The Woman at the Well
This sermon is from Deacon Holly Shipley
Sunday March 15, 2020 - the 3rd Sunday in Lent
This was delivered during our first "live streaming" service during the first Sunday we suspended public mass gathering worship because of the pandemic of the Coronavirus. While "social distancing" we are doing our best to be "spiritually present".
Keep in mind this sermon was written for oral presentation, which is why it is spaced the way it is.
Read John 4:5-42
It was about noon.
That is what John tells us at the beginning of our Gospel Lesson today.
It’s not a “by the way” notation.
The author of the Book of John finds the time of day to be very important.
For instance, in last week’s gospel when Nicodemus visited Jesus to ask some important
—John tells us it was at night—implying that Nicodemus, a highly respected Jewish
leader, didn’t want anyone
to see him visiting Jesus.
Our lesson today, emphasizes it was about noon.
Why this detail?
What is about the noon hour that John wants to be so specific about?
I plan to spend some time on that this morning.
But first let’s back up a little bit.
Jesus is traveling with his disciples back to Galilee, but “he had to go through
Now there were other options—
Jesus could have taken the route most Jews of the time would have taken,
in order to avoid going through Samaria.
As you may remember from Sunday School,
the feud between the Samaritan people and the Jewish people went way back.
They had a history of not liking one another
stemming all the way back to the division of the Northern Kingdom and Southern
Kingdom of the Israelites.
They avoided each other whenever possible.
But not Jesus.
As one commentator on this passage stated:
“Many Jews would have taken a longer, ostensibly safer, route across the Jordan
through the more Gentile Decapolis to avoid Samaria. Good judgment dictated he move
from Judea quickly, but Jesus knew it was also time he take on the wider world, both
politically and theologically. Jesus and his disciples thus journey into Samaria and the
village of Sychar.”
So Jesus ends up at the well at noon.
Not just at any well, but Jacob’s well.
This is the Jacob from the Book of Genesis, the father of Joseph of the multi-colored
coat, that Jacob.
So John is putting the site in a historical reference for us—
back when the two groups—Samaritan people and Jewish people—still got along.
So it is at this place, Jacob’s Well, in Samaria
that Jesus arrives at about noon to have something to drink.
And this is where he meets a Samaritan woman.
Now I’ve never been to the Middle East, but I can imagine noon is the hottest part of
You would most likely make your plans
so you didn’t have to do any heavy lifting in the middle of the day.
Traditionally, it was women who would gather
water for the homes, carrying large jars or buckets to fill.
John is pointing out that this woman is coming to the well to fill her bucket at noon—
the hottest part of the day,
probably to avoid seeing other people—
arriving when the well would be the least busy.
Why? We aren’t for certain.
But clearly she is avoiding the crowds.
We discover that Jesus knows quite a bit about her.
Some of this might be inferred due to the fact
that she is coming to the well at a time when others didn’t—
seeing that she was avoidant of others or in some way ostracized by others.
Notice how with just one sentence,
“it was about noon”—
John tells us quite a few things about what is going on in the story.
John goes on to tell us how Jesus asks the woman for something to drink—
which was unheard of in those times—
a Jewish man did not start
a conversation with an unfamiliar woman.
Yet, Jesus bypasses social norms and approaches the woman and starts a
They go back and forth,
with Jesus talking metaphorically
about being the living water and then telling the woman that he knows who she is.
However, her name is not recorded here.
He knows she has been married multiple times
and is now living with a man
who is not her husband.
However, there is no judgment or shame here.
We actually have no idea why she has been so unlucky in love as to have been married
or why she is not married to the man
she currently she lives with.
We do know that, at that time, women had very little say
in whom they married and were often passed to brothers of the husband when he
Jesus doesn’t shame her or rebuke her in any way.
He just makes it clear he knows her
and sees her in a way she has never be known or seen before.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor says this,
“By telling the woman who she is, Jesus shows her who he is.
By confirming her true identity, he reveals his own identity, and that is how it still
The Messiah is the one in whose presence you know who you really are--the good and
bad of it, the all of it, the hope in it.”
I’m part of an ecumenical women ministers group called Rehoboth.
We meet monthly for book discussion,
collegiality and faith development.
This year we have been reading the book
“Seven Sacred Pauses” by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr.
The book focuses on praying the hours,
which is the ancient practice of pausing for prayer 7 times during the day and night.
Many people in religious orders still observe this practice today.
