Scripture: John 4:5-42
There probably is not a better scripture to contemplate and meditate on today than this passage. Several things have been happening this week that have caused us stress. Most of it has to do with how we respond to people with alternative views or understandings than us. If we were to look at the rest of this year the stress even compounds and looking forward into the future our finite minds see only continued division in our nation and our world. This week I have had my eyes opened in ways I never thought I had been blinded, I had to examine my own thoughts and actions and try them against my understanding of the Gospel to see where I am lining up, and frankly I realized that I have often treated others out of ideological, nationalistic, or stereotypical ways instead of honoring and encouraging the humanity of those around me.
This realization, or opening as the more ancient Quakers would have called it, rattled me deeply. I thought I was living my life as God would like me to live, but all to often my responses to current events have become jaded. How should a follower of Christ, a Friend of Jesus, respond to the death of an infamous protester? How should a Friend respond to acts of violence and brutality in nations and communities? How should a disciple of Jesus respond to speeches given by political leaders that reveal the weaknesses and abuses of the nation I love?
Have we ever really asked those types of questions in full honesty? I do not mean just asking the questions, but really taking the time to slow down to meditate and converse with the Spirit of God about it. This is a difficult discipline to consider. The answers opened up to us may require a response that we are not prepared to give, it may require something of us that we are not ready to release from our control. It may mean that we need to repent, turn from our current path and begin walking into a valley cast in the shadows of unknowing.
Jesus, in today’s passage, is found tired sitting by a well in need of a drink. It is such a comfort to know that Jesus gets tired. Often times in scripture we see Jesus just moving from one place to another and it is easy to forget that Jesus was fully human as we are. He was on a journey from Judea to Galilee. It was a long journey, covering steep terrain, on foot, and Jesus was tired. It was noon so the sun was high in the sky and the temperatures were on the rise. Jesus sits to relax and a woman walks up carrying a water jug, so he asks if she would give him a drink.
Jesus is not in Judea or Galilee but Samaria. There is a reason for the distinction, because this area is settled by a group of people unlike Jesus. Jesus is a Jew; the people of Samaria were of a different culture. The people of these two cultures have a shared history but were often found on opposite sides of the issues. Samaria was the name of the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the Jews were the remnant or the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judea, so within that one portion of history there is tension. There was tension that dates back to the very origins of the northern kingdom, which really date back to the building of the temple under King Solomon. The temple was located in the capital of Judea so when the kingdoms split the leaders of the northern kingdom were afraid that the people would be turned away from them because the place of sacrifice and worship was centered in the heart of the nation they fled, so they build alternate places of worship. Prior to this time they were one people, one nation, one faith. They became a divided people, divided nations, but the faith was still in one God lead by priests of the one religion.
If we were to read on through the history of the kingdoms we would find that the two nations both eventually turned from this one religion and were found in exile consumed by another empire. Again two paths were taken, the southern kingdom held true to the faith of their ancestors as much as they could, where the northern kingdom was integrated into culture of the conquers. The people of Samaria were seen as a people that compromised their faith, incorporating and blending aspects of other religions into their own. It was impure in the eyes of the descendants of Judah, so when the Jews returned from exile they would have nothing to do with the remnant of the northern tribes. Why we might ask, they shared a history and faith, although there are claims that people of Samaria compromised their faith as they were occupied, it has been found that the religion still practiced even to this day, was not far from the practices of those of Judea.
Nationalism, pride, and ideology were the root of the discrimination and persecution. It is the very same issues that cause so much tension even in our world today. For me to be right then everyone that has an alternative view must be wrong. The Jews had the temple, the temple conceived in the mind of David, built by Solomon, and allowed by God. In their minds since they were the remnant of this line they were right. This divide is not all to different from the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, one was established by St. Peter, the one that holds the keys to the kingdom, so they must be the right Church, and all others against that idea are wrong. Of course we do not have that problem because we are Protestants, we believe in scripture not the ancient traditions of man. But that very name, Protestant, is derived from the same root as the word protester, so by latching onto the name protestant we are engaging in the very same division as the Jews and Samaritans.
