Third Sunday before Lent, 19 March 2017
Queen Camel, Sutton Montis
'He told me everything I have ever done!'
The testimony of the woman who Jesus met at Jacob's well.
'He told me everything I have ever done! He can’t be the Messiah, can he?'
Well, he could be the Messiah; and in that Samaritan village many became followers of Jesus of Nazareth, after witnessing the most unlikely events which unfolded that day.
Why unlikely? First of all because it was highly unusual for a Jew like Jesus to even visit a place like Sychar. Jews hated Samaritans, and vice versa. Rather like in our time, in that same part of the world, where the Israelis and Palestinians have such a hard time getting along. They each have their own towns and villages, and they just don't mix. It was the same for the Samaritans when it came to the Jews. So surprise number one was that Jesus and his disciples would even bother to come to that region and 'give the time of day,' to someone there. Yes, he was tired and needed something to eat and drink. But he could have satisfied those needs without mixing with anyone else. But he didn't choose to avoid Samaria, and he didn't choose to keep himself to himself.
So that was the first surprise. The next was who Jesus chose to make contact with. It begins with the fact that this person was a woman. In that culture, men didn’t speak to strange women. Especially teachers with a reputation like Jesus'. Rabbis were to reserve their words for men, as women weren't allowed to learn from rabbis - only from their own fathers and husbands.
There were also customs and expectations that went with speaking at a well. A man would go to a well and meet women there for the same reasons that a young man in our culture would go to a singles bar. Looking for someone to connect with at the well was very like the way that single people loiter in supermarkets today!
Many people in Israel's history had met at wells: Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah all met at wells.
So Jesus wasn't supposed to be in Samaritan territory, but he was. He wasn't supposed to talk to Samaritans when he did encounter them, but he did. Etiquette dictated that men - especially respected rabbis - shouldn’t talk to women, especially at wells, but that's just what Jesus did. And the biggest shock of all was this: which woman Jesus chose to talk to. Only the one with the worst reputation in town! To be frank about it, this woman had the biggest reputation for sleeping around. She had been married and divorced several times. She was currently living with a man she wasn't even married to. She may have had money, after all those divorce settlements, but if she did you can imagine how much more disapproved of she would be, by the other women of the town.
I don't know; would you want a woman like that in your church, or sewing club, or as your tennis partner? We imagine she would know how the other women of Sychar gossiped about her and condemned her. That's why she came to the well at noon, at the hottest time of the day! All the other women came at daybreak when it was cool. She was least likely to bump into anyone else at noon. She whose reputation was so bad that she visited the well at the quietest time of day, this woman, of all people, was the very person that Jesus chose to speak to. And not just to have any old conversation with her - at the well, in the wilderness, Jesus had one of the longest, richest, most engaged discussions recorded in the gospels, and at the end of it he offered her the gift of salvation, no less. Can you believe that?
And Jesus wasn't just being naive. He wasn't just being nice. He knew exactly what he was doing. He understood why this woman was coming for water at midday. In fact, he seemed to know everything about her. That's why the people listened to her when she came running into town afterwards to tell them what had happened. Most of the time they turned their backs on her and she kept herself to herself around town. But this day everyone saw she was so excited, so animated, she was changed; somehow alive again!
This woman who had been dead to them, buried under the load of shame the community had heaped on her, she boldly ran into the middle of the city with a spark of life in her eyes and a message she couldn’t help risk sharing. "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He can't be the Messiah, can he?"
The Messiah! Before they even thought about it, the people ran to meet this person, too. If they had thought about it, they might have wondered why she was so excited about someone telling her about her miserable life. But the woman’s enthusiasm and her testimony sparked something in the people; they went to see and hear for themselves and come to believe that this Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
So what was so striking about what Jesus did for that woman?
It was that in just a short time Jesus got to the very heart of her character. Jesus met her where she was, and in what he did and said to her Jesus met that woman's most fundamental needs - to be listened to; to be known; to be understood, to be accepted as she was.
That's all that any of us want, deep down, isn’t it? To be listened to; to be known; to be understood, to be accepted as we are. That’s what we thirst for. That’s all that the other women of that Samaritan town thirsted for too.
The woman’s story suggests that up to that point, her life had been a relentless search for satisfaction. Her longing to be loved, her deep desire to be accepted, led her into so many dead-end relationships that could never satisfy her thirst. She was an addict. Addiction is the process of getting hooked on things that will never satisfy us. They only get us hungering and thirsting for more until we have a famished craving, until our spirits die of thirst. Addiction is the exact opposite of what Jesus came to give that woman at the well. He came to give her a living water that would forever satisfy her longings and desires.
'He told me everything I have ever done!' - finally, a man who knew her fully, understood her entirely, loved her wholly, accepted her as she was. No wonder she was so transformed that day. No wonder that her story made such an impression on those who heard it; because she may have been the most notorious addict for love in the city of Sychar; but everyone else in that place had just the same desires and longings, deep down, too.
And the message is that just as he came to them, Jesus comes to give us something that will finally quench our thirst, satisfy our hunger, here and now.
How we relate to this woman's story: for we share that deep desire to be known, listened to and understood. We share that ache to be accepted, that longing to be loved.
A recent survey among young people who don't go to church revealed that they 'longed to be loved, to have authentic relationships, to experience meaningful community'.  I think it’s not just young people who feel this way.
Sadly many give up on the church because their needs are not met, they find that they aren't taken seriously. Recently I was talking to someone who as a young man with genuine questions about the Christian faith, found that those questions just weren't being answered by people in the churches, who plainly demonstrated that they had no time or no interest in listening to that young man and his questions about God. It was only after decades of looking into all sorts of religions that he found a church which took seriously the questions he was asking, a community which listened to him and dialogued with him. And he has been with the Jehovah's Witnesses ever since.
Yet we of all people should know how deeply Christ knows us and accepts us. That should be food and drink to us - and that should strengthen us in his service, that should help us to be people who will want to bring the living water to others.
Jesus said: 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.' God desires us, God loves us, and it is as we accept that and respond to that, that our thirst is quenched and our hunger satisfied. This is what Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman. It is what he offered to the people of Sychar through the Samaritan woman. It is what he offers you and me today. And it is what he longs to offer through us to those who hunger and thirst in our community, to be listened to; to be understood; to be loved and accepted.
So let us accept what he offers us, let us accept ourselves as he does; and in response let us make our churches places where people are listened to; understood, accepted and loved.
 Quoted in Nicola David, Developing the Community Habit, Church Times, 25 March 2011.
 Sutton Montis Informal Service with recorded music: