Date: 2/28/2016 (Video Malfunction)
Summary: Jesus models giving up superiority through a conversation with a Samaritan Woman which gives Jesus’ followers the implications of giving up our own false impressions of ethnic, racial, gender, cultural, and moral superiority.
This morning as we continue in our journey with Giving Up, this morning we have read one of the most iconic passages within the Gospels. This dialogue between Jesus and the woman at the well is a scripture passage that is very well known by many in our Christian faith. And I believe it is so very well known because it speaks so much Truth into the lives and experiences of life of so many. These ideals that we have been speaking about giving up, I have referred to as “ways of life” that many people unjustifiably live out as this is just a part of the normal way of life. We just assume that we should be in control of our own lives and that we should live up to our expectations rather than God’s. And today this passage of Jesus and the Woman at the well brings up another “way of life” that we as Disciples of Christ must simply give up and that is this idea of superiority over others.
I think just about every state in the Continental US has is bred into them that they are better than some other state….traditionally this “other” state is one that is geographically close by. For Virginia, it’s West Virginia, For Minnesota it’s Wisconsin (Sorry Bob), For those from Alabama (having asked someone from that state) apparently they have a few as they like to pick on Mississippians, Lousianians, and occasionally even those from Georgia.
Though sometimes this kind of sense of superiority even arises within a state, for instance having grown up in NoVA, there was among my friends and me this sense of being superior because of a better education than those from the rest of VA. This became very evident when I was a senior in High School and I was looking at papers my friends were writing from where I used to live in South West VA. Let me just pause here for a moment and confess I no longer carry with me those feelings. So long story short, we, as humans, still carry within us this sense of superiority over others. We as a country, a nation, may feel as though we are superior to the Middle East or to countries in Africa. There may be some who still feel as though because I am White I am superior to those of a different race. Or because I am a male, I am superior to those of females.
And it is with these ideals of superiority in mind do I want us to begin to look at what Jesus is doing in John 4 with this woman at the well. Because it is in this story that Jesus begins to dismantle some of the common themes of superiority within his own context and I believes invites us to do the same as his followers.
So let us take each of these in the order by which they come in the story. Jesus and his disciples are on their way from the Passover festival in Jerusalem back to the Galilean countryside. And if you look here at this picture, you can see, the quickest route to the Galilean countryside from Jerusalem is right through Samaria. So what? In order for us to understand fully the context of this dialogue between Jesus and this un-named woman, we must understand the history between these two peoples. The Jews and the Samaritans do not get along. It goes beyond not just getting along, they are enemies of a sorts. And this dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans at this point is a dispute with a very long history. It goes all the way back to about 721 BCE found in 2 Kings 17, when the King of the Assyrians brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Av’va, Hamath, and Seph-ar-va’im and put them in Samaria. At this time in the nation of Israel, the Northern tribes of Israel had just been over run and exiled by the Assyrians the year before and the Southern Kingdoms of Judah were still intact. And so, these outsiders begin to become an issue because with bringing them from a foreign place they brought with them their foreign gods. When they first arrived to Samaria, some of the foreigners were killed by lions which was attributed to the understanding that they were not worshipping the god of this land. And so, the King of Assyria chose one of the Israelite priests to come back and to teach them about the LORD. And this priest did, but still even after they were still making idols each from their own country. This was a pretty big issue considering the very first ordinance of the 10 commandments were to not making any idols before God. To say the least, this didn’t sit very well with the Jews.
Though, at this point in time with Jesus, this was not the largest issue that came in between these two peoples. The largest issues was where the correct place to worship was. You see, the Samaritans worshipped God at Mt. Gerizim and the Jews worshipped God at the Temple in Jerusalem. This dispute between these two peoples began back in 200 BCE. And about 128 BCE it had become such an issue that the Jews destroyed the shrine that the Samaritans had made. But even though this shrine was destroyed, the issue continued.
And so because of these issues, the Jews and the Samaritans are to have no contact with each other and it is very much my people against your people. In verse 20, the woman at the wells asks Jesus, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” In our English translation this is a bit deceptive. It probably should more clearly read, “OUR ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but YOU ALL, say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” It is a plural you. It is an US vs. them kind of context. And so, right at the very beginning we have some ethnic superiority attitudes.
