Jesus had to go through Samaria. He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food.
The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)
Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”
Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”
The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”
“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”
Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” --John 4:4-18, 25-29 (CEB)
She came to our food pantry one day, a few minutes after we had closed. When we told her we were closed, she burst out in tears. In the midst of her tears, we heard her story. She was a mother of four sons. Trying to survive after her husband had walked out on her and left her all alone. She’d driven by our food pantry for a year - a whole year - unable to stop by, to get food, this mother of four boys who we’d later learn had her PhD. All because of her shame.
Shame. It’s at the heart of this story today. This story of the woman at the well. Notice that I didn’t say the “adulterous” woman at the well. Because, the truth is, nowhere does the text say this.
Sure, Jesus reveals that she has five husbands. That the man she’s living with is not her husband. But he does not condemn her. Because there are many possible explanations for this. Explanations that are reasonable, perhaps even more typical. Explanations that are within the bounds of the Torah. Yet, explanations that have rarely been considered, perhaps even dismissed, as so many commentators, so many preachers have viewed this text for far too long with a patriarchal lens. A lens that resists other possible explanations. A lens that we, in the church, along with so many other lenses, have been challenged to unravel.
Because this lens would much rather accept Jesus’ offer of good news to the Samaritans - a people hated by the Jews and vice versa - than to her. A woman. A Samaritan woman. A despised Samaritan woman. Of questionable moral character. Or who lacks the intellectual and theological ability to engage with Jesus in serious conversation. Both interpretations of this text that delegitimize her (and any woman, if we’re honest) as a conversation partner for Jesus and as a receiver and proclaimer of the gospel.
So, instead, she is shamed. Not only by our patriarchy, but by hers, as well. And, perhaps, she has begun to believe this shame, too. Perhaps, that’s why she comes to the well at noon - the hottest time of the day, when no one else - no other women - would be there. Because it is so much safer - so less risky - to simply be alone. And isolated. So as not to trouble the waters. So as not to feel ashamed.
But, then, Jesus speaks to her. And in one of the longest conversations by far in the Gospels that he has with anyone, Jesus names her truth. Her woundedness and isolation. Her shame. And, in naming it, begins to unravel it.
Dr. Brene Brown is a sociologist and a researcher on shame. For six years she researched shame before she began to write about it. Why? Because, as she puts it, “shame is this horrible topic, no one wants to talk about it. It’s the best way to shut people down on an airplane. ‘What do you do?’ ‘I study shame.’ ‘Oh.’” When we begin to talk about patriarchy or whiteness. Sexism or Racism. Or privilege. She writes that when we begin to talk about these things, people get paralyzed by shame. Because “shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
But, here’s the thing. We cannot unravel those things in our lives, in our world, without addressing the shame - the shame Adam and Eve felt in those first moments after eating the apple - the shame that is at the heart of our human brokenness. Shame that tells us that we are not good enough. And shame that then drives us to wound others.
What shame in your life needs to be unraveled? Where is your woundedness? What is the thing that you spend so much energy trying to heal through so many insufficient ways? Relationships? Religion? Success? More degrees? More therapy? Working out? Busy-ness? Perfectionism? Aspects of aging? Aspects of youth? Whiteness? Othered-ness? There are a million ways we seek to isolate ourselves or to use substitutes for God to try and make sure our woundedness - our shame - is not known.
But Jesus knows. Jesus knows this deep and hidden part of us. And Jesus loves us for who we have been created to be, people in God’s image. And, then, Jesus calls us, just as he called the woman at the well, to be his apostles. At this time. In this place. In this moment of great disruption in his Church. In this moment of great disruption in our world. To do the risky work of unraveling. Faithfully.
But, it’s hard work. This work of unraveling. And it’s difficult to find hope in the midst of it. Where can we find that hope? Where can we find Jesus in this work of unraveling?
I would suggest right here. Here, in our midst, in this space, as we have begun to unravel our own frameworks of thinking and ways of being, as we have argued and wept together, it is here. Where we have witnessed hope for the church God desires, the church God has called us to be. It is here where Jesus has been. Present in the midst of our shame and all our unraveled-ness. Knowing us. Building trust. And weaving us together into a rich tapestry of the diverse and beautiful community God has created us to be, that God hopes for us, for the whole church, for our world, and for all creation.
For this I say, thanks be to God. Amen.