Tag Archives: Samaritan

Rebecca: The Other Woman at the Well

This is a story based on John 4:1–30 (the woman at the well) and Genesis 24:34–58 (Rebecca, a wife for Isaac). 

These readings present us with two women (a few thousand years apart). They were very different from each other, but each of them went to fetch water from the well outside her village, and each met a stranger there who transformed her life.

And as I sat with the two of them and contemplated this intersection of their lives, the Samaritan woman, the one Jesus met by the well in Samaria, began to tell me her story, and I want to share it with you today. Listen to what she has to say.

My favourite character in the Bible has always been Rebecca. Probably because I was named after her, but I loved her story growing up. We lived in a small village in Samaria. We didn’t have much, and it was always my job to fetch water for the family. We girls from the village would gather round the well and chat for a bit while drawing up the water and filling our jars. It was hard work but we had such fun.

And, of course, I would dream about Rebecca, my namesake.

In my dream, I would come down to the well, and there would be a handsome stranger on a white camel. And he’d ask me for some water. And, of course, I’d say yes and offer to water his camels, too.

Then he’d put a gold ring in my nose and gold bracelets on my arms. He’d ask my father for my hand in marriage and Father would ask me, as Rebecca’s family did, ‘Will you go with this man.’

And I’d say, ‘Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!’

But, not so he could hear. I wouldn’t want him to think I was desperate. Then he’d whisk me away to his desert kingdom, and I’d become his princess.

But, of course, that never happened. It was just a dream. Instead of a stranger on a white camel, all I got at the well was Sam and his smelly goats and Thomas’s grumpy camels pushing in.

And then, I guess, I grew up. The dreams became a distant memory, and I married Andrew. He didn’t have a white camel or shower me with treasures, but he did have a heart of gold, and I suppose that’s as much as a girl could wish for. And he reminded me of Abraham’s son, Isaac, Rebecca’s husband. Isaac, the gentle.

Like my Andrew, Isaac was quieter and more gentle than the other patriarchs – Abraham, his father, and Jacob, his son. Isaac always seemed to let others do things for him. He never seemed to do anything for himself. Even the business of finding a wife was something his father didn’t trust Isaac to do; instead, Abraham sent his servant off to his family up north.

Of course, you can’t blame Isaac. He was bullied and laughed at as a child by his half-brother, Ishmael. And then that terrible, terrible day.

He went on an adventure with his father, Abraham. They were going to make a sacrifice to God together. What child wouldn’t have been excited about that? But, suddenly his father is tying him up and putting him on top of the altar. He is going to be the sacrifice. How do you cope with that? I’m not surprised that he was an emotional wreck and couldn’t make up his own mind about anything. No wonder his father had to send off in search of a wife for him.

And, yes, Rebecca also seems to have manipulated him a bit, and his kids did their own thing. Even his servants weren’t able to stand up for him. Every time they dug a well for him, the servants of the Philistine king, Abimelech, would chase them away. Instead of standing up for themselves, they’d just go and dig another well somewhere else.

That was my Andrew, too. Never standing up for himself; always giving others the right of way. Ah, well. He died far too young. I miss him still.

It was all downhill for me after that. Andrew’s family threw me out of the house, and I had nowhere to go. I drifted back to the village I’d grown up in. I had no family left, and not many options. When Samuel asked me to marry him, I thought of the question they asked Rebecca so long ago: Will you go with this man?

I guess I didn’t have much choice, so I agreed, but he wasn’t like my Andrew. He was coarse and brutal. There was no sorrow when he died a few years later.

And then there was … well, suffice to say, there were five husbands altogether, each about as bad as the other. When the fifth one wanted to move to Sidon, well, I told him I wasn’t going anywhere.

Then I hooked up with Thomas, who was pretty much as lost as I was. Neither of us wanted to get married. Didn’t seem much point.

Of course, that put the uptight noses out of joint. But where were they when I was being brutalised?

So, I didn’t make it to the society weddings and wasn’t welcome around the synagogue. Even the well was a lonely place. I started going in the middle of the day to avoid the constant jibes and sneers of the prim and proper types. It was a lonely few years. But it was all I had.

And then ….
Well, what can I say?
One day, it happened.
My dream came true.

No, it wasn’t a man on a white camel.
But it was a man, and it was at the well.