Does Jesus fall trapped to this way of being of ethnic superiority or because I am a Jew I am better than you? No…. Rather Jesus first breaks down this superiority by entering into a conversation with a Samaritan. Jesus further breaks this ethnic superiority by requesting a drink from this Samaritan. And then finally, when asked the hot topic controversial issue between these two people, the right place to worship, Jesus responds with “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus recognizes that it is not reliant upon our ethnicity to worship the one True God. That regardless of your ethnicity, there is coming a day, and that day is today, because I, Jesus, the Messiah has come not solely for the Jews, but for all people of all races.
So let’s continue on. This Samaritan that Jesus speaks with is not only a Samaritan, but also a woman. And women were very much inferior to men in ancient times. Not only were they inferior, but teachers, rabbis, such as Jesus was, was not permitted to speak to a woman in public for fear of going to hell. But let me just for a moment expound on women in this time period. Women did not count for much…quite literally. They were not included in the census numbers, nor even in the gospel accounts were they really counted. In the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, only the men were numbered. In this same time period, Roman women didn’t even bear names. If the same family had two daughters, the second was called Secunda, the third daughter, Tertia, and so on. The Greeks weren’t much different than the Romans either. Women in this time period were intellectually inferior than men and the only interaction between them were to be sexual of nature. And yet, Jesus engages in this conversation with a woman. Not only does Jesus engage in this conversation, but this conversation is the LONGEST recorded evenly distributed conversation Jesus has in all the gospels. And this conversation that they have is an intellectually and theologically in depth conversation. Jesus brought his message of grace and freedom to this woman, knowing that in her humility, she would actually hear the message and respond. Jesus did not as other males in this time would’ve done and ignored her completely. Or if a male did engage in a conversation, it would’ve probably been primarily sexual in nature. But rather Jesus came without this sense of male superiority and spoke with her as though a woman can speak intellectually and theologically.
But let me add one more thing to this context. Jesus risked more than just speaking equally with a female, but also possibly even risked his reputation as he lowered his guard as one morally superior to this woman that he “met at a well”. And this location of where they met is what is in question here. Now, I know, how guilty could that be? Well… a well in their times was kind of the meeting grounds of young men and women. And in the scriptural narrative, wells are well known for places men and women were betrothed. She even mentions their ancestor Jacob who gave them this well. It was at the well Jacob met the wife that he loved Rachel. It was at that first meeting at the well did Jacob kiss Rachel. It was at a well, Jacob’s mother was found and betrothed to his father Isaac. Again it was at a well did Moses find his wife. In the biblical narrative, meeting in the context of a man and woman at a well was often significant of a place you say where lover’s met. And in their conversation, marriage is even brought up. Jesus tells her to go and call her husband. And she replies I have no husband. Now Jesus responds with this, “What you have said is right, for you have had five husbands, and the one you are even seeing now is not your husband.” Some pastor’s may say at this point, clearly this woman is a prostitute or at least a loose woman. I don’t think there is enough evidence to make such a claim, but yet neither is there enough evidence to prove otherwise either. So let me just say this….If she were a prostitute, Jesus did not allow his moral superiority get in the way of sharing God’s love and grace and neither should we. We sometimes feel as though because I am not a thief, or I am not an adulterer I am therefore better than this person. But yet, Jesus does not respond this way to this woman at the well. It doesn’t even seem to phase him in their conversation that she has had 5 marriages and the one that she is seeing now is not married.
And so in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t seem that God really cares about the artificial lines that we draw in order to make ourselves feel superior to others. Jesus broke the superiority lines of ethnicity and race, Jesus broke the cultural norms of his day as he spoke to a woman, and Jesus broke the moral code of superiority and I believe Jesus wishes for us to do so as well. If we can let go of our status symbols, let go of our judgmental attitudes based upon where you come from or the different ways you look, and let go of this idea that your sin is worse than my sin and therefore I am better than you mind-set; then I believe we too like this morally questionable Samaritan woman may hear Jesus’ call more clearly and respond more faithfully to be the disciples Jesus calls us to be.
When we FINALLY come to recognize that underneath our skin, underneath our genders, and underneath our past faults and baggage we carry, we all are the same and that we all are broken and in need of God’s divine grace. And because God has saved a wretch like me, I too am called to be compassionate as God is to others like me. Thanks be to God.
Scripture Lesson: John 4:5-27
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?”
Gospel Lesson: John 4:27-42
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.”