We Must Needs Cross the Tracks (John 4)

I presume that the childhood game of the passing of cooties from one person to another was not a phenomenon known only in New Jersey where I grew up. Beyond the simple presumption between boys and girls that the opposite gender embodied cootiedom, a more perverse version went something like this: There were always a few kids who for whatever reason were deemed social outcasts and therefore infected with the ultimate disgrace of possessing “cooties” – a sort of mythical disease of dreadful humiliation that could not only be easily caught, but just as easily transmitted by touching someone else and saying, “Now you have Gertrude’s cooties!”

We have all encountered people who possess some social stigma that makes them outcasts. And in today’s passage about the Samaritan woman at the well, we meet the ultimate case of a person with multiple layers of first century Palestinian “cooties.”

Around these parts of Maryland, it is sometimes true that we pick on the state of West Virginia and its inhabitants. Most of this is in the category of good-natured humor. But imagine if it were so nasty that some people from Hagerstown and Maryland despised West Virginians so much that they would not ever talk with them nor even go through the eastern panhandle. Imagine someone like this who needed to drive home to Hagerstown from Winchester, Virginia. Of course, that is a simple straight shot north on 81 through Martinsburg. But imagine the hatred being such that they went east from Winchester to Leesburg, then north on Route 15 across the Potomac to Frederick, and finally west on 70 to get home – all to avoid even touching the soil of West Virginia!

Wow, that’s strong feeling – and that is exactly how it was for many Jews. The three regions (south to north) of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee were comparatively like the areas of Winchester, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown. Jews travelling between Jerusalem and Galilee would often take a circuitous travel route around the east of the Jordan River to be sure to completely avoid Samaria and its dirty inhabitants.

Though Samaritans and Jews had a common ancestry from the time of Solomon and before, Samaritans were a mixed breed descended from interbreeding with Gentile peoples who had taken the ten northern tribes into captivity in the 700 BC era. The Jews retained the pure blood from those who had returned from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. This is a macro version of the ultimate family feud! And then add to this a theological dissonance, as the Samaritans had an unusual mix of beliefs.

As we turn to John 4, we see that the early ministry of Jesus was occasioned with much success. People were identifying with it to the extent that even more were being baptized by the disciples than by John the Baptist. This came to the hearing of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, and not wanting the ministry to heat up to a confrontation at this early stage, Jesus decides to withdraw north to Galilee.

John 4:1 – Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria.  (The King James Version said He “must needs” pass through Samaria.)

It says there in verse 4 that he had to go through Samaria. One might read this as saying he was taking the Palestinian version of the quick Interstate 81 route north to Galilee. Rather, it is more appropriate to see this necessity as a lesson in reaching out beyond the immediate ethnic/religious context to demonstrate that he was indeed to be the savior of the world. In the verbiage of our current series, I might call this a demonstration of “Looking Across the Tracks!”

John 4:5 – So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

As the disciples at midday go into the town of Sychar to buy food, Jesus sits by the famous well of Jacob where he encounters a Samaritan woman of whom he requests a drink. The very asking of a question breaks several cultural barriers – the issue of the Jewish/Samaritan divide, her gender as a woman, and her sketchy character as a woman of ill repute.

John 4:9 – The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Her conversation acknowledges the reality of these divisions. Jesus draws her mind away from the chore of drawing and drinking physical water to that of the spiritual water that quenches the thirst of the soul unto eternal life…

John 4:10 – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Though both traditions anticipated a messianic figure to come, there were differing ideas about where worship was to be located. Jesus says that though the Jews were correct in possessing the line through which salvation would come, the issue of place would be rendered inconsequential – that true worship would be in the Spirit. And Jesus plainly identifies himself to this woman as the Christ.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

The disciples are surprised by the whole scene upon their return from the town, while the woman (with incredible excitement that she has apparently spoken to the Messiah) forgets her water jar and rushes into town.

You can almost hear the disciples clear their throat as they start talking about food as if nothing had happened. “We picked up some Chik-Fil-A … some Arby’s two-for-one deals … and some classic big macs…”

Nobody wants to broach the awkward subject of who-was-that-chick-you-were-just-talking-to?

With the woman, Jesus spoke of water. With the disciples, Jesus spoke of food. Both were symbols of something greater, and in both cases the audience didn’t get Jesus’ deeper meaning without further explanation.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

So as the crowds are coming out from Sychar to see what the woman has excitedly been talking about, the disciples are merely concerned with Jesus’ physical well-being. He is clearly refreshed; though they are quite sure he has had nothing to eat from any other source. Jesus tells them that he has “food” about which they do not understand – the nourishment and joy of accomplishing the Father’s will and being about his mission on earth.

