There is a word that has all but lost any meaning in our culture today. A word without which you cannot really hope to grasp what is happening in our Gospel text for this morning. That word is shame. It used to be that those people who lived lives that the rest of us would find objectionable would feel a sense of shame at their lives. They would avoid polite company – where they knew they would not be welcome. The guilt over lives they knew were wrong would lead them to hide themselves from the gaze of the rest of us. That’s the way it used to be. Today, instead of shame, you get your own reality show, or you post it to YouTube. Today. instead of shunning polite company, they flaunt their lives and demand that the rest of us accept them just the way they are and if we don’t, we are the ones to be ashamed. That is the way of our culture today. Now, I’m not here to tell you that those people should be ashamed and slink away back into the shadows, or to tell you that things are better today and if you have a problem with it, you are the one to be ashamed. But to understand what is happening between Jesus and the woman at the well you need to understand what shame is. You need to understand what this woman is doing at the well at the sixth hour.
It is noon in Samaria (that’s what the sixth hour means, that it is the sixth hour from sunrise). And this woman has come to the Jacob’s well outside of the town of Sychar to draw water. Why has she come to the well at noon? She comes now, because no one else will be there. You need that water to start your day of cooking and cleaning. And regular people get their water from the well at the first hour, at the beginning of the day, when it is cooler. And they come – all the women in the town – to the well together to draw the water. It is a social event. They share in the work and share each other’s company at the same time. You see, in that world at that time, women’s lives consisted of a back and forth of communal and singular activities. They would go to the communal well together to draw the water. They would take it to their individual home where each would then begin the day. There would be food prepared the day before for breaking the fast and the men would go out to their work while the women would clean their individual homes and prepare their family’s food (work every bit as backbreaking as the work the men were doing). And starting at about the fifth hour, the women would begin to gather with the food that they had prepared in their homes to the center of the town, where their would be a communal town oven. And these women would cook their meals together and then at the sixth hour they would be taking their hot dinners back to their homes where they would serve the meal. So why is this woman at the well at the sixth hour? So she can draw her water alone, so she can take that water back to her home alone, so she can take her meal to the town oven alone before the heat of the fire had faded away. This woman is living her life hiding from the eyes of her neighbors; this woman is living a life of shame.
Now Jesus is resting by the well outside of town, while His disciples have gone into Sychar to buy food (why, because they know it is dinner time and there will be freshly prepared food available). And while Jesus is sitting there resting, this women walks up to draw her water. And what happens next is a scandal to all the good people of that day. Jesus asks this woman for a drink. Now you need to understand just what is happening here. Jesus is sitting at the well. This woman approaches the well alone, because she is ashamed of her life and she is shunned by her good neighbors. And as she approaches the well, there sits this Jewish man, a man who under any circumstances would shun the company of a Samaritan woman – no matter how pure and upright and no matter how thirsty He might be. This man sees her there and can have no doubt why she is there alone. He may not know the specific circumstances, but there can be no doubt that this woman is being shunned by her neighbors; that she is ashamed to be seen by polite company. And this Jewish man asks her for a drink of water. So she asks the obvious question. Why?
But what is so intriguing here is that Jesus does not bother to answer the question. Rather He answers this woman’s need. He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Who stands before her? Not just some Jewish man who sees her as something to be scraped off of the soul of His sandal. What stands before Him is the very grace of God. The bringer of living water. And when she fails to understand the significance of what He is saying, Jesus says, “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 again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus stands before her, having no doubt about the kind of woman this is, but He doesn’t care. He accepts her just as she is, and more than simply speaking to her (alone a significant scandal) He offers to her Himself, the grace of God which brings living water and eternal life.
And this is where most people in our culture today would like us to stop. No judgment just blind acceptance and easy love, But Jesus’ love for this woman runs far deeper than just superficial acceptance. His love is so great that even as He accepts her – shame and all – that does not stop Him from confronting the sin that is the source of her shame. For when this woman asks for that living water. Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” There is no judgment in these words, but all the same, Jesus makes this woman confront her sin. When the woman answers Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus says to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Again, no judgment, no rejection, but at the same time no ignoring of this woman’s sin that is the source of her shame. Here, the grace of God does not remove or simply excuse her sin, it simply precedes the confronting of it. And the same is true for us today.
Many in the church think that one must first confront and reject the sin in one’s life before they can be worthy to receive the grace of God. That to be saved from the power of sin and death, they must first be safe from the power of sin and death. That to receive the living water that brings everlasting life they must first be free of the sin that brings shame – the unquenchable thirst for the righteousness that is beyond their reach, like water in a deep deep well. But no, Jesus – the very grace of God – comes to us and brings us the living water of faith while we are yet lost in the midst of our thirst. We don’t need to be safe from our sin to receive Jesus, for He came to save us from our sin. Jesus accepts us just as we are.
But that does not mean that Jesus accepts our sin. Many in the church think that to share the love of Jesus, you must only accept people just as they are and nothing more. That you must redefine sin into a personal choice or unavoidable nature. That’s the way they are, there’s nothing they can do about it, so why make them feel bad. Let’s just not call it a sin. But don’t you see, without sin, there is no need for grace. And though one does not need to be free of sin to receive God’s grace, that does not remove the need to confront that sin. Rather God’s grace is the place in which one’s sin is confronted so that you might confess that sin and receive the forgiveness that faith in Jesus Christ brings. The living water that becomes a spring welling up inside is there to satisfy that unquenchable thirst for unattainable righteousness, but if you don’t confront the sin; if that water is not quenching that thirst, that water can be deadly. If you seek to just accept people as they are, never confronting the sin in their lives, you are condemning them to a death by thirst while all the time drowning in the very living water intended to save them.
Where are the shamed and shunned in our community? Where are they hiding? You know who they are and you know where they are and you are the Body of Christ in this community, entrusted to deliver the grace of God and living water to those in our community dying of thirst. Don’t shun them for fear of the scandal you will receive for being in their company. Don’t wait for them to be free from their thirst before you offer the only water that can satisfy that thirst. They need the grace of God now! So bring it to them now! Don’t leave them isolated in their shame, the sixth hour is here so come to the well and bring them the living water of Jesus Christ. And don’t stop there, but confront the sin that causes the thirst. Don’t abandon them to their sin for fear that you might be seen as being judgmental. Don’t attack or judge, but don’t ignore their sin for that is just another form of shunning and shame. The sixth hour is here and people are dying of thirst. So bring them the grace of God in their need, but don’t ignore the thirst caused by sin, but confront it, so they might receive forgiveness and their thirst might be satisfied. Amen.