Spunky Woman: A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
I’ve found myself this week in a lengthy conversation with that woman at the well. She pops in on me unbidden. She seems determined to have a word or two with me, to engage me in conversation. She won’t leave me alone. You might conclude she’s been a pest. And you’d be right!
In the time she’s left me alone with a little bit of silence, I’ve formulated my response to her. I’d like to share it with you now.
“Oh woman at the well, there’s so much talk about your life. Some folks say you are a harlot. Others say you are a whore. I don’t put much truck in all of that. I think those folks are way off base. Maybe they’re afraid to see beyond your loneliness and isolation. Maybe they can’t face your pressing need.
“I used to spend a lot time fretting about just who you are. I used to wonder about those five husbands and wonder even more about that man with whom you now live. Sometimes I made up stories to explain it all—one story made you barren and hence cast off by every man you married; another put you in a tragic round of widowhood and remarriage ending with you running out of men to marry and thus living with a distant relative. But now I think I understand—those five husbands and the man you now live with are all part of the tragic story of your life. A reality you live with every day.
“But there’s so much more to you than all of that. You are so much more than your social isolation and your deep need. You’re one spunky woman. That’s for sure. I love the way you challenge Jesus. From the get-go you meet him eye-to-eye. You don’t shrink back when he asks you for a drink of water. You say what’s on your mind. I can imagine many women would turn tail and run if a strange man spoke to them. But not you. No m’am. You say to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
“You keep coming back for more. When he starts talking “gift of God” and “living water”, you challenge him pointing out he has no bucket and implying that he is no Jacob.
But when he talks again of living water, you hear the truth beneath his words. You listen, you really listen to what he has to say. You ask him straight up to quench your thirst, to give you some of that living water.
“And that’s just what he does when he says to you, “Woman—go get your husband and come back.” He knows you have no husband. He knows you’ve had many husbands. And he knows the man you’re now living with is not your husband. He sees you as you are and he accepts you. Oh nameless woman at the well, that’s living water. That seeing you, knowing you and accepting you for who you are—that’s water that forms a spring deep inside your being and gushes forth in all sorts of ways.
“I see that living water flowing in the ways you raise deep questions about your faith and his. Gutsy woman, you don’t just smile and nod. You talk back. You hold your own. I love the way you raise the whole Messiah thing. You’re the one who spurs him on in claiming who he really is. You go girl. You rock.
“No wonder you run off to town carrying with you your emerging belief and your still lingering doubts. No wonder you leave your jug behind. That living water is just gushing out of you washing away all but the most essential questions. There’s no way you can keep something like that encounter to yourself—not even if you tried.
“I have a feeling it’s not your question, ‘Can this be true?’ that sends those town folks rushing off to the well. I think they see the change in you. I think they see that living water washing over you and through you, making every cell in your body come alive.
No wonder they rush off to see for themselves; no wonder they beg Jesus to stay a day or two. Those town folks want some of what you have. They want some of the mojo they now see in you.
“I hope they have the courage and the wisdom to do what you have done—to ask those plaguing questions, to struggle with the doubts, to wrestle with God’s meaning, to take the risk of being seen, to take the risk of being known.
“I love you, nameless woman at the well. I love your openness, your spunk and your bodacious ways. Teach me, teach all of us, to follow in your path. Teach us that we might learn to welcome doubt and disbelief as companions on the way. Show us how to be open to God’s promise and to God’s words of truth that we, like you, may come to worship God in spirit and in truth.” Amen.