One of the things I love about the Montessori philosophy is that kids can make do meaningful work. Give kids brooms and cloths to match their size, and instead of playing at housework, they can actually do some.
Children love to help. The good news of Lent this week is that when Jesus came to spend a few decades with humans, one of his main goals was to enlist us to join his team and do meaningful work with him. It’s sometimes called ‘building the kingdom of God’ and it’s about each of us doing our bit to make the world better, little by little.
If anyone could do this job without help, Jesus could, right? And yet God chose to partner with frail, failing, finite humanity to take the slow, teamwork route, rather than just waving a magic wand.
This week’s story shows how anybody can do an important job for Jesus. It is a good one to act out if you have kids of the right age to follow adults doing it, or who can read and act it themselves.
Now, as I unpack below, there are some quite adult themes here, of racial tension, adultery, and social isolation. This story probably isn’t in your children’s Bibles. You might like to abridge it to make it age-appropriate for any kids you are doing Lent with, or you might like to instead read or act out the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.
Here’s the woman at the well, though, for adults and for adapting as appropriate, since it is the Lectionary text this week:
4 1-3 Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.
4-6 To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
31 In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, “Rabbi, eat. Aren’t you going to eat?”
32 He told them, “I have food to eat you know nothing about.”
33 The disciples were puzzled. “Who could have brought him food?”
34-35 Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!
36-38 “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That’s the truth of the saying, ‘This one sows, that one harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others.”
39-42 Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Saviour of the world!”
Like most of the Bible, a bit of background knowledge is essential to get some of the points John (telling the story) and Jesus (in the original conversation) are trying to make. The two key pieces of information we need to understand this story are that a) Jews and Samaritans were on bad terms with each other, and b) the cultural convention was, roughly, that men and women were not supposed to speak to each other in public.
So Jesus breaks some serious social taboos to engage this woman in conversation. Not only is she an enemy, a woman and a stranger, but she’s socially isolated by her de facto relationship. This is who Jesus approaches, asks for help, engages in conversation, challenges, and then reveals himself to. This is supposed to shock and astonish readers – as it shocks Jesus’ disciples.
She then does an early version of ‘spreading the gospel’: telling people that Jesus has changed her life, and that they should come and meet him, too. An outcast, low-status woman takes on a hugely important job for Jesus and does it so effectively that many of the villagers join the team and partner with Jesus too.
So what does Jesus want you to do this week and this year? What important job might Jesus have in mind for the people in your household? That’s the big question of the week.
Quick Guide to Week 3
- Bible reading: Jesus and the woman at the well, John 4 (or alternatively, the Good Samaritan in Luke 10). You might like to act it out together so everyone gets the idea of who was involved and what they were doing.
- Candle lighting and sentences: Once a day, light the first candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus is wise,’ then the second candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus and the prophets make us brave,’ and then the third candle, to remind us that ‘Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better.’
- Spiritual Practice: Drawing on the last fortnight of practising wisdom and bravery, the challenge this week is to pay attention or to listen to your life to try and hear from the Holy Spirit what important jobs Jesus might have for you. Talk at mealtimes about opportunities that come up and ways we can each make a difference and do something for Jesus.
- Prayer: ask Jesus to give us jobs to do, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us what they are and give us everything we need to do them.
Here are a couple of options for different age groups, for those of you would like to repeat a short set prayer:
‘Thank you, Jesus for giving me important jobs to make the world better.’
‘Thank you, Jesus, for letting us join your team to make the world better. Please show us what jobs you’d like us to do and help us to do them.’
- Artworks to look at together: Pick something from this list at Textweek.com – a great reminder that churches all over the world are contemplating this text this week, or head to this Orthodox site with a few pieces to discuss.
- Poem: I don’t have a suggestion this week (I have been too busy fighting #everydaysexism on the blog!) but I like that this heading is here. Any ideas to share?
- Art and craft: Water play!
Also, one important job that littlies are often good at is being kind and friendly to people who need it. Why not talk together about someone you know who might need some cheering up or a nice visit. Make a card or picture or batch of muffins (or anything) together and make someone’s day – for Jesus.
- Hospitality: Next weekend is Neighbours Day in New Zealand and Australia (and elsewhere?) – a great opportunity to do the important job-for-Jesus of making your community relationships stronger and more loving. Check out Anna’s story of doing a Neighbours Day afternoon tea last year.
- Movies: Lots of kids’ movies have children doing significant, important jobs. Ideas? Pop your suggestions in the comments below.
- Games: Have you heard of the ‘Random Act of Kindness’ movement? Search Pinterest for that phrase and you’ll see heaps of ideas for how kids can do kind things that will help other people, often anonymously or at least unexpectedly. Maybe you could scroll through together and pick some to do as a fun household activity.
- Reading for adults: A one-paragraph extract, ‘Life itself is Grace‘ by Frederick Buechner, to remind us that we can hear from God – including our team assignments – in the everyday, if we listen properly.
There are plenty of ways to join the conversation and keep in the loop. You can get emails whenever there’s a new post here by signing up at the top of the right-hand sidebar, and also follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
And I’d love to hear how it’s all going! Please pop a comment below if you are finding Lent to be a useful time for you or your household. Let’s encourage each other.