I’d come to collect water as usual, and there he was, sitting there with a lost look in his eye; sad, perhaps, burdened. He was some sort of Rabbi, but he seemed to be on his own.

He asked me for a drink of water.

Well I got such a shock. Not because of my dream (although I did have a little chuckle to myself). But he was a Jew, and me? Well, I’m a Samaritan and a woman.

Jewish men don’t talk to strange women, even for a drink of water. And for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan woman? Well, that never happens.

And, anyway, he would have known there was something odd about me, fetching water in the heat of the day.

But there he was, against all that was holy, asking me for a drink of water.

I mean, Jews won’t even use our utensils! So, what was he going to drink my water with?

So, I said to him, ‘You’re a Jew. What are you doing asking me for water?’

Then he said the strangest thing. He spoke about God’s gift, and he said if I only knew him, I could ask him for life-giving water.

Oh, oh, I thought. There goes my dream. I’ve got a crazy here.

I should have walked away then. But something kept me. So, I told him that without a bucket he’d have trouble getting any sort of water. Or did he think he was better than our ancestor Jacob who dug the well thousands of years ago?
Sheez, these Jews!

But he wasn’t put off at all. ‘Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again,’ he said. ‘But anyone who drinks my water will never be thirsty again. It will be a spring within you, welling up to eternal life.’

Well, I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said, ‘Please, give me that water. Then I’ll never be thirsty, and I’ll never have to come to this hateful well again!’

Then he told me to call my husband.

Ah, here comes the sales pitch, I thought. He’d be in trouble if he tried to negotiate with a woman, so now he needs my husband.

‘I haven’t got one,’ I told him.

What he said next, shook me rigid. ‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband.’

This was getting personal, so I tried to steer the conversation into a religious debate. These Jews are always so self-righteous about their religion, I knew I’d trip him up.

But, somehow, we weren’t taking about religion. We were talking about God and having a personal relationship with him – being in touch with God instead of doing religious things.

It was exhilarating, but also frightening, as all the old rooms and hidden places of my life seemed to be exposed. But it wasn’t like he was pointing fingers. More like just opening them up and healing them with a gentle touch.

Then we spoke about the Messiah, and I said I longed for him to come, because, surely, the Messiah was the one who would explain all this to us and make it real?

Then he looked at me. And in a calm and gentle voice, he said, ‘I am he.’

Just like that.
And, suddenly, I knew.

If anyone had said to me then, ‘Will you go with this man?’ I would have jumped up and cried, ‘Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!’ Camel or no camel.

Suddenly, his disciples were with him – they’d been buying bread or something. They didn’t say anything about him talking with a woman.

But I knew what I had to do. I left my jar and ran to the village. I called all the people, who’d ignored me (or worse) most of my life.

‘Come see a man,’ I said. ‘Out by the well. He seems to know everything about us. He told me all I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?’

I must have sounded crazy. I don’t know why they didn’t laugh at me. But they came anyway. And they warmed to him, as I had. They even asked him to stay, which he did for a couple of days – and healing happened.

The village folk began to see in him what I had seen, and they believed as I had done.

I realised, later, that my dream had, indeed, come true.
No, no white camels, and none to ask me, ‘Will you go with this man?’
But it was my own voice calling in the same way: ‘Come see a man ….’

And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
Whenever I see someone in distress, someone in pain, someone lost or left out as I was, I tell them about Jesus. And I invite them to come to him.

So, I ask you, as they asked the other Rebecca, will you go with this man? Will you walk with Jesus?

Will you open your heart to him, as I did, and let him see the dark places, the scary places, the sad places of your life?

Will you let him bring healing and hope to your broken world? Because that’s what he did for me and my village, just as he did for my name’s sake so long ago, the other woman at the well.

Thank you for listening to my story.

[See also: Rebecca: A Prayer from the Well]


Filed under Grace and Law, Sermons, Stories

Our God is Coming

10 OCTOBER 2010, 18h30
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

bicycle-01What was your best birthday or Christmas present ever?  I remember a bicycle I received for Christmas when I was 11.  What was yours?

Of course we were excited and grateful. No one had to tell us to say thank you for these presents. As kids, most of us had to be forced to write letters to Granny and to Aunty Sue for the hankies and socks. But these presents we were over the moon about!

