By Rev. Joan Kessler
Say something. One could say this is my task as your minister almost every Sunday. My vocation asks me to say something about the story of the Woman at the Well, we just heard Penny re-enact for us. This particular story, the Woman at the Well as it has come to be known, is a favorite of mine. It shapes me and affects me every time I read it or hear it told aloud. It is the sacred story that was part of my becoming a minister because it turned the tables over on roles and expectations and yearnings and longing that lied deeply buried within me; sometimes we get this beautiful and somewhat scary opportunity to turn thoughts over deep within ourselves and we gaze inward to what the divine presence might be illuminating for us. It is these kinds of things that are on a collision course in our story that takes place on a hot day at a well in the middle of nowhere when Jesus and a Samaritan woman meet.
The heroine of this passage is a woman like any other. She has lived a life that has not been easy, and she is part of a patriarchal society where women are not listened to, nor their opinions valued. We know that women are still fighting for equality. This very week, a summit on the status of women, hosted by the United Nations, is examining ways that gender equality, empowerment, and sustainable development can be achieved in the digital era. On Wednesday, the world observed International Women’s Day and some of us discussed how Woman was the word of the year for 2022 as cited by Dictionary.com. The online dictionary noted a 1400% increase in people searching this word, reflecting the public discourse that is taking shape around what it means to be a woman. I wonder what it will look like to see the pendulum swing from patriarchy to matriarchy and will it one day. And most likely not in my lifetime, will the pendulum rest in the middle where there is full equality between masculine and feminine identities and gender roles?
Today, we celebrate a woman who finds her voice. She has been shunned by her community. It is this reason that she chooses to go on her own to the well in the heat of the day, after all the others have long since come and gone. It is here, in the mundane task of gathering water for her household that she encounters Jesus. Immediately we sense there are obstacles to this encounter. Jesus, a Jew and a rabbi, engages a woman and an outsider, for an unlikely conversation. Both are thirsty. Jesus needs a drink of water but has no bucket to draw from the well. The woman has a bucket but longs for more than just a quenching of her physical thirst. Viewed as a foreigner in her own territory, she decides she has nothing to lose by talking to this Jesus. Some kind of courage just wells up within her and she begins to see past her physical needs to the spiritual water Jesus is offering her. As this lengthy dialogue unfolds, the woman asks good, hard questions not only of Jesus but also of herself: what is my work? what I meant to do and to be? One’s inner transformation, it starts with confronting these things we wonder about. The Samaritan goes on to have a theological discussion with Jesus about places of worship and messiahship and Jesus affirms that that one day, there will be no separation or distinction and all will be one.
Jesus offers her a living water. A spiritual gift that will see her find her voice and change the way she views herself and her world. She drops her bucket and rushes back to her community to tell them the good news she has found; that someone noticed her, listened to her and drew her out of her insecurity and low self-esteem. The story tells them that Jesus just seemed to know who she was, like he could look inside her and affirm her being as an equal. In her excitement of her encounter with Jesus she asks a bold question of her community: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” She declares her experience with those whom would listen and says, “he told me everything I have ever done.” Suddenly she has a voice that is heard and the town comes out to see Jesus for themselves
The Peter Reynolds children’s book I shared earlier [entitled “Say Something”] makes an important point, not just for our youngsters, but for all of us. The author reminds us that there are many ways to speak our truth and find our voice. We don’t have to be loud and boisterous to share our viewpoint with others. We each are unique and have our own creative and special gifts to share with others. We are called this morning to speak out using the voice of a paintbrush on an empty canvas; to be a quiet presence to someone who is lonely; to share your voice by planting a garden and watching it grow; to play beautiful music at a keyboard; to express something meaningful by writing a poem; to speak out injustices and protect someone who is being hurt… the list is endless.
Could it be that this is what the presence of Living Water Jesus spoke of and offered is all about? Speaking our truth creatively and courageously? When we express what is in our heart, it might feel like no one is listening, but keep saying it and you will find someone who listens. Maybe even the whole world and this is what is so special about being a faith community where everyone has a place to belong, to ask questions, to wrestle with transformation and where all kinds of voices are shared.
I invite two special women now to share their voices with us of what Living Water means to them. Sophie will provide her gift of music on the piano while Margaret shares her artistic expression with paints on a canvas. Let us watch and listen to these voices. Amen.