Sunday 23 March 2014

Homily for 23rd March - The Woman at the Well

This morning I would like us to spend a few moments considering the Gospel reading for today which is taken from the 4th chapter of the Gospel of St John. It is the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and it seems to me that it is a passage which is filled with necessary lessons for us to consider and learn. It is too long a passage to consider in its entirety this morning, but let us look at a few aspects of the narrative.

The Samaritans believed that they were descendants of those Jewish peoples who had remained in the Holy Land when the Judeans were taken into captivity in Babylon. But it would seem that even if some had been of the tribes of Israel, others were also descended from peoples settled in the land by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. Certainly by the time of Christ they were a distinct community who practiced a variant for of Judaism, and were looked down upon as heretics by the Jews.

Our Lord found himself in the land of the Samarians. Or rather, he needed to go through Samaria. Why? Was there no other route? St Cyril teaches us that he travelled through Samaria because he wished to begin to share the grace of the true knowledge of God with those who were outside the community of Israel. Therefore he needed to travel through Samaria to begin this widening of his ministry.

More than this, since in the will of God all things take place, he needed to pass through Samaria so that he might be at the well of Sychar and meet this Samaritan woman. Our Lord is described as being weary with the journey, and this reminds us that the Lord of Glory, the only-Begotten of the Father has truly become man without ceasing to be what he is according to his divine nature. And so we are able to believe and confess that the Word of God himself grew weary in his own body, and appeared to the Samaritan woman neither as a phantom or spirit, nor as simply a man or good teacher, but as the very Word of God made flesh for our salvation.

Being weary in his humanity he sits on the edge of the well. St John tells us that it was the sixth hour of the day, which means it was about midday, and therefore the hottest time of the day. And in the Gospel we find that this Samaritan woman is making her way to the well, in the middle of the day, not expecting to meet anyone at all, and yet our Lord has already prepared things so that he is there to meet her. I wonder if we imagine that in our own life things just happen without rhyme or reason? Surely this passage reminds us that God is always working out our salvation for our good. We do not meet people simply by accident, we do not face difficult and trying circumstances entirely without purpose. God is always working his purposes out in our lives and for our good.

Why was this woman going to the well in the middle of the day? We can imagine that in the morning and evening there might be large numbers of women and children coming to draw water, but perhaps she came along at midday because she was rather an outcast in the village. Later on our Lord says to her, ‘you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband’. Perhaps she was one of those people with a bad reputation, and so she came to the well at midday so as to avoid the crowds, and the people whispering about her.

I wonder if we sometimes feel that we don’t fit in. Perhaps we have led the sort of life that has given us a bad reputation we can’t shake off? Perhaps we are not like the people we live with, or even worship with? Perhaps we feel ourselves to be more sinful than others or less serious in our Christian faith? Whatever we feel about ourselves as we gather together this morning, or as we go about our daily lives, let us be certain that wherever we find ourselves our Lord Jesus Christ is there before us, and has already prepared to meet us.

Our Lord had travelled all the way into Samaria so that he could meet this woman and reveal to her the means of true life in God. He meets us here this morning, and has prepared a spiritual table before us, offering a fellowship with him as we gather in his presence. Let us remember the Samaritan woman. The Lord is here before us, and knows our circumstances, our histories, our weaknesses and failures. Yet he is still here before us, waiting to meet us.

If we consider the Gospel reading again we see that when the woman arrives at the well it is our Lord who begins the conversation, asking the woman to provide him with a drink of water. And in the same way our Lord asks us to offer him something when we come into his presence.

He asked the woman to provide something fitted to the time and place in which he met her. Of her he asked for some water, while he sat at the side of the well in the heat of the day. He will ask the same of us, something fitted to our circumstances through each hour, each day, each year. What will we give him this morning? Our worship and praise? Our obedience and faithfulness? Our repentance and humility? Yet he does not only wait to meet us here in a church building, but he will be waiting to meet us in our homes, in the shops and streets, at our places of work, with friends and family.

What will he ask of us there? What will we offer him there?

In my own life as a father and husband it is often easy to be absorbed in study or preparation of materials for some worthy and necessary ministry. But it seems to me that often the Lord speaks to me at home and says; will you help do the dishes? Will you put the ironing away? Will you help with my homework? In our ordinary interactions with others he is there with us, and before us, and perhaps he asks us, will you wish this person ‘good morning’ and offer them a smile in my name?
All he asked of the Samaritan woman was a drink of water on a hot day. But he wanted to use the occasion to teach her the truth about God. If we look and listen carefully we will find countless opportunities each day to meet Christ and offer him some service. It may be a sacrifice of praise offered to him in prayer, but it might easily be a sacrifice of service to another, some other person that God brings us into contact with.

In the heat of the day, when we are busy with many activities and responsibilities, let us remain alert and sensitive to the voice of God. When he calls us to offer something to him let us be swift in our response. May each moment of each day be filled with such seeking after the presence of Christ, and may we meet him often at the well, in our homes, on the street, in this Church, and always in our hearts. To the glory of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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