The woman at the well met Jesus and then brought the good news to her community. A woman who had already had five husbands, and was living in sin with a man. She’s not remembered for her lifestyle. She’s honored because she’s an unexpected candidate to have shared Christ with her community.
What is it about the Samaritan woman at the well that make her an unlikely person to be honored in some Christian traditions? First, she’s the wrong gender. What do women know about the things of God?
A year ago, I had lunch with a friend that I’d lost contact with in Nashville. We got to talking about religion. He had an amazing story of faith, even though in eight years, he’d gone from a net worth of $1.2 million to declaring bankruptcy. I was amazed at his confidence that God was leading him in his journey of faith.
And yet, although he agreed that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, he also believes the Bible has set specific roles for men and women in the church. My friend goes to a church where only men can preach the good news of God’s love in Christ and lead Bible study. That’s okay. It’s his choice. It’s a tradition that’s time has long past.
Assigned roles established by tradition don’t change easily. Why? Because without traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. Watching a high school play, Fiddler on the Roof, I was reminded of things that we fondly call our “traditions.” But the play is a story of traditions crumbling around people. One daughter decided love was more important than the tradition of letting parents arrange who you married.
She didn’t want to follow the patterns established by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who all arranged the marriages of their sons. She wanted a husband of her own choosing, founded in love rather than tradition. What would you have done if your parents wanted to secure a business deal by giving you away in marriage? We wouldn’t think of arranging marriages for our children today.
Traditions anchor us and give us a feeling of stability — something concrete in a world that is constantly changing. Traditions make us comfortable. Like caterpillars protected in a safe cocoon, they often have great value. Yet there’s a time to move on.
The Jewish tradition in the first century said Jesus shouldn’t be giving a Samaritan the time of day. Samaritans were polluted by the world. Moses had given a command – don’t associate with people outside the nation of Israel. They worship idols. They’ll pollute your mind and cause you to change the way you think. Some people think Christians just don’t need that kind of temptation either.
The woman at well had been married five times. No one knows the circumstances. She was not married to the man she was living with. Three strikes against her — a woman, polluted by other theologies, and living in sin. Why should any decent person listen to her testimony of faith in Jesus?
If those in her community had closed their ears to her testimony, they would have missed the opportunity to encounter the Living Word himself. Who she was and what she had done was not important. What was important was the message she carried.
There’s a TV commercial that shows, in slow motion, a Mercedes Benz smashing into a concrete wall during a safety test. Someone then asks a Mercedes engineer why his company doesn’t enforce the patent they hold on their car’s energy-absorbing design. The design has been copied by almost every other car maker in the world in spite of the fact that Mercedes has an exclusive patent on that design. The engineer replies, “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.” Some things are just too important not to share. As Christians we believe the good news of Jesus Christ is one of those things that is too important not to share.
Martin Luther said in one of his sermons, Therefore, it depends not on the person, whoever it may be … that preaches the Word or hears it. They may be saints or sinners, believers or unbelievers; if only the Word is preached and taught in its purity, then the ministry is also right, no matter who the minister may be.” In another sermon, Luther said, “If Herod or Pontius Pilate told you the gospel, you would have to believe it.”
The Word in its purity is Jesus the Christ. The Gospel in its purity Jesus the Christ. Sharing God’s love in Christ is more important than any tradition we want to hold onto, because even a sinner, like you or me, sharing how Jesus has made a difference in our lives can bring a whole community into a relationship with the Savior. Jesus is the Word. He is the good news. It doesn’t matter who you are, share him.
 Mark 16:14-20, Martin Luther’s Church Postil, Vol. 3:238-9. Paragraph #69.