TITLE: Go for the Worst! SCRIPTURE: John 4:5-42
Jews had little to do with Samaritans. They usually avoided even traveling through Samaria. That wasn't easy, because Samaria was the middle kingdom, sandwiched between Galilee and Judea. A traveler from Judea to Galilee had either to go through Samaria or cross the Jordan River to by-pass it. Most Jews would take the longer journey, spending two or three extra days on the road just to avoid contact with the Samaritans.
The reason had to do with their history. Seven centuries before Christ (720 B. C.), there were only two kingdoms, Israel in the North and Judea in the South. The Assyrians defeated Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and carried them into captivity, leaving just a few people behind. (2 Kings 17:6)
As time passed, the people who had been left behind began to inter-marry with foreigners, and the people who resulted from these marriages became the Samaritans.
In the enlightened day in which we live, that might not seem too serious, but it was serious to the Jews. They were God's special people. By inter-marrying, the Samaritans lost their racial purity, and compromised their status as God's special people.
A century and a half later, (586 B. C.) the people of Judea -- the Southern Kingdom --suffered the same fate. They too were conquered and were carried into captivity into Babylon. But they rigorously resisted inter-marriage, and did not lose their identity. They remained stubbornly Jewish, and maintained their integrity as the special people of God.
A century later (450 B. C.), Ezra and Nehemiah returned from Babylon to restore their temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans came to offer their help in this sacred task, but they were told that their help wasn't wanted. They were impure and unfit to help with the sacred task. The Samaritans never forgot this insult, and a bitter division began that persisted until Jesus' day. The Samaritans built their own temple at Mount Gerizim, and began to worship there. The walls between Jews and Samaritans were high and feelings were bitter.
But Jesus didn't share the animosity towards Samaritans. Having to travel from Judea to Galilee, he chose to go through Samaria rather than by-passing it. You might think that he was just trying to save time if you didn't know anything about the rest of his life. But the fact was that Jesus seemed to seek out the outcasts of society -- the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers -- and his travels through Samaria carried him through a nation of outcasts.
Jesus came to the little town of Sychar in Samaria, and stopped at the well for a drink. A woman was there, drawing water. Usually, women came to the well in the morning and in the evening, but this woman came at noon. It was hotter then, but she wouldn't have to face the other women from the village. That was best, because she didn't like to stand in line with them and be forced into an awkward conversation -- or an even more awkward silence.
In fact, she usually arranged her affairs to be alone, and prized her solitude. Her loneliness hurt, but not so much as the unkind glances and words of the other women -- or the sexual advances of the men.
But today, a strange man approached her. How disappointed she must have been. Jesus broke the quietness of her solitude. But perhaps he would ignore her. Men didn't start conversations with strange women. The rule was, "Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife."
But Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." The woman was surprised. "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
Jesus' next words were very curious:
"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 could have given you living water."
The woman made a very practical observation:
"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?"
"Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again,
but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him
will never thirst; the water that I give him
will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to Jesus:
"Sir, give me this water,
that I may not thirst,
nor come here to draw."
Perhaps she spoke in jest, as if Jesus were a bit mad. "Give me this water, so I don't have to come to the well every day."
But Jesus quickly brought her back to her senses. "Go, call your husband, and come here."
She said, "I have no husband." But Jesus responded.
"You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';
for you have had five husbands,
and he whom you now have
is not your husband."
This was beginning to get personal -- just what the woman had been trying to avoid by coming to the well at noon. Perhaps she could change the subject.
"Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain;
and you say that in Jerusalem
is the place where men ought to worship."
But Jesus responded:
"Woman, believe me,
the hour is coming when neither on this mountain
nor in Jerusalem
will you worship the Father....
The hour is coming, and now is,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in spirit and truth,
for such the Father seeks to worship him...."
Jesus was saying that the old rivalries were on the way out. Furthermore, if God is spirit, worship is not confined to particular places, such as Mount Gerazim or the temple in Jerusalem. Worship becomes an affair of the heart, and true worship became a gift of our hearts.
The woman said, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things."
Jesus said: "I who speak to you am he."
At that point, the woman left her water jar and ran into the city. "Come; see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They came, and many believed because of the woman's testimony.
How amazing! Until Jesus came along, this woman was practically invisible within her own town. Nobody would have ever sent her into town as their spokeswoman. But her contact with Jesus had transformed her life and her status in the community. The people had heard her, and had said, "You are right. This is the savior of the world."
Now the people, who always avoided this woman, spoke to her with respect.
- She had been invisible, but now she was seen.
- She had been lost, but now was found.
- She had been a sinner, but now was redeemed.
Jesus does that. He changes people's lives. He especially helps outcasts, because they are the people most in need of transformation.
That is the Good News of this text. In this encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus not only claims to be the Messiah -- he demonstrates what that means when he changes this woman's life.
This same Messiah changes our lives. Billy Graham says:
"Jesus stopped dying on the cross
long enough to answer the prayer of a thief.
He stopped in a big crowd one day
because someone touched the hem of His garment;
and He'll stop to touch your life
and change you,
and forgive you."
And that is Good News.
Furthermore, as the church -- the body of Christ -- we are his hands for service in this world. He uses us to do his work. He changes people's lives:
- Each time we care;
- Each time we listen;
- Each time we reach out;
- Each time we touch each other in love.
This is our mission as Christians -- to bring the transforming power of Christ's love to the people about us. One preacher put it this way: "It is the business of the church to kiss frogs."
So, let us rejoice that Christ has transforming power;
- Let us rejoice that he has used that transforming power on us;
- Let us rejoice that he continues to use that transforming power on us day by day;
- And let us rejoice that he allows us to touch other people in his name and with his transforming power.
And let us resolve, this week, to allow God so to fill us with his spirit that we might truly become people with his touch:
- Transforming our husbands and wives;
- Transforming our children;
- Transforming our co-workers;
- Transforming our friends.
- Transforming our community.
- And transforming our world.
Let us pray that, as we touch lives this week, that it will be with the transforming love of Christ.