Texts: Exodus 17:1-7 • Psalm 95 • Romans 5:1-11 • John 4:5-42
He got me. With three little words he got me.
I’d been going with the mad preacher, John, the baptizer, because I liked the fire in his belly. He was angry, like me, at everyone it seemed. I think he was even angry with God. He was always shouting at people to turn their lives around, quoting scripture, sounding like one of those prophets they read from in the synagogue, like Joel.
“Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Joel 2:13)
He’d drag us outside the city and walk us through the River Jordan, just like our ancestors did when they came into this land out of Egypt. Now this place feels like Egypt, with these damn Romans everywhere. They’ve got their fingers in every little pot of money they can find. They set the prices on everything so a man can’t hardly make a living by the land or the sea anymore. And if they don’t gouge you with their prices, they steal what little you have left by sending their tax man.
They’ve got the Temple in their pocket too. The Levites, in their long robes with their soft hands, are so far up their backs they could share a toga. And the Pharisees just make it worse – even if you avoid the temple, there’s always one of those Pharisees reminding you of one holy law or another that you’re breaking. They make the love of God feel about as inviting as dinner with my brother’s mother-in-law. You’re never good enough with them.
So, I was happy enough to follow the Baptizer, listen to his sermons, watch his show out at the river. I don’t think he was changing much, but I loved his spirit. We were more than just numbers to him. Whenever someone would suggest that he could do something more with all of us than just preach – that he might storm the temple or even lead a movement against the Romans, he’d just laugh and tell us someone else was coming who was greater than him. Someone whose sandals he wasn’t even fit to tie. He called a thing what it was, whether you were a Roman or a Jew. You could trust him. He wasn’t the type to use a guy like me to get ahead.
It was late afternoon, the first time I saw the teacher. I’d been fishing all night and was resting by the lake, listening to John preach, when he walked by. All of a sudden the Baptizer was acting mad, like a crazy man. He pointed to the teacher and cried, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
I didn’t know what to make of it. He just kept walking. I didn’t know if John wanted me to stop him, or go with him. So I just chased after him, thinking I’d figure out the rest once I caught up. Just as I did, he turned around and asked me, “what are you looking for?”
“Teacher,” I replied, not actually sure what I was looking for, “where are you staying?”
And then he got me. With three little words, he got me.
He said, “come and see.”
So I followed him, and I’ve been following him ever since. I suppose that makes me even crazier than John, the baptizer, but I have never felt as alive as when I’m with the teacher. He sees me, all of me, and he understands me. He’s a holy man, for sure, but not like the ones in the temple. In fact, he has little time for their affairs. Why, just this last Passover he led us into the temple, where the moneychangers and merchants set up their tables, and he went berserk – he drove the livestock out of the courtyard and turned over the tables yelling, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
The priests rushed out to confront him, demanding a sign to prove the teacher’s authority to interfere in temple business, and he told them, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” After that, there were plenty more in our company, following the teacher to see what he would do next, but I was among the closest and I heard more than the rest.
The other night one of these Pharisees came to see the teacher, I don’t know why. His name was Nicodemus, and he was well respected by the other rabbis. I’m sure that’s why he came at night. He would never want to be seen with people like us during the day. Too good for a group of working people, fishermen and fishwives and farmers.
He spoke to the teacher for hours through the night, he even seemed respectful of the teacher’s words – not that he understood them. That was fun, I’ll admit, seeing the Pharisee with all his learning stumble over the words of the teacher, who tried to keep it simple for the man. He said,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
After that we left the cities and towns for a while and headed back out into the countryside. Some of us who’d been with John began to baptize people as well, and it wasn’t long before we’d baptized even more than he had. The teacher didn’t actually do the baptizing, but I think the Pharisees are getting nervous to see how many of us are following him now.
I figured we’d be heading straight back to Galilee, but the teacher decided we’d return home by way of Samaria, which is completely out of our way. He’s got more than a few of us scratching our heads at that one. You know how the Samaritans are. I’ve got a couple good jokes about them, but I don’t tell them anymore, you’ll see why in a minute. You know what they say about these southern people though, that they’ll lay down with anyone; that they’re half Egyptian, half Babylonian, with just a little Jew in them, but they still offer sacrifices to the LORD, just to be safe. I’ve got a friend who married one of them, and his family won’t talk to him anymore. That seems harsh, but I wouldn’t want one of them spoiling my Passover with their dumb questions and strange food either.
Or that’s what I would have said up until a few days ago.
Two days back, he sent us off to the city to find food for the group, which we did. We’d left him by the well in the morning, but after most of the women had already come to fetch water enough for their homes for the rest of the day’s cooking. It would be evening before they’d be back, so he was safe to rest there without causing any gossip. The last thi
ng we needed was to be caught in Samaritan territory with their men angry at us for approaching their women.
It didn’t take too long to find food, but when we returned, shortly after noon, we found the teacher speaking to one of their women. I don’t know why she was at the well at such an hour. I can only guess that she was trying to avoid the other women, but she may have had another reason. I just know that we were all surprised to see the teacher talking to her, alone. You could tell by the way they were speaking to each other that something was happening.
The teacher was looking at her in that way I remembered from the first time I met him, but her face was transformed. She looked wide open, like a babe in her mother’s arms, and it occurred to me for the first time since I’d met him by the shores that this must be how I’d looked when he spoke to me that day. None of us interrupted them, we just waited. Finally, she turned and left in such a hurry that she forgot her water jar, her whole reason for being there in the first place. Just like I’d left my nets. I saw something in her, something familiar.
The rest of the disciples stayed with the teacher while he ate, and I’m sure he had something to say to them then as well, but I followed the woman from the well. She went back to the city where we’d just been, and immediately she began speaking to her family and her friends. They could see what I had, that she’d been transformed. She was the same woman she’d been that morning, and she was not. She had the same story she’d had all her life, and it had been changed forever. She was alive, again, like she’d been born a second time.
Then I remembered what the teacher had said to Nicodemus, the Pharisee too good to come to Jesus except by night,
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5b-8)
That’s what we were all seeing. Someone who had been born of water and Spirit – and didn’t he meet her by a well? Something had happened to her in that conversation, and now she was alive, again. The kingdom of God came near, and we weren’t even in Judea. We were in Samaria, and she was one of their women, and look, I’m telling you, she came to life, and it was beautiful, you couldn’t deny it.
It made me weep when I thought of all the people living each day stuck in an old story about themselves. I grew up with good people, hard working people, who saw the Levites in the temple or the Pharisees in their robes and would say, “I’m not that good” or “I’m not that smart.” I’ve seen young men and women beat down by the Romans, forced to carry their pack or give up their lunches, finally settle for what little the world seemed willing to give them. I’ve even done it myself, I’ve looked down my nose at these Samaritans, I’ve treated them the way the Romans treated me, and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s felt good not to be at the bottom of the heap, to have someone else to joke about, or to pity.
But the teacher doesn’t do that. He doesn’t make jokes about these people, and he doesn’t pity them. He talked to her at the well like she was his equal. He treated her like a whole person, and look what happened. She’s come to life! She’s gathered up all her family and all her friends, she’s told them all about her encounter with the teacher from Galilee and now they’re here with us, sharing our dinner, passing the cup around the fire and talking to us like we’re old friends.
How did she get them here? What did she say? She got them here with three little words, she spoke to them just like the teacher did to me. She said, “come and see.”