A Boring Sermon – The Samaritan Woman in John 4

This is a boring sermon[1] There is lots of drama in the world – Pandemics, Trumpian antics, shut down of travel, basketball, hockey, and life itself! In spite of all that, sometimes we still get bored. Hence, I thought I’d present you with a boring sermon.

As Christians we are all about Jesus – it’s sort of in our DNA, and when we read the Gospels, it seems that life with Jesus was never boring. It seems that Jesus and the disciples never had ordinary days. The Gospels don’t tell us much about the times in between the marvelous miracles, the amazing teachings, and intense debates with religious rulers. All we get in the Gospels is action.

“Samaritan Woman,” by Lanfranco

However, John, perhaps without being aware that he is doing it, offers a little snapshot of an ordinary day, and it seems Jesus could be boring too!

Jesus and his disciples are walking through Samaria. Walking itself can be very boring. These days, when we have to go somewhere, we usually take a car, or perhaps transit.

Because we sometimes find even that too boring, we will often listen to the radio or to an MP3, CD, cassette, maybe even an 8-track if we’re old-school. Our kids find even that too boring and entertain themselves on their iPods or iPhones. Now imagine removing all the radios, MP3 players, and iPhones, slow things down from highway speed of 100K to the speed of a brisk walk. It’s pretty boring.

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well ,” by Waldmuller

Frankly, even telling you about it is beginning to put me to sleep…

So, what do the disciples do on this mundane day with Jesus? They go shopping. They leave Jesus to pick up fixings for dinner in town. What could be more boring than shopping? Although I know some people enjoy shopping, this was not a trip to the local mall – it was a trip to a local merchant and haggling over cost.

Now, for some reason Jesus doesn’t join the disciples in their shopping trip. Maybe it’s because he enjoyed his own company and used the time in prayer. Or, perhaps he just disliked shopping?

In any event, Jesus is walking alone and gets thirsty. The average person needs about 3 liters of water every day, and if we do not get water for 3 days, we will die. So, there is nothing more ordinary than drinking water. What do you do when you are thirsty, and you are walking through Samaria in the first century? I’ll tell you what you don’t do – you don’t go to the local 7/11 and buy some bottled water. So, what do you do? You find the local well.

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,” by Veronese

What could be more ordinary than going to a well to get water. Well, it might not be very ordinary for us – most of us don’t have wells, and we certainly don’t rely on them for water. Around the world, wells are still common, but not for the typical North American. Our water magically appears in our kitchens, or in plastic bottles. But in Jesus’ time, a trip to a well was something one did regularly. Very commonplace, very uninteresting.

So, Jesus comes to a well and sees a woman there, and, being thirsty, asks her for water. The woman is also having a boring ordinary day when this guy from Judaea come up and asks her for water. She is used to being thought of badly by Judaeans, so she’s a little surprised. “Why are you even talking to me?”

Here’s the thing about being boring, about being routine, it can become amazing if you are attuned to the situation. If you are okay with crossing cultural borders and challenging social conventions, you can transform boring. If you are willing to talk to those you meet – even those whom convention says you should ignore – like Samaritans, then the ordinary can quickly become extraordinary. 

And here’s the thing about Jesus, it was not that he never found himself in boring routine situations, but when he did, he was attuned. He saw possibilities even within the most mundane.

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well,” by Guercino

Jesus saw potentials in this most ordinary and mundane of activities. He considers water and turns it into a metaphor for the spiritual life. He takes the most ordinary of situations and makes it a moment of insight and encounter.

Jesus knows things, and he know things about this woman. The fact that she’s had five husbands has led some interpreters to conclude that she was a loose woman, and that Jesus was pointing out her sin. Yet there is little in the text that supports this. Jesus says nothing about repentance, and she demonstrates no shame. The truth is that we know nothing of this woman’s back story. More importantly, Jesus doesn’t appear to care, so why should we?

But what could more ordinary than people judging other people.

And Jesus doesn’t do that…

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well,” by Trevisani

The woman takes Jesus’ words as an indication that he is a prophet and uses the opportunity to ask a burning question. She is a Samaritan, and one of the key differences between Judaeans and Samaritans was about where one should worship. The Samaritans thought it should be in Samaria, and the Judeans thought it should be in Judea.

I imagine Jesus delighting in the question. The situation has moved from boring to interesting, at least if you are a theology geek like me.

Jesus offers a third way – neither in Samaria, nor in Jerusalem, but rather in the Spirit. The “place” to worship God is Spirit.

The woman’s day is no longer boring, if fact she is thrilled. She is amazed, she can’t wait to tell everyone. She goes back to town and does exactly that, and everyone listens, they all come to Jesus, and all of their lives are changed.

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman,” by Bourdon

Jesus has taken a boring and ordinary situation and has made it astonishing. He did this by being attentive about what was right in front of him. He took that which is routine, and breathed the divine into it, changing everything.

There is nothing really wrong with boring. Even that which is most ordinary can become extraordinary, when Jesus is involved.

Meanwhile, the disciples come back from their shopping trip, and don’t know what to do. He’s talking to a strange Samaritan woman. They didn’t know what to say.

Still stuck in their boring day, they ask Jesus if he wants something to eat now that they have some food. Jesus takes their question, and as he did with the Samaritan woman, tries to start an interesting spiritual conversation. “What about the food of the will of God?” he asks. But the conversation goes nowhere. Not everybody can be a Samaritan woman …

“Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well,” by Oost

What started as a boring ordinary day filled with dull tasks and chores becomes something exciting for Jesus, for the woman, and for all the Samaritans. The disciples were probably more confused than bored, (Jesus seemed to have had that effect on them).

So, may we too take the boring and ordinary times in our days and fill them with the glory of God, seeing the extraordinary in the tedious, and the miraculous in the mundane.

May we be willing to talk with those who have been rejected, and willing to challenge conventions when they separate us.

Most importantly, may we know the thrill of being in the company of Jesus, and may we spread the word so that others may also know the wonder and surprise so often hidden within the ordinary and the boring.

“The Samaritan Woman at the Well,” by Carracci

[1] Originally preached at All Saints Anglican Church in Ladner, BC, Lent 3, March 15, 2020.

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