If you were paying close attention in church last week, you might have noticed that after reading for months from the gospel of Matthew, we shifted into the gospel of John with the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of night (John 3:1-17). That story is paired with the one we will hear tomorrow morning in which Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well at high noon (John 4:5-42). Both stories are only found in John’s gospel, and we read mainly from John through the Easter Vigil.
You may recall this passage from the first chapter of John,
“He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-12)
There’s no way to understand the story of the woman at the well without reading it next to the story of Nicodemus. He was a man of learning and influence, a man with a name who comes to Jesus under cover of night and cannot understand what Jesus is offering. She is a woman at the margins, never named, but who comes to Jesus at the height of the day and speaks to him with intelligence and vulnerability and is changed by the encounter. She immediately goes and brings others to meet him so they can experience what she has – living water and new life.
When you compare Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, it’s clear that she provides the example for how we would hope to encounter God – in the light, telling the truth, being seen for who we are, given new life and a new community. Why then no name? What does that tell us?
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” But, in so many ways, Nicodemus couldn’t imagine the magnitude of what God was up to in the life and ministry of Jesus. The world was more than just the people Nicodemus knew, the other men of learning and influence. The world included people whose names Nicodemus would never know; people with keen intelligences, profound questions and real faith. As Jesus journeyed the known world of his day, he chose to travel beyond the realms of what was safe and known, to meet people at the point of their deepest needs so that they might have new and abundant lives.
And that is where Jesus meets you and me. Whether you feel known or unknown by the world, whether you come to Jesus under the cloak of night or by the bright light of day, Jesus is journeying through this world to find you, to know you, and to love you. And when you taste the living waters of community in Christ, you too will want to return to the places from which you come and invite others to share in the new life God has in store for all the world.
For more background reading on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, I especially recommend Luther Seminary professor David Lose’s article “Misogyny, Moralism and the Woman at the Well,” published earlier this month on the Huffington Post.