This woman lived in a culture filled with discrimination and persecution. The Jews rejected her because she was born to a family descended from the wrong heritage. They rejected her, treated her as a subhuman because of something she had absolutely no control over. Discrimination in any form is wrong because it dehumanizes people. Those of the discriminated group are seen as subhuman, not worthy of the same rights as those of the elite class of people. Discrimination leads to even inhumane behavior seen throughout history, the holocaust, the gulags, apartheid, or Jim Crow laws. Each instance the discrimination stems from a form of pride.
This Samaritan woman was of the wrong tribe, but she also participated in a lifestyle contrary to the cultural norms. She traveled to the well at noon; this was not the normal routine of the ancient cultures of that era. Women would generally gather water early in the morning, and use that water for the various tasks of the day. They would walk together to the common well, talking with each other; the drawing of water was a social time. But this woman came at noon, avoiding the crowds. Jesus asks her for a drink and she highlights the discrimination between their people. Jesus does not get involved in that debate, but begins to speak about the gifts available to her from God, offering her living water. There was a reason this woman was walking to the well at noon, she was not accepted by the people of the town, she was an outcast, and Jesus spoke to her condition. He spoke of living water because she desired relief from the constant shame and disgrace she received from those of her community. She wanted to withdraw completely, and if she could have an opportunity to avoid the constant judgment of the community she wanted it. “Sir, give me this water…” she proclaims.
How often do we shun, and judge those in our communities? This woman had a line of failed marriages, we do not know how or why they failed only that she had five prior husbands. Even today this is a lifestyle most of us would deem unacceptable. After failures she decided to give up on marriage and was involved in a relationship outside of marriage. This is why she was considered an outcast. Jesus knew her, and he showed her that the living water she sought was not found where she was looking. It was not in the physical but what she needed was a refreshed soul.
Jesus knew her, before he spoke of her social condition, he accepted her. He accepted her humanity by not engaging in the discrimination, but instead honoring her humanity. He himself was tired and thirsty, just like her. He needed refreshment as much as she did. At that moment she knew that what Jesus offered her was something desirable and that He was more than a mere thirsty man. She then engaged him in conversation as to how they should worship. Already she was drawn to Jesus, now she wanted to know where she needed to go to develop the spring beginning to well up in her soul. The Jews say Jerusalem, her people say the mountain, like so many before her she is asking, “what must I do?”
“[T]he hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” Though many believe they know exactly what this passage says, I feel that often we fail to understand it completely. I stand here before you as a minister, a teacher and pastor, and admitted openly that this week I found myself missing trapped in some form of discrimination rooted in some form of ideology. I have studied theology, I know the differences and have my own opinions of which version of theology I believe is correct. I could stand and debate those issues, but what good will that do? My mind has grasped onto theological ideas that seem correct in my own mind, what matters is if that theological stance is both correct in spirit and in truth. Many believe they have the truth, but fail to grasp the spirit behind the truth, and in all the fervent dedication to truth have been left behind. Others may have the correct spirit or application of something; yet fail to find the truth. Both sides fail because in their seeking of God they often ask incorrect questions. They will look at the law and see things and act accordingly but fail to ask why would God command such a thing. Why would God command that a rape victim be married to the predator? Why is it that Paul says prostitutes will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven, yet say nothing about those that exploit the conditions leading to the business?
What is the spirit? The spirit in this case is that God loves all people. All people: Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile. The spirit is that no one can be separated from that love of God. The spirit is that God loves the world and wishes that not one person should perish so he provided a way to redeem and restore people into the right relationship with him. The spirit is that all people has salvation offered to them, their sins are forgive even if they choose to reject that forgiveness. The spirit is that God wants everyone to live in relationship with Him. The spirit is that God wishes to prevent exploitation of all forms and restore dignity to all humanity.
The truth is that not everyone will accept that gift. The truth is that many will leave the gift unopened and un-experienced before them. The truth is that many will live so tied up in preferences and ideologies that they will place them before God and even though they think they are following Him, they are instead bowing before Idols made by human hands. The Truth is that there is only one way to experience the living water; the Sabbath rest offered by God and that is in Jesus.
As we enter into this time of open worship, this time of holy expectancy and communion with God. I want us to consider this story more fully. Have we been living a life of discrimination? Have we been living a life rejecting others? Or have we been accepting and encouraging those around us? And then let us each go just a bit deeper and ask God if our answers are based in true worship in His Spirit and in His truth or have we been living a hypocritical faith?