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Jesus recites for them what were likely some proverbial agricultural sayings at the time – sort of like how we might say of the weather, “Red at night, sailors’ delight; red in the morning, sailors’ warning” – ‘It’s still four months until harvest’.   Jesus tells them to look up and see the significant harvest now available – possibly even gesturing and drawing their attention to the crowds of people moving toward them from the town. (He’s telling them to look beyond themselves – to look “across the tracks.”)

Planting a garden is great; growing seeds and seeing them emerge is fun; but the best part of it all is actually getting to the harvest and picking those red-ripe tomatoes or large green peppers!  I’d like gardening a whole lot more if I didn’t have to do any of the planting, weeding, or watering. And the disciples were in that category – the prophets and Christ himself had done the hard work. The season of the great harvest had now come with the advent and work of Jesus, the Christ.

And that harvest was even at that moment going to be witnessed by the disciples, as …

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

For two days, Jesus and the disciples stay with these outcast people, and the harvest is great among them as many believe – both based upon the testimony of the woman AND the teaching of the one whom they termed the Savior of the world.

Let’s summarize this …

  1. There is a natural way of seeing people who are different than ourselves – by race, culture, lifestyle, socio-economics – and that leads to us staring across the tracks at them if we even notice them at all.
  2. The view of those across the tracks through the eyes of Jesus will cause you to “must needs” go across the tracks and “go through Samaria.”
  3. The message of the gospel is a winning message – the ultimate common denominator – that can break down the divides and make the tracks irrelevant … because …

The fact of the matter is that we all possess the same “sin cooties” as born sinners with a single human family inheritance of separation from God. But a greater truth is that Jesus was not put off by this … that he reached out to people like the woman at the well and to all others, right on down to each of us today – taking all our sin upon himself and paying the price of redemption through his blood.

Advertisements

Love in the iWorld (Part 2)(John 4)

When John Milton penned his poetic retelling of the creation story, he imagined that the temptation happened to Eve while Adam was off picking a wreath of flowers to give her.  When she returned to him—forbidden fruit in hand—he was devastated.  The flowers fell to the earth, and in anguish he questioned how it could have happened, that beauty would turn to tragedy, and “now to death devote?”[1]

TRADING ROOTEDNESS FOR HOMELESSNESS

Milton missed an important detail of the story—that Adam stood idly by while his bride entered into temptation, and then follow close behind.  But Milton understood something important: that this act of rebellion would bring a devotion to death.  And not just physical death, but the death of innocence and the purity of relationship.  In the words of singer Derek Webb, the couple “traded naked and unashamed for a better place to hide, for a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies.”[2]  The frantic coverings stitched together by our forebears may have clothed their bodies, but did little to clothe their souls.  With sickening swiftness, Eden sank to grief.  Shame entered like an unruly child.  When God appears in a rush of wind, the couple can only hide from his presence (Genesis 3:8).  And now we hear Adam speak for the second time in Scripture’s history.  The first time had been a song of love—“flesh of my flesh…bone of my bones.”  Now we hear words of blame.  “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” Adam tells his Maker, “and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself…The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:10, 12).  The ultimate effect of the iWorld is estrangement.  Distance.  It is in the iWorld that man most fully devotes himself to the death of true intimacy, all because of a fading promise to “become like God.”

Few things in our own life offer this promise like the smart phone—or, by extension, all technology.  But like our ancestors in Eden, this promise of near-limitless power has only deepened the distance between us.  All too quickly we have sacrificed our intimacy on the altar of connectivity.

“Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. …Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information….According to a major study…roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly of an epidemic of loneliness.” [3]

Earlier, we borrowed from Simon May who said that “love” had to do with a sense of being “rooted.”  But in the iWorld, there can be no such rootedness, no such grounding.  In the 1970’s, a group of social scientists said that the modern world’s emphasis on the individual has produced “a permanent identity crisis.”  “Modern man,” they say, “has suffered from a deepening condition of ‘homelessness.’”  For all our social progress, man’s experience “might be called a metaphysical loss of ‘home.’” [4]  In the iWorld, a world where the individual reigns supreme, we’ve traded “rootedness” for “homelessness,” an exchange that has dire consequences for modern living (and loving).

