Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The woman at the well

When I was Social Justice Minister at Boston's Paulist Center, a welcoming and lively Catholic community, back in the 1980s, I preached the one homily that folks told me they remembered for years afterward. (They also laughed when they talked about it.) This was way, way before computers, but I did save my homilies or sermons from those years, typed up and filed away, and this past Sunday, after hearing one fine sermon about the Samaritan woman and reading a few other fine ones online, I went into the files and lo, there it was, the old Samaritan woman sermon. I could hardly believe I preached it back in 1984 when I wasn't even 32 years old. Twenty-four years ago! Good heavens! It seems like the day before yesterday.

So it has taken me a few days to type this thing into my computer, but it has been a nice break since I am meditating on parts of the Gospel of John because I am preaching this coming weekend (at last -- I had taken a break because of the pressures of academe, but a couple of weeks ago I decided I couldn't stand it, so back in the pulpit I go).


The Third Sunday in Lent (Year A), 1984.

I came out in a long loose dress and shawl carrying a big jug and spoke these words:

I still come to the well.

I come here to remember.
What it was like that day.
It was high noon – so hot,
even the crickets were tired.
The wheat fields down in the valley were shining
in the sun.
Up here
you could smell the herbs and the hot dust,
and sometimes you heard
just the tiniest rustle of wind
in the olive trees.

Give me a drink,
he said.
I didn’t know whether to get angry
or laugh.
Get your own water, I felt like saying,
I’m tired.
Isn’t that just like a man.
They sit in the shade,
telling stories and watching
as we women go by, carrying
buckets and jugs
up and down
the steep paths.

But of course he was different.
He was
a stranger—a Jew;
I could tell.
And I was so surprised
I wanted to laugh out loud.
Jews don’t talk to Samaritans;
and men don’t talk to women
in public.
It’s just not done.

No, he wasn’t like other men –
and I’ve
known plenty of them.
He wasn’t
like other men,
and he was more of man
because of it.
Not a coward, for sure,
but gentle, as if he could feel
what a woman feels.
Strong though.
I could tell.
He could have picked me up if he tried,
water jug and all.
And then the power
of what he said..
and the way that he said it…

Living water, he said,
I’ll give you
living water.
All I could think of at first was thirst
and heat
and breathing in dust day after day
and my aching feet on the stone path
and my arms heavy from the water jugs,
and how much I would love
to get away from the well.

I didn’t realize he was speaking
of another thirst
and another

We talked
about my men.
You know they called me a bad woman
down there
in the town.
Not just because I had had
several men.
But because
I was bold.
I talked back.
I wonder
if he liked that.
I think he did.

He did make sure I knew
who he was,
And that he knew the truth
about me;
and that
what we were about up here
by the well
was truth –
plain truth.

I was confused about the truth–
their mountain and our mountain,
their worship, our worship.
But he got me thinking
in a whole new way.

Thinking – that’s another thing I do
when I come up here
to the well.
I come here to think
about the things he said.
About living water
and God the Spirit.
That’s what I felt inside me when he spoke
and I had to go and tell everyone…
As if my life and the world
were changing, as if
they could really change.

I think about what keeps me
from the living water,
too –
do you think about that? At first what kept me
is that I didn’t even know
my own thirst.
I think he knew
my thirst for truth
and for hope
and for
a new world.
He helped me to know it
and name it.
Before him, I wasn’t sure
what to call it.

Sometimes what keeps me from the living water
is that water in the jug.
The sheer weariness,
the burdens of every day.
The men who still laugh at me,
and the women who are still suspicious of me
and my children’s demands on me.
I get tired and forgetful
and discouraged.
I get to feeling
What keeps you
from the water?
What keeps you
from his truth?

I’ve got to tell you again,
when I realized the truth,
when I realized who he was,
I left my jug right here
and ran off to the town.
I felt a power I had never felt,
God’s power and mine all mingled together!

I often wonder why he chose me, of all people,
to tell
who he was.

