A video of “Red: A Crayon’s Story” can be found HERE.
Open our hearts and our minds,
so that we can understand the fullness of your Word.
Fill us with the light of the Holy Spirit,
and bless the servant you have chosen,
to share the Word proclaimed today.
In the name of Christ, the Word revealed. Amen.
When I was studying in seminary – grad school training for ministers – one of my professors always used to say that each reading has at least 70 faces – a truth she had inherited from a wise Rabbi who had taught her. I think of that like facets in a diamond – every time we sit down to read and study Scripture, the Holy Spirit has something different to teach us, a new side or facet or face to a multi-dimensional story.
And this story from John of the woman at the well is no different: I have done an entire Lenten series – 6 weeks - on this one passage of Scripture, because of its richness. So today I could preach on how this passage legitimizes women in ministry, preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus…but I won’t. I could reflect on how this scripture is about building community by crossing gender, racial, and social boundaries to share the love of God with everyone…but that isn’t quite for today. Today I want to spend some time leaning into the story of the unnamed woman of Samaria.
In the story told in John’s gospel, Jesus has just had his secret night meeting with Nicodemus (wealthy educated Jew who could not understand) and he and his disciples have left Jerusalem, travelling on their way to Galilee. In the verse right before this, most translations read, he had to travel through Samaria. You see, but the Greek reads, it was necessary. This is not a semantic detail – Samaria is not exactly on the way to Galilee. Yet, it was necessary for Jesus to travel into Samaria, though perhaps not for a geographical purpose.
Now, what of Samaria? Not a Jewish place – Jesus and his disciples are foreigners here, both religiously and racially. Not only that, these are rival people – that is why the story of the good Samaritan is such a scandal – to Jews, people of Samaria were on the wrong side of everything, they were outcast, despised.
And this anonymous woman? She is likely unnamed to focus our attention on the fact that she is Samaritan, not Jew – the women who are named in this Gospel are all Jewish (Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene). And we know that she has had five husbands plus the partner she is currently living with. For many years, mostly beginning with the Puritans, this has been understood to mean that she has a scandalous past – and maybe she does. But this five-husbands business is likely not pointing to a sexually provocative past. What is more socially probable is that she was barren. Women who didn’t bear children were divorced, cast aside, abandoned. Maybe she is a widow as well. We don’t know exactly, but what we do know, is that never in this story does Jesus give her a lesson in morality or even offer her his forgiveness for her past – she does not need it. He does see her need, and that need is belonging.
The truth of her situation is that she is marginalized, ostracised, holding deeply the pain of abandonment and barrenness. She is isolated. Disconnected. And likely not because of anything she had control over.
This woman could not make herself into what society told her she should be. She was alone.
Remember that story I told to the children? “Red” was alone. Red was marginalized, ostracized. Red could not fit into the expectations of his parents, his teachers, family, friends, peers.
They saw what he should be. He was red, he just wasn’t trying hard enough.
And we know this story from our own lives don’t we? We wear labels, each one of us. Labels of how we should be as a man or a woman, as a Mom or a Dad, as a teacher, a carpenter, a grandparent, a preacher, an adult, a spouse, a professional, an elder; we could go on and on.
There are a lot of “shoulds,” weighing heavily on each one of us. Pushing us further away from one another, further away from the healing that comes through connection, relationship, community. We feel the weight of the should – you should eat less chocolate; you should save more money; you should get off your phone you should spend more time with your family; you should get more exercise; you should yell less; you should should should
And when we aren’t living up to the shoulds? We pull away – or are pushed away – and we either put on a perfect outside or we lose our connection with community.
Red could not make himself into what those around him told him he should be. Red was alone.
Until. Red was alone until he met a new friend who asked a different question. The purple crayon didn’t try to fix or change him, she just invited him into relationship and saw Red as he was. Not trying to change but giving him the space to express himself as he was made – which, ironically, made space for a new identity to emerge: from a place of shame and brokenness to purpose-filled and free.
The Samaritan woman was alone.
Until. She was alone until she met a new friend who asked a different question.
Jesus didn’t try to fix or change her, but invited her into relationship. They engage in this back and forth about living water: is she naïve, or playing along with him as a part of her wit? She is perceptive, bright – the conversation moves quickly from the mundane, step-by-step, over the barriers with which she erected to protect her inner self, until she is in a rather intimate conversation with Jesus. As it turns out, Jesus is not some stranger who knows his theology accosting her at Jacob’s well, he knows her intimately, and accepts her as a worthy discussant.
The woman is a quick study, and we see Jesus bring her to a new level of understanding of who he is: from thirsty Jew to strange water purveyor to prophet… From there, she presses forward into this theological dialogue with Jesus regarding the acceptable place for worship – something Jews and Samaritans had disagreed over for centuries. This back and forth bringing her to yet another level of understanding…could he be, Messiah?
And Jesus makes himself fully known to her with the words, “I am.” He reveals that the presence of God is before her. It is the first “I am” statement in this Gospel. Jesus makes God known to this woman at the well and, as a result, makes her a co-witness to his work in the world.
Jesus sees and validates her, and what happens? She drops her pot – leaves behind her water jar to run off, in joy, to share this revelation. She leaves behind a key piece of her old identity.
This new-found relationship with Jesus makes room for her identity to evolve. She sheds the labels of marginalization and abandonment and assumes a new identity as preacher and centre-point of a brand-new movement in the Samaritan community.
In John’s Gospel, salvation means restored relationship, it means belonging. When Jesus meets and shares with people, when Jesus heals them, it is so they can get back to their place of belonging in the community.
And because of this unnamed woman of Samaria, we know that we too have a place to belong. Because of her we know that no matter who we are, no matter our place in society, not matter the boxes we have been put into or the corners we have been assigned to, God, as revealed in Jesus, is for us too. No more ‘shoulds,’ no more labels.
Except the one that matters the most: beloved child of God.
Red was alone. The Samaritan woman was alone. There are times when we too feel alone – isolated by others or by our own shame or fear of what we have done or not done or by who we are.
But Jesus sees us. Jesus calls us into relationship, stripping off the false or harmful tags that we ourselves and others put on us. Jesus claims us as his own, making room for us to put down the pots of our old selves.
Neither Red nor the Woman at the Well could’ve done it on their own. This is not a pull yourself up by your bootstraps situation. It isn’t redefine your identity and begin again.
Jesus, as Christ or crayon, goes out of his way in his travels, to sit down at the well and wait for us. He knows us. He wants us. And he is ready to engage in creating an intimacy with us to unbind us from the threads or wrappers that constrict who we think we are and make wide the path to freedom for the person he knows we are.
Are we ready to recognize his invitation? To engage in that witty dialogue?
Are we ready to have our minds opened to a new understanding?
Are we ready to put down our pots and venture into the world with the label beloved child of God?
I pray that we might move from this place today, leaving behind our water jugs and into the newness of life in Christ.
Can I get an Amen?
 As per Karoline Lewis via the “Sermon Brainwave” podcast on workingpreacher.org
 Kysar, 180 and Sloyan, 52-53.
 More from Karoline Lewis.
 Spencer, “You Just Don’t Understand (or Do You?)” from A Feminist Companion to John Vol. 1 (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003), 35.
 From Ian Ramsey via Culpepper, The Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, 139.