MIGHT AS WELL FACE IT (YOU’RE ADDICTED TO LOVE)

It’s cruelly ironic, in a way—that our haggard declarations of independence only deepen our obsession with love and romance.  It was the German writer Arthur Schopenhauer who once compared the human race to a group of porcupines in the cold.  We huddle together for warmth, only to be driven away again by each other’s quills.[5]  Similarly, we pursue things like love and romance with reckless abandon—only to pull back again once we realize the pain it causes and the sacrifices that love demands.

This is why sex becomes such a pale substitute for genuine love.  In John’s biography of Jesus, we meet a ragged woman who drags herself to a well in the middle of the noonday sun—no doubt to avoid the whispers of the other women of the village.  In a conversation with Jesus, we discover that she has “had five husbands,” not including the man she currently shares a bed with (John 4:18).  Jesus doesn’t say this to shame her, he says this as part of a larger conversation where he offers her “living water.”  He tells 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…. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:10, 13-14)

It’s as if Jesus is telling her: I want more for you.  More than another lover’s bed, more than another relationship, more than another fling.  In fact, it’s as if Jesus is saying that no lover can satisfy a heart unless God resides there first.

It’s an addiction, really—this whole notion of “being in love with being in love.”  It’s an idea that’s persisted since the so-called “romantic period” of the nineteenth century.  If we return to Simon May’s helpful analysis, he points out that in the recent past, we have lost a collective belief in God, and tried to replace him with human relationships:

“Human love, now even more than then, is widely tasked with achieving what once only divine love was thought capable of: to be our ultimate source of meaning and happiness, and of power over suffering and disappointment….To its immense cost, human love has usurped a role that only God’s love used to play.”[6]

Unfortunately, he says, man can never hope to “reach beyond the limits of human love.”  Interestingly, May’s insight aligns with that of C.S. Lewis, who treats romantic love with identical caution:

“Of all loves [Eros—or “romantic love”] is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tends to turn “being in love” into a sort of religion. Theologians have often feared in this love, a danger of idolatry. I think they meant by this that the lovers might idolize one another… The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself.”[7]

When a writer from Yale and a classical Christian writer agree, we might do well to sit up and take notice.  Human love cannot solve our soul-level craving for connection and acceptance.  Only God’s love can do that, and we’ll find such love not in the iWorld, but in the rWorld, the world of relationship.

 

 

 

 

[1] John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX.901.

[2] Derek Webb, “I Want a Broken Heart,” from I See Things Upside Down.

[3] Stephen Marche, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The Atlantic, May 2012.

[4] P. 82

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer, Appendicies and Omissions, 2.XXXI.396.

[6] May, Love, p. 1-2.

[7] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 110-111.

More than an event; a way of life (John 4)

As we finish this “Momentum” series on sharing faith with others, we have sought throughout to debunk certain myths about evangelism and to encourage everyone that this is something you can do successfully.

The final myth is the notion that there is no time in a busy life to be involved in outreach – perhaps thinking as well that you don’t truly know that many non-Christians, and certainly not well enough to be speaking about spiritual things and matters of faith. A number of the other “myths” we’ve talked about in the series surely may tie into this as well.

A major point yesterday in the message was to say that sharing the Gospel message with others toward the end of seeing them embrace a personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ is not so much a planned event as it is a total way of life. There is nothing wrong with seeing outreach as a planned moment in time of sharing God’s truth with someone, but rather it is better to be always prepared to seize an opportunity that becomes available.

Why might you want to learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation? Well, you might do that because you have an interest in volunteering or serving in the field of rescue services. Or rather, you might learn it so that you can be ready whenever the need arises.

And so it is with outreach. People have a heart problem and are dying spiritually. You might learn Gospel presentation skills to be ready for a specific evangelistic outreach event, but better yet, why not learn them so that you can be ready whenever the need arises by divine appointment.

And if you are interested in divine appointments, God will bring people to you. It may be through a special thing you do – as in the way God sent Philip in Acts chapter 8 to bring the Gospel to the Ethiopian official along the road in Gaza. Or it may be that you will have people actually come to you with questions and simply cross your path, as Paul spoke of his prison experience in Colossians chapter 4. If you are simply known as a person of faith with an interest in understanding God’s Word, people will sooner or later strike up conversations with you about spiritual things, especially in a world as haywire as our globe is right now.