In the book, Sister Wiederkehr takes this practice
and makes it a little more accessible
to the average person’s daily life.
Her discussion of the noon day prayer resonated with me.
This prayer time is called “The Illumination.”
It’s the brightest time of the day.
It is the hour of no shadows.
At this point in the day,
we can be caught between focusing on the fact that day is half gone,
or we can feel delighted that we still have so much of the day remaining.
It’s the hour of opposites.
Part of the day gone, part of the day remaining.
Glass half empty, glass half full.
Sometimes we can feel robbed of our best selves
during this time of illumination,
by examining ourselves and feeling we come up short.
She calls it the noon day devil that makes us doubt ourselves,
“Am I creative enough? Successful enough? Good enough?”
We can feel spiritually sluggish.
The word for this is acedia.
It is a kind of spiritual apathy or a mental sloth.
It can be a passing phase—
this sluggish time of self-doubt and apathy about our life, the world and even our
faith in God—
or it can be a state of being for some time.
Perhaps you’ve been feeling a bit of acedia, yourself?
It would be understandable right now with all that is going on in our world.
Just watching the news for 15 minutes
can cause a sense of doom and gloom.
This constant coverage of the Corona virus and the anxiety it produces can be
It’s a very strange time.
I’ve got to say preaching to an almost empty sanctuary is a strange experience.
But I think it is right for us to take these precautions.
Those of us with seasonal allergies
are finding ourselves repeatedly checking our temperature when we normally just
People are panicking and hoarding toilet paper, pasta and cleaning products.
Trying to control something that they have little control over.
Some of us are worried for our immunity compromised loved ones (or maybe even for
and the news of the virus can bring about feelings of isolation and fear.
Having schools and businesses closed, not going into the office and not being
able to worship together can all be very disconcerting.
Having our routines disturbed
and the uncertainty of when thing will get back to what we consider normal is
It can feel overwhelming.
What do we do with all these emotions and worries?
“In this season of the day (and year) when we are gifted with abundant light,
why not focus on our potential to see?
If the light reaches our hearts, perhaps this will be the hour when our hearts
wide open, so open that we will be able to make the kind of decisions that lead to
peace. This is the hour to become peace.”
I think this is good advice for us in our world right now, for us to become peace.
Peace to our neighbors who are anxious,
peace to our elderly and immunocompromised individuals who have more of a cause
to be worried right now,
Peace to people in our community and family who may need a little more of our
How can we be a peaceful,
in the midst of so much anxiety in our world?
The only way I know is to go back to the well and sit down with Jesus.
Take some deep, deep breaths.
Calming ourselves down.
Spend extra time in prayer.
Talk to Jesus about our fears,
and turning them over to the one who can handle them.
It’s not a simple as it sounds. It’s not a one and done prayer.
I’m finding myself doing a lot of deep breathing and spending more time in prayer
I was thinking, perhaps John doesn’t name the woman at the well,
because he wants us to see ourselves in her.
We come to the well in the noon day heat, to create some social distance,
so as to avoid contact with others,
and who do we encounter there but Jesus.
He knows us by name.
He sees us.
He knows everything about us—every worry and fear, every regret and failure,
and every beautiful, holy part of ourselves.
From the “Seven Sacred Pauses” book—
“I will believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.”
That’s what Jesus did for the woman that day at the well at noon.
That’s what he does for us.
I think we need to be gentle with ourselves these days. Not overly critical of ourselves
—see what Jesus sees—the beautiful part of ourselves.
Jesus made her see the beautiful creation that she is,
and that she is loved by God just as she is.
We are loved by God just as we are
—no matter if we have kept our Lenten promises or not, no matter if we are
experiencing a spiritual sluggishness or not,
no matter if we are filled with anxiety about the state of our world or not.
God takes all of that bundle of who we are and loves us.
The woman couldn’t keep this good news to herself
—she who had come to the well when it would be least populated—
suddenly heads to the village and shares
the good news of Jesus with everyone she meets.
May we be like this woman—not able to contain ourselves with the joy and peace
that we are truly known and loved by Jesus
and so are they.
Jesus revealed his identity to her (and to us)—he is the
the healer, the comforter, the Prince of Peace, the one who saves—the Messiah.
Which will ultimately bring him to a lonely hill on a Friday (that has later been referred
to as Good) —where he will show us his redeeming love once and for all.
And John tells us “it was about noon.”