Most of us like to have our gifts nicely wrapped and properly marked, “Gift”, with our name on it. And once received and enjoyed, it’s a lot easier to say, “Thank you.”

If we were the “Lepers” Jesus healed that day, surely we would have been grateful? Here we are with this debilitating disease that excommunicates us from society and cuts us off from our families. We would do anything to be rid of it. We call out to this wandering rabbi we’ve heard stories of. Is it possible? Probably not but, who cares? Let’s give it a go.

“Jesus,” we call out from the dust and the shame. “Jesus! Master!” (Nothing like a bit of flattery.) “Have pity on us!”

And what does he do? He sends us to the priest. “Go and let the priests examine you,” he tells us.

Yeah, right. In this state! You only go to the priest when this dread­ed disease has left you; when you’re whole and well. Then he can pronounce you ready to return to society. Do you think we’d be calling out for help if we were fit to go to the priest? But, hey, when you’re an outcast, you get used to people telling you what to do; so we all turned round like little lambs and marched off towards town.

Well! What can I say? Something strange started to happen. Our skin started to heal. The lesions closed up. By the time we reached the edge of town we were well enough to show ourselves to the priests.

Now, if that were you or me, surely, “Thank you” would have been the first thing on our minds. But what happened here? Only the Samaritan came back. Jesus calls him the “foreigner”. Was it because he had no obligation to visit the priest, and no family to call on and be distracted by? It’s easy to miss an opportunity to give thanks. And by the next day the wandering Rabbi had gone.

I think of the story of a man who needed a parking space. He was desperate. He was late for court and he was going to get arrested for contempt if he didn’t get himself inside that courtroom in the next five minutes. He’d been driving around for ages already so, in absolute desperation, he decided he’d pray. He promised to give up drinking, and smoking, and swearing. I told you he was desperate.

“I’ll even go to church every month. Just give me a parking please.” As he said the magic word, a parking opened up in front of him, right outside the courtroom.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s OK, God. You don’t have to worry; I’ve found a spot.”

There wasn’t much for Israel to be grateful for during the exile. They had been attacked and defeated by the Babylonians, dragged away from their homes to the land of their captors, their city and temple destroyed. The Psalmist summed up the despair of that time in Psalm 137:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
     our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
     they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
     if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

He went on to spit out his hatred of the Babylonians who held them in captivity:

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction
     happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-
9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

“Ooh, how nasty,” we say, from the safety of our protected pews and comfortable lifestyles. But anger comes easily enough to us when we’re in traffic, in government-department queues, or on the other end of the telephone. Our lives aren’t threatened, and all that has happened is that the level of service we received left much to be desired. Yet when someone fails to give us the service we demand, or pushes in front of us, we get angry.

Jeremiah had a different view of the exile, and of the experiences we face that so often lead to anger and frustration. He wrote to the Jewish leaders, banished to those same rivers in Babylon (Jeremiah 29):

5 Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. 6 Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children…. 7 Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 GNB)

God isn’t waiting for us somewhere else, in some other circumstance, in a better situation. Jeremiah calls us to focus our attention on things we can do in our weakness and helplessness, and on the gifts God gives us in those difficult places.

I have a prayer on my desk at work that I read every morning when I start my working day. It’s a prayer written by Brother Lawrence, he of the ‘peeling potatoes in the monastery’ fame. I imagine it’s a prayer Brother Lawrence prayed when he walked into the kitchen; when he would perhaps much rather be walking in the garden, or praying in the chapel, or writing to people who needed encouragement—something, anything, more healing or fulfilling than peeling potatoes or cleaning toilets. He prayed:

“O my God, since you are with me, and I must now, in obedience to your commands, apply my mind to these outward things, please grant me the grace to continue in your presence; and to this end prosper me with your assistance, receive all my works and possess all my affections.” (Brother Lawrence, “Fourth Conversation”, The Practice of the Presence of God)

Our hope doesn’t lie in the fact that one day we will be in Heaven, that one day we will be rescued from all of this. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” God’s kingdom isn’t somewhere else—another time, another place. God’s kingdom is here and now. “Don’t wait until after the exile,” Jeremiah said to those who were suffering in Babylon. “Sing your songs in that place; live, love, plant, reap, let life happen there, in that place of despair and hopeless­ness.”