And so the “Momentum” of which we have been speaking in this series is to challenge you to go beyond just believing … to growing ever deeper in your faith and biblical understanding … to leading others in the faith … and finally to being intentionally prepared to take the Gospel message beyond the church walls – be it in a planned setting, or more often and more naturally in the everyday flow of life.

We are so much looking forward to hearing your stories and seeing how God is going to use you / us. We will be sharing them on Sundays. We look forward to doing some specific new community things together. And we look forward to rejoicing in the stories of others who eventually tell us how they came to know Christ through these efforts.


 

Our next communication with you in this devotional page will be in four more days, on Friday. I’ll be writing to you then about an introduction to the book of Hebrews. This will be our next study (called “Endure”) that will encompass also Good Friday and Easter over a total period of 10 weeks. During that time and through a total of 46 devotional writings, you will be able to read through the fantastic book of Hebrews, along with a few other passages that help make this wonderfully theological, yet practical, writing come alive.

It’s not a gift, it’s a command (John 4)

Some years ago when Tom Savage was the student ministries pastor here, he told me about the first pastor that he had worked with in what was, I think, a Southern Baptist Church near where he grew up in the DC / metropolitan MD suburbs. He marveled at this man’s gift for evangelism. Tom said that visiting in a home with this fellow, it seemed like he went from chatty small talk into leading them to Christ in about 90 seconds of time.

Back in high school I had a “gal pal” with whom I had worked at the same Christian camp in south Jersey. We later ended up working in Cape May at the same Bible Conference and were often together around town in the evening. She had a passion for lost people, a capacity to know no strangers, and the Biblical knowledge to converse with anyone – even at age 17. We would meet total strangers on the boardwalk, talk about the Gospel, and some would respond in faith. It was an amazing time of life.

These are people with great gifts. Most of us don’t just naturally do this; we find ourselves worrying too much about not looking pushy or overbearing on issues deemed personal and private. It is best to just let the folks with this sort of gift do most of the evangelizing, right? After all, that’s their job; it is what God gave them to do.

While we recognize that some people have a special ability that has been given them, and though that skill looks about as easy for them as eating ice cream is to the rest of us, the fact is that we all have a responsibility to be people who share the Gospel message of Good News with other people.

When Jesus ascended back to heaven, he didn’t say, “And those of you who have the special gift of evangelism will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and unto the ends of the earth, while the rest of you simply tithe your money to support these people who are actually doing the ministry.”

We need to think of outreach and evangelism as a COMMAND, more than we think of it as a GIFT.

Let me say three things in preparation for this week’s theme – “Myth 4: Sharing the gospel is best left to pastors and missionaries”

We need to be aware … In John chapter 4 we encounter the story of how Jesus had struck up a conversation with the most unlikely of people – a sinful Samaritan woman. He was energized by it, confusing the disciples who did not understand where he had gotten anything to eat.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

We need to be aware that of the two groups of people in the world – those who are of God’s family, and those who are yet to receive the message and respond in faith – the latter is like a vast field at the point of readiness for harvest. And God wants us to be reapers for his glory. But we don’t tend to see it this way, as we tend to believe there is no such work around us … that everyone is totally happy in their sin and contented with their lives as they know it. Not true.

We need to care …

The Bible teaches clearly of a literal hell and lake of fire that is the eternal abode of those who do not know Christ. Hellfire preaching is out of vogue in 2015, but the truth remains unchanged.

Earlier in that same chapter four of John’s Gospel, Jesus said …

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

And the same writer – John – penned near the end of the Bible in Revelation 20 …

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

As we will talk about on Sunday, think of all the things you would do to prevent someone from suffering a pending accident of some sort – even people you don’t know at all. So why would you not be willing to go to extreme efforts to communicate God’s truth with people whom you do know and love who are in danger of eternal separation from God?

We need to share …

How many people who love you genuinely and care for you deeply and earnestly do you hate because they have been too overbearing in your life?  I’ll bet you can’t name any. It is difficult to despise someone who obviously loves you and has made that clear in their concerns for you, even if you don’t agree with what they have said to you when expressing that concern. You may think their viewpoints are a little bit nuts, but you just can’t dislike someone who so genuinely loves you.

It is easy to hold the truth to ourselves and never really get around to sharing it. We need an intentional plan and a thoughy-out ability to be ready on those occasions where, God willing, the quality of our lives and hope in Christ in a crazy world will even lead to discussions upon the questioning of others.

In 1 Peter 3 it says …

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect …

Always be prepared … so are you prepared?

