One of the things we can all learn from this pandemic is how insanely connected our world is. An outbreak in Wuhan China can spread with frightening speed around the globe, shutting down whole countries and grinding international commerce to a halt. It is commerce that we need, commerce that plays with the stock market, which plays with our retirement plans, which effects our stress levels, which causes anxiety and fear. So, we stay home, but in staying home we fail to read a book or play card games with the family, no we turn on the internet and read the global news as we text our friends and facetime with our family members. We are bound up in the lives of others in ways never imagined a decade or so ago. We are more connected, more dependent, more aware of a world far outside of ourselves than ever before.
Yet with all this hyper connectivity, with all the means at our disposal of engaging with others, there remains a feeling of isolation, a loneliness that seems to take a hold of so many. Though we engage with people around the world on a regular basis many do not have a sense of belonging with those they encounter week in and week out. The same connectivity tying our world together allows us to remain in our own little bubble getting just what we want, when we want it, with limited meaningful exchanges with others. The Church is no exception to this. There are those who sit in a pew this very day who wonder if they really belong. Are they really a part of this body of Christ? Are they truly a part of this family? Are the words said here, the promises made, the gifts given, are they for you? Many of us know that if others knew what was in our hearts, if they knew us in the raw and bare nature we hide from the world, why, they would not want to include us. They would be happy if we just stayed on the fringe. So, many do just that. They prefer to stay on the outside, not really being included into the full reality of the fellowship. They prefer to be here just not really belonging.
While many of us may choose to separate ourselves and secretly want to create distance from the rest, there are those who are forced out. There are those who do not belong because they have been told, one way or another, they do not belong. Perhaps they have been told the way they dress, or the way they conduct themselves, or the way they speak is not worthy of one who belongs to the body of Christ. So, they are pushed out to the fringes of the group, kept at arms distance. This, I think, is what we find in the story of our Lord in John 4. Jesus and His disciples come to a town of Samaria called Sychar where Jacob’s well is located. Jesus takes a breather at the well while His disciples head into town to get something to eat. It is noon, in the heat of the day, when a woman of the town comes to get some water. A woman, it seems, who has been pushed out of the group. A woman who longs to belong.
As she comes to get some water Jesus asks her for a drink. This shocks her because He is a Jewish man and she is a Samaritan woman; this is taboo and unusual. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans. They would usually have nothing to do with them. They saw them as unclean swine and not worth their time. Jesus, though, seems unmoved. He comes right back and says to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). He asks her for a drink, yet immediately offers a drink Himself, a drink welling up to eternal life.
Now, obviously, this sounds pretty good to the woman. After all this would mean she would not have to keep coming to this well to get water by herself. She would finally be satisfied and never thirst again. So, Jesus says, “Great, go and call your husband and come here and I’ll give it you.” This is where the scene breaks wide open. Jesus’ words cut to the heart of her separation, her loneliness. She must confess she does not have a husband. In fact, she has had five and the guy she is with now is not her husband. Now we begin to see why she is going out to get water in the middle of the day all alone. No one else is doing this. The rest go in the morning or at the cool of the day. They go with others. They go as part of the group, the fellowship of women in a community would regularly go together to get water for the day. But she goes alone. She goes because her life is marked by a very public sin. Whatever the circumstances, she is an adulterer and is not welcomed in the community of the rest of the water-getters.
But Jesus is just beginning with her. Not only has He offered her something greater than the water from the well, He has uncovered her sin. He has demonstrated how He really knows who she is and the source of her loneliness. What He can offer is belonging, true and lasting belonging, belonging in the fellowship of God, in the gifts of eternal life. At that well in the middle of the day Jesus is brining hope and life to the lonely and the rejected, to those who think their sins are too great, too big to find welcome in the house of God. So it is with you. Whatever it is you think keeps you on the edge, keeps you separated from the gifts of God and the fellowship of His Church, they do not get the last say. They do not get to dictate the length and depth of His love, forgiveness and compassion.
She is beginning to understand what is happening. She responds, “I see you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:19-20). I used to think this is just her changing the subject, because all the discussion about her husband was getting a little uncomfortable. But I think she is actually seizing her opportunity here. He clearly is a prophet. He knows things no one else can know, so she asks a serious question. She wants to know about worship. Where does one worship? Where can one be sure they are going to be near the presence of God? What is the right location, the right holy site? Where can you be sure you will find welcome and belonging in the mercy of God? To know such a thing would change everything. To know such a thing would truly be the source of living water.
The answer is shocking to be sure. The answer of her quest is not found in either location but rather in a worship marked by the Spirit and truth. True worship is not attached to sacred spaces but is rooted in the character of the One who is worshiped. It is not Mount Gerizim nor the Temple Mount which is crucial but the Spirit of God. It is the gift of faith, the promise of the Word that reigns supreme. This woman at the well in the middle of the day, belongs to the promises of God. She belongs to the gifts of Christ. She belongs to eternal life, not because of her status or work or wisdom but because she trusts in the One who gives it all to her for free.
And so, you too belong. You belong in the fellowship of God’s children. You belong in the promises of Christ. You who think you are on the fringe, who think you have no place here, you are forgiven. You are loved. You belong. She says to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming and when he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus says to her “I who speak to you am He.” If you keep reading you find the woman goes and tells everyone she can what happens. The text makes it clear she leaves behind her water jar at the well. Something new has come, something that changes things for her. A never-ending spring of living water flows for her, and it flows freely for you as well.