Some of you will remember Joni Eareckson. She broke her neck in a diving accident when she was 17—just finished high school—and has been a quadriplegic ever since. Her book that introduced us to her amazing story was called, simply, Joni. It was written in 1976 and she is now 60.

Joni Eareckson Tada she is now, with 35 books to her name and six honorary doctorates behind her. The magazine, Christianity Today, says that she might be mistaken for a modern-day Job. Having been a quadriplegic since the age of 17, she has endured chronic pain for the past ten years. Now, at age 60, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

In an interview with the magazine she says,

“Even though it seems like a lot is being piled on, I keep thinking about 1 Peter 2:21: “To these hardships you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.” Those steps most often lead Christians not to miraculous, divine interventions but directly into the fellowship of suffering. In a way, I’ve been drawn closer to the Savior, even with this breast cancer.”

In Isaiah 35:4-6 the prophet calls out,

“Tell everyone who is discouraged, ‘Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.’ The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert.”

Ruth Patterson comments on this passage in her book, “Looking Back to Tomorrow: A Spirituality for between the Times,

“We have good news to share, in spite of so much evidence to the contrary,” she writes, “news that’s going to strengthen tired hands and encourage weak knees and give strength to those who have been imprisoned for far too long. And the good news is that our God is coming…. (He) is coming to save us, to destroy our enemies.”

But note that Isaiah doesn’t say, “God is coming to take us away from all of this.” Or, “We are going to God.” Our God is coming into the situation in which we find ourselves.

And the fact that he is coming to save us, to destroy our enemies, is indeed good news. But, instead of sharing it, we spend our energy complaining. We have a song to sing, but we think that God might be offended if we sing in the desert, in the dark places, in the streets. We assume that good news won’t be effective against the power and the violence of the world. We are taught that violence only listens to violence. We think we should rather express our anger because, otherwise, nothing will change: taxis will continue to be taxis and service levels will just get worse.

We read in the letters pages of our local newspaper endless debate between Christians and atheists and Christians and Muslims. Christians trying to reason or argue with the others, to point out the error of their ways, show them where they are wrong, and why they should change their minds. I wonder if we are not focused on the mind when we should be engaging the heart. We have good news, our God is coming! Instead we indulge in arguments and complaints.

One of the problems, of course, is that the gifts God gives us aren’t always properly wrapped, marked with our names. Sometimes they are small treasures easily missed: a tiny bird dancing in the spray from a leaking hosepipe, a child’s smile, a dragonfly hovering above the water, or a dozen hadedahs looking stupid on a fence.

Sometimes God’s gifts of growth and opportunity come wrapped in pain and struggle, which is what Joni Eareckson Tada discovered. And it’s often in the wilderness of dry and empty times that God makes his presence known. The greatest gift of all came in the shape of a cross. It’s hard to recognise the presence of God in the pain and the stress in which everyday life swamps us. But that’s where he is.

And he has come to save us, to destroy our enemies. Ah, no, sorry, bad news; our enemy does not drive a taxi. Our enemy is not behind the counter of Home Affairs or the Msunduzi Electricity Department [government departments that have raised the ire of local residents recently]. He is not even training in a terrorist camp. Ruth Patterson says, our enemies “are certainly not other human beings, created in [God’s] image and likeness….”

Who are they then? Patterson says, “Included in their ranks are despair, doubt, cynicism, injustice…, bitterness, racism, guilt and fear.” It is from these enemies within that our God comes to rescue us.

What else will God do? Patterson continues,

“When he comes he will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. Those who have been blinded for years…are going to begin to see, to recognise the other who is different as their sister, their brother. Those who have not been able to hear another’s truth because they have been deafened by…(their own propaganda) or by their own self-righteousness are going to have the ears of their hearts unstopped. Those who have been silenced, who have had no one to listen to the cry of their heart, are going to sing a song of freedom from their broken places that the whole world will hear…. And the Spirit of God…will satisfy the thirsty souls of those who have long been yearning for something that material possessions could not satisfy.”

Friends, our God is coming! He is coming to a place in your heart and mine. He is coming to renew our world by transforming our lives. His healing and transformation doesn’t necessarily begin with the outward needs of our bruised and broken bodies or painful circumstances. He begins his work within.

Our God is coming. Let me ask you, what does he long to do for you and through you?


Filed under Sermons