Beyond Borders: Jesus and the Samaritan woman
The Word became flesh and lived among us
Psalm 42:1-3, 11; John 4:1-42
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As the pandemic stretches on, week after week, month upon month and now year on year. I find that I am dry. When I need to come up with a new way of doing something or approach the consent conversation again of “are you comfortable doing this and what kind of mask are you wearing?” I am tired, weary, dry. So I come to these stories of Jesus in the gospel of John thirsting for meaning, something to sustain me. Something to give me nourishment right where I am and invite me on, into a deeper sense of being. And Jesus does meet us here.
There is a lot going on in this text. And there is a lot going on in the world and in our lives. So we peel back some of the layers to look at how Jesus acts and interacts, who this woman is and how she talks with Jesus. We bring our dry jars and buckets and ask what is the living water for this week?
(Map) Jesus sets out with his disciples from Judea traveling back once more to Galilee. When we look at a map it makes sense, Samaria is in between, the direct route would be for Jesus to go through Samaria. But for a Jew in Jesus’ day they would have gone around. To go through Samaria was unexpected and dangerous.
Jesus crossed an unexpected border. (border wall pic) In conversations this week, and with the picture on the front of the bulletin, I am reminded that with your support, 3 years ago I took a trip to one of our borders. I can hardly see that wall without crying. As I crossed the border from the US into Mexico and back again each day, I felt the tension of border guards' eyes, their hands on their guns and the unwelcoming message of razor wire fences as I walked past.
Yet with my trusty American passport in hand my discomfort was nothing compared to the fear and loss of control that my new friends felt as they were loaded into vans or turned away at locked gates and checkpoints.
Jesus is acting on the words that he spoke just verse before in John 3:16-17, that are memories by people the world around. As if Jesus is saying: See this is how I love the world. I go even to the difficult places and meet with the greatest outsider and outcast there. Crossing differences of gender, race, life experience and social placement to meet someone in their chores of daily life.
Jesus calls out to the woman asking for water. The narrator helpfully reminds us that this should make us shift in our seats at its awkwardness. They are alone, a man talking to a woman, a Jew and a Samaritan, they are not each other's equals. Yet back and forth the woman and Jesus engage in witty banter and theological wrestling. Until the woman asks for this living water. I think I would want that water too.
Jesus shifts the conversation. “Go, call your husband and come back” and the woman replies “I have no husband”. Then Jesus tells her about her own life. And while some commentators seem obsessed with this woman’s sexual history, that doesn’t seem to be what matters to Jesus. Think of his tone being one of knowing and compassion instead of judgment. “You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” However she ended up here, either through divorce or death. Imagine the amount of pain she has gone through, the trauma and sorrow she is carrying.Five relationships over and all the weight of living on through that. Losing one spouse or relationship can be devastating and she has lived through that 5 times. She doesn’t turn away or try to hide this from Jesus. And Jesus stays in conversation with her. He sees her, knows her story and does not turn his back. I hear it again “see, this is how I love the world”.
This bold woman who keeps coming back with her questions and wrestling to understand who Jesus is and what he is saying. Unlike Nicodemus in last weeks passage she doesn’t let it drop. This exchange keeps going on as she is gutsy to keep digging deeper. “The unnamed woman at the well is the first one to whom Jesus reveals his true identity — I AM, the first absolute I AM in the Gospel of John — not to the Jewish leaders or to the disciples, but to her, a religious, social, political outsider. This is whom God is for because God loves the world.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/holy-conversations
“Jesus also builds community by crossing racial boundaries and breaking the distinction between “chosen people” and “rejected people.” He extends the mission of the Jewish Messiah to the Samaritan people, who were hated by the Jews for their history of racial mixture and religious syncretism.
Thus, Jesus left us with a crucial lesson to be learned: community can only be built when we are not afraid of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-john-45-42-3
As the disciples return the woman heads towards town. Even as she still has questions, she starts to proclaim the good news she has heard.
This week while encountering a few people that I really don’t agree with, I’ve been struck by how Jesus went into this conversation. When I see and hear things I don’t like, don’t agree with or make me uncomfortable, I want to step back or step away. But especially while working with students I’ve had to ask myself, why do I think that their views make them any less likely to connect with God? Even if we disagree, does that lessen the space that we can learn together about our spiritual journey?
Jesus saw this woman, her full story. Jesus knew all the borders that were between the two of them and yet still leaned into this conversation. And from that, the woman became one of the great evangelists, many in her town believing.
Where would Jesus be standing on a border today? US and Mexico, Ukraine and Russia, North and South Korea? What wall would he be jumping over? And in that inviting us into places where we really see the other and hear their whole story, not with judgment but compassion.
“You and I are called to bear witness and we are called to do so even or especially among those who are different from us, with whom we disagree, yes, even among those with whom we have been enemies. As for how one does that, I can’t help but wonder if there is a clue for us in this last section where we hear that Jesus ‘stayed there two days.’ Jesus made himself vulnerable by agreeing to be their guest and in the resulting deepening of relationship, they were able to receive for themselves this marvelous gift of faith.” https://dancingwiththeword.com/jesus-and-the-samaritans/
Here we see the layers, this is not only socio-political but personal. Where is this living water for us? When we are too tired, too grouchy, feeling not good enough. How do we go to the well and have the hard but honest conversations with Jesus? Tell it like it is and ask for what we need. Give me this living water. Jesus says “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.”
This week I invite you to consider what borders Jesus may be asking you to cross and also to bring your thirst to the well that is Jesus. To show up honestly before God and ask that your parch places are nourished.
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