Sermon: Watering Holes

Scripture Reading: John 4:4-42
Delivered: Sunday, March 27, 2011 at Christ United Methodist Church (Lafayette, IN)
This sermon was preached as part of a Lenten Series called “Fearless: The Courage to Question.”  To view the Bible Study/Worship Planning Guide, click here.



Watering holes.  In nature they are oases of life, providing what all living creatures need: water.  Animals come from all around to bathe and drink in these communal pools.  But, for the advantageous predator, the watering hole can be a smorgasbord of prey: a pool of destruction.

Watering holes. While they provide what we all need, they can be dangerous, risky places to be seen.


Our Scripture lesson for this morning depicts a dangerous, even risky encounter at a watering hole.

Jesus had left Judea and was headed for Galilee.  The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4).  “The shortest route from Jerusalem to Galilee lay on the high road straight through Samaritan territory”[1]; but, for many Jews there would have been no conversation.  They would have taken the long route because “they regarded any contact with Samaritans as defiling.”[2]  To travel through Samaria meant that they would surely encounter someone.  They’d ultimately get dirty.  But, “as the Savior of all…Jesus had to confront the smoldering suspicion and enmity between Jew and Samaritan by ministering to his enemies.”[3]

It was getting to be midday and Jesus was growing weary.  He stopped at a nearby well to rest while his disciples went into town to find something to eat.  A Samaritan woman, coming to the well at an odd time, approaches.  She’s an outcast in her own culture; perhaps, that’s why she came to the well so late that day.  She didn’t want to hear the gossip—the water cooler conversation—about herself.  She had had five husbands and she was currently living with a sixth man though they were not wed.[4]  Those who spread the gossip didn’t care about how she lost each husband.  The story wasn’t important.  The gossip was simply juicy information that they could sink their teeth into.

She arrived at the well and began to draw water when Jesus asked her to give him a drink.  No well respecting Jewish male, let alone a Jewish teacher and rabbi, would have volunteered to have a public conversation with a woman, let alone drink from the defiled cup of a Samaritan.  What was Jesus thinking?  Didn’t he know what his disciples would think?  Hadn’t he heard the gossip already?  What if all his followers found out?  Didn’t Jesus know the risk?

Sure he did.  He knew what people would say.  He knew what they were thinking.  He knew everything about the situation.  He knew how she had been mocked and gossiped about.  He knew the gossip.  Her need to see the radical, nonjudgmental love and grace of God was more important than all the risks.  In talking with this woman—demonstrating the reckless love of God–Jesus made the watering hole a safe place: an oasis of life. 


We all have watering holes we frequent: it may be the water-cooler or break room at work; it may be the dining room table at home; or, the local restaurant or pub.  Your watering hole may not even be a place where people meet to talk face-to-face.  Watering holes can be found electronically through social networking sites and blogs.  Regardless of the type, I’m quite positive we all have places we go to be refreshed and get caught up on the local news and events.

Just like in the animal kingdom and at the well in Samaria long ago, our watering holes can be dangerous places.  Rather than being oases of life, they become places where lies, half-truths and exaggerated stories of the “other” are made up and shared.  Predators wait expectantly to spread life sucking stories about unsuspecting prey.

The challenge for us this week is to be like Christ toward the Samaritan woman: offer the radical, nonjudgmental love and grace of God to everyone this week; even those people you think you’ve got figured out down at the watering hole.

Make yourself “present” for people. Be ready to engage in conversation wherever you go.  It may be with the unpleasant store clerk who needs a smile and word of encouragement, or with the waiter who provides poor service. How do you extend [the radical, nonjudgmental love and grace of God]? [Love and grace are] easy to give to pleasant people, but that is not the point. Be intentional about your conversations with others. Listen. Make yourself open to others, and let God lead you.[5]


Within this past year, Traveler’s Insurance company ran the following television advertisement 

I invite you to “take the scary out of life.”  Turn the watering hole you frequent into an oasis of life.  Be present with all people, even those you think you’ve got figured out.  Give to everyone the radical love and grace of God that you have received this day and always.

[1] Merrill C. Tenny. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 54.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Scripture is not clear why she had so many husbands. Many, I think, assume infidelity. However, I recently heard a story about the reading of this text in Africa to a group of women. The women assumed that the Samaritan woman had been faithful and that all her husbands had all died of AIDS. We should be careful not to read too much into the story. Scripture is not clear. There are a multitude of reasons why this woman had many relationships.
[5] Rev. N. Neelley Hicks. Fearless: The Courage to Question (United Methodist Communications: Rethink Church), 22.