Sunday, March 31, 2019

A love that knows no bounds. Lent 2019, Week 4, John 4:1-42

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
Chapter 4
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John" 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." 11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." 15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." 32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." 33 So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps. ' 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."
The Gospel of Our Lord
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
We are wall builders.  We love to erect barriers between people.  And those barriers have a way of valuing people on one side, and devaluing people on the other side.
This story is ripe with barriers.
First of all, Jesus encounters a woman.
Women were mere property in Jesus day.  Devalued.  One example of this lower status was that their witness was not permitted in a court of law.
 And secondly, she was a woman of Samaria.  The Samaritans were biracial.  Half breeds.  Their heritage was that of being the descendents of Jews and Canaanites through intermarriage.
They were dispised.
Thirdly, this woman had been divorced.  Not just once but five times.  And now she was living with yet another man.
One of the things I realized was how deep the prejudice against her is, even in our thinking today.
How many of us, when we hear this story, immediately make a moral judgment against her?
There must be immorality, right?  She was likely little better than a whore.
Except, this is the thing.
Divorce was a husband’s right.  Not a woman’s.
Women were considered the property of their husbands, and husbands were free to dispose of their property at will. 
Why is it that we jump to conclusions about her moral character, while at the same time not considering her husbands’ actions, and the possibility that this woman might have been a victim??
One final note regarding the context of this encounter.
It is midday.
The normal time for the women of a city to go to the well to draw water would have been during the cool of the morning, or the evening.  Not during the heat of the day.
It was a social time.  A time to interact with one’s friends.
That this woman came at midday, at a time when no one else would typically be at the well, was itself a sign that the barriers that isolated her and devalued her were very much in place.
"Give me a drink."
With that simple request Jesus shattered the boundaries that isolated this woman.
Give me a drink.
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
Racism exists.  Still.
Not too long ago we still had different drinking fountains for whites and colored.  And some wish we still did.
There are barriers between peoples.
Much attention is being given to the wall that President Trump is seeking to build on the Mexican border. 
One doesn’t have to go to the border to find such barriers between people.  Throughout the Columbia Basin Hispanics and Whites exist side by side, but like the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day, there is a boundary between us.
Prejudice runs rampant.
So does religious prejudice.  Samaritans were not “pure” Jews. 
Oh, they counted Jacob as their ancestor.
This is much like the Muslims today counting Abraham as their ancestor.  That connection does little to overcome the divide that religious prejudice has caused.
Give me a drink.
Jesus is shattering the barrier between them.
One of the most remarkable things about this story is the depth of the conversation that takes place between this woman, and Jesus.
There are some who have suggested that this woman was in fact the first Christian theologian.
Normally religious debate and discourse would have been reserved for the men.  Women, if they were present, would have been expected to remain silent.
But even more than that, there would not have been any sense that they were capable of understanding the issues.
And yet there she was, conversing with Jesus, about their faith and the hope of the Messiah.
And it is to her that Jesus reveals his true identity.
Finally there is the matter of her husbands.
"Go, call your husband, and come back."  Jesus says.
Yeah, well, Jesus, that’s where we’ve got a problem.  “I have no husband.”
"You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
Yet one more remarkable thing about this interaction is that though Jesus knows she has had five husbands and another man to boot, he does not judge her.  He commends her for telling the truth, even though what she says is not exactly the whole story.
What follows is not a conversation about her sinfulness, (and remember, having had five husbands may be more of an indictment of her husbands than her), but rather a conversation about the coming Messiah, and the Savior of the World.

What can we make of all of this??
As I said at the beginning, we are wall builders.  We love to erect barriers between people.  And those barriers have a way of valuing people on one side, and devaluing people on the other side.
This story is ripe with barriers.
And yet Jesus reaches across those barriers to encounter and save the people.
In reaching across those barriers Jesus sees and loves a person. 
He doesn’t see a woman, who is mere property, but a person beloved of God.
He doesn’t see a Samaritan, despised by the Jews, but a person, with needs and desires like everyone else.
He doesn’t see an immoral divorcee, but rather a person whom he came to save.
In short, Jesus so loves us that he doesn’t see any of the barriers that we erect, but rather the child of God that the Father loves.
All this is so very important for us, because we are the Samaritan woman.
By that I mean that were it not for the barriers being knocked down, we would never have come to believe in Jesus as the Savior of the World.
We are not Jewish, afterall.
We are the descendents of the Gentiles, of pagans, of barbarians.  That is unless you are of Jewish heritage.
But Jesus doesn’t see that.
Jesus sees each of us as a beloved child of God, of great value, so much so that he would give his life for us.
We are the Samaritan woman, the ones to whom Jesus offers the living water that gushes up to eternal life.

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