes here for me today. He comes not in terrors as the King of kings but in kind Words, gentle Waters, with healing in His body and blood. Though 5 men, women, or circumstances may have tossed us aside, though we're scorned by others for our sins and sinfulness, Jesus says, "Wake up; the nightmare of unforgiven sins, looming Death, and harrowing Devil is over in Me." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20200308); John 4: 5-26