Did he think people would listen to me
because I was different?
He said himself
“salvation is from the Jews,”
and then he went and picked
a Samaritan,
as if anyone in the world
could know the Messiah
and talk about him!
Did he know I was smart and bold
and he could trust me?
Did he know
that we women aren’t afraid
to feel what we feel
and say what we mean
and go and do
what needs to be done?
Why didn’t he send one of his buddies to tell my townsfolk?
Of course a Jewish man from Galilee
wouldn’t have gotten very far
with my people.
I, on the other hand, had nothing to lose
by being outspoken.
They’d already
called me every name they could.

The thing was, when I came
barreling down the hill
they listened,
Oh, did they listen.
They were so fired up that they ran to him and begged him
to stay for a while.

He stayed two nights and two days,
and more and more people believed in his word
and his power,
and in that Spirit God.
Even the children --
especially the children.
My daughter acted as if she’d known all along
who he was
and who God was
and how fine she was.
She’s only
seven, and bolder than I am
Smarter, too.

She comes up here with me most of the time
That’s the third reason
I come to the well.
We still need the water,
and women
still draw it.
Oh, things did change
when he came
and after he came.
It felt
like an old world coming to an end
and a new one being born.
I could feel it. I still can.
he left,
and we stay on in the village.
It feels
like the middle of time.
People look at me in a new way,
but they haven’t forgotten
the names they called me.
They still have a little trouble
with the people on the other side of the hill.
Women still draw the water.
I think it will take us a lifetime
to change our ways
Maybe longer.

But I can still see
When he left, a crowd
walked him to the edge of town.
I walked down the road a piece with him.
We didn’t say anything.
I was all talked out, for once,
so was he.
We grinned at each other.
I never thought of the Messiah as smiling
that way.

when my daughter looks up at me with her dark eyes sparkling
I see him too.
I pray
that she will know more than the water jug
and the laughter behind her back.
I think she will –
and so does she.
She will know a new world
thanks to him.
And so will you.

Copyright (c) Jane C. Redmont
Bloggers may link freely.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,

GOOD one. Reminiscent of your great, great (imo) Mary and Martha homily. (I printed that one out a year or so ago; it's buried in my bedside reading somewhere. This one may end up keeping it company.)

Sir Francis sirfr AT earthlink DOT net

p.s. Re the troubles of which you speak in your last post, in Quakerese this Friend will be holding you in the Light.

Fran said...

Oh Jane! I am floored.

This is amazing. Thank you SO much for sharing this; this piece of scripture has not left my heart for a week, so this was most needed and appreciated by me.

johnieb said...

A wonderful sermon, and not the first of yours I've read; still, as your stage notes indicate, sermons are enacted. I am so looking forward to hearing you preach!

In seven years of weekly sermons, and seven more of less frequent pulpit duty, I preached one sermon I was proud of having been the vehicle for: an Advent sermon at my little Delta church in the early Eighties on St. Joseph Bar Jacob, the Overlooked, husband of the BVM and parent of Jesus.

Diana said...

I was very moved by your sermon and would like to print an excerpt of it for our church bulletin's cover this Sunday. I wonder if I might have your permission to do so?

Jane R said...

Dear Diana,

I would be honored to be quoted. Just do so with attribution to me by name and if you have the space, note where I first gave the sermon. I will e-mail you now.


Melissa Berry said...

I don't know if you check these comments, but my name is Melissa and I work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Montana. I am giving a talk at our large group event Thursday night about the woman at the well and I would love to read this poem at the end of my talk. I saw your note about not quoting without permission. I would love your permission to read it and call people to follow Jesus. I would for sure give you credit. I am doing it this Thursday (9/2/11) Thanks!!

Unknown said...

Dear Melissa,

Poem? It is a sermon - it's just written in short lines for the sake of oral delivery. It was and is a full sermon -- just one that I preached in the form of a first-person remembrance. I would be happy for you to read it, but you need to identify it as a sermon and mention my name. It's a bit long to read as if it were a poem - it will take you at least ten minutes, I think. It's fine with me if it works for you and helps you in your ministry. You can e-mail me if you wish, now or in the future, at Thank you, Melissa.