Our study this week, along with the accompanying class at 11:00, makes a shift and turn into a truly practical category of knowing and planning what to say and how to say it. So don’t miss it.

Cooties in Samaria – John 4:1-26

I presume that the childhood game of the passing of cooties from one person to another was not a phenomenon known only to New Jersey where I grew up. Beyond the simple presumption between boys and girls that the opposite gender embodied cootiedom, a more perverse version went something like this: There were always a few kids who for whatever reason were deemed social outcasts and therefore infected with the ultimate disgrace of possessing “cooties” – a sort of mythical disease of dreadful humiliation that could be easily caught, but just as easily transmitted by touching someone else and saying, “Now you have Isabella’s cooties!”

I know you are going to be shocked to hear me say that the word does not have a Greek or Hebrew origin. Sorry. I actually did look up its etymology (language roots), and it is rather complicated. But what is not unclear is the experience we have all encountered of people who possess a social stigma that makes them outcasts. And in today’s reading about the Samaritan woman at the well, we meet the ultimate case of a person with multiple layers of first century Palestinian “cooties.”

Around these parts of Maryland, it is sometimes true that we pick on the state of West Virginia and its inhabitants. Most of this is in the category of good-natured humor. But imagine if it were so nasty that some people from Hagerstown and Maryland despised West Virginians so much that they would not ever talk with them nor even go through the eastern panhandle. Imagine someone like this who needed to drive home to Hagerstown from Winchester, Virginia. Of course, that is a simple straight shot north on 81 through Martinsburg. But imagine the hatred being such that they went east from Winchester to Leesburg, then north on Route 15 across the Potomac to Frederick, and finally west on 70 to get home – all to avoid even touching the soil of West Virginia!

Wow, that’s strong feeling – and that is exactly how it was for many Jews. The three regions (south to north) of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee were comparatively like the areas of Winchester, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown. Jews travelling between Jerusalem and Galilee would most often take a circuitous travel route around the east of the Jordan River to be sure to completely avoid Samaria and its dirty inhabitants.

Though Samaritans and Jews had a common ancestry from the time of Solomon and before, Samaritans were a mixed breed descended from interbreeding with Gentile peoples who had taken the ten northern tribes into captivity in the 700 BC era. The Jews retained the pure blood from those who had returned from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. This is a macro version of the ultimate family feud! And then add to this a theological dissonance, as the Samaritans had an unusual mix of beliefs.

As we begin today’s reading in John 4, we see that the early ministry of Jesus was occasioned with much success. People were identifying with it to the extent that even more were being baptized by the disciples than by John the Baptist. This came to the hearing of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, and not wanting the ministry to heat up to a confrontation at this early stage, Jesus decides to withdraw north to Galilee.

It says in verse 4 that he had to go through Samaria. One might read this as saying he was taking the Palestinian version of the quick Interstate 81 route north to Galilee. Rather, it is more appropriate to see this necessity as a lesson in reaching out beyond the immediate ethnic/religious context to demonstrate that he was indeed to be the savior of the world.

As the disciples at midday go into the town of Sychar to buy food, Jesus sits by the famous well of Jacob where he encounters a Samaritan woman of whom he requests a drink.  The very asking of a question breaks several cultural barriers – the issue of the Jewish/Samaritan divide, her gender as a woman, and her sketchy character as a woman of ill repute. Her conversation acknowledges the reality of these divisions. Jesus draws her mind away from the chore of drawing and drinking physical water to that of the spiritual water that quenches the thirst of the soul unto eternal life.

Though both traditions anticipated a messianic figure to come, there were differing ideas about where worship was to be located. Jesus says that though the Jews were correct in possessing the line through which salvation would come, the issue of place would be rendered inconsequential – that true worship would be in the Spirit. And Jesus plainly identifies himself to this woman as the Christ.

A lot of people feel that they possess spiritual “cooties” – a sense of separation from God and truth because of sin that could never be forgiven. Others fail to see the gravity of their lost condition due to the curse of sin, believing that they are honestly not that bad and certainly not in a position of needing a spiritual/religious answer. The appropriate balance and fact of the matter is that we all possess “cooties” as born sinners with an inheritance of separation from God. But a greater truth is that Jesus was not put off by this … that he reached out to people like the woman at the well and to all others, right on down to each of us today – taking all our sin upon himself and paying the price of redemption through his blood.

Jesus is the true well – the true source of water for life… for us to drink, for us to share.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

4:1  Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”