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Visions from the Catacombs, Week Before March 23, 2014



John 4:5-42

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A 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.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But 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. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

27Just 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?” 28Then 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?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.”


What I Am Learning:

Jesus should never have talked to her. It was unthinkable.

A Samaritan woman came to the well in the middle of the day. This sounds like a meaningless detail, but it’s not. Women would come to the well in the morning for the water they would need for the day. They would come together. The fact that this woman is there alone in the middle of the day means that the women have shunned her – most likely because of her sexual behavior.

Jesus would have known this just by seeing her come to the well at that time. If he wanted to preserve his honor rating, he should have walked away.

Instead he asks her for a drink of water. Again this sounds like a small storytelling detail. Jews would not share a pot, plate, or any other utensil with a Samaritan. Samaritans were considered unclean and a Jew would have to do some serious purifying rituals to be able to enter the temple again.

Further she is a woman. Men and women of different families were not allowed to speak to each other in public. Imagine coming out of the store and seeing someone sitting in the driver’s seat of your car. They haven’t stolen it yet, but it seems they are working on it. Women were not quite property but pretty close. No honor keeping man would talk to a woman in public, let alone a Samaritan woman who has been shunned by her peers because he would be seen as trying to steal her.

He should never have talked to her.

Then she questions about his rather odd behavior and they begin a theological debate. This sounds like Jesus, as he was in debates all the time. Women were not allowed to debate theology – they could neither be a disciple nor a rabbi.

He should never have talked with her about theology.

There was tremendous conflict between the Samaritans who saw themselves as faithful Jews, but were not allowed in the Temple and the Jews who saw them as tainted half-Jews. Jesus says that worship of God will not happen in a location in Samaria or in the Temple in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and truth. This is a way of saying that true worship of God transcends both Jewish and Samaritan claims, and that worship can happen anywhere. In one sentence, he undercuts the conflict between Jews and Samaritans.

The woman then goes to the village and speaks to the elders.

They should have ignored her. Instead they are so curious they come out to meet Jesus.

He and his disciples are invited to stay and they stay two days, which also should never have happened. When he left, the woman was not sitting with the women, but was with the men who honored her by including her in their conversation.

Jesus, the woman, and the Samaritan men in the village all crossed boundaries.

To us these boundaries seem rather silly, even wrong. But to the people in Jesus’ day, these boundaries were just the way it was – they even had scriptural foundations. To ignore these boundaries was to dishonor the scriptures and to dishonor God.

Even so, Jesus chose to cross these boundaries.

There is a constant debate within the Christian community about boundaries, about values and what constitutes and ethical, self-and-other-and-God honoring life. These are important debates because living a self-and-other-and-God honoring life is vitally important. Paul says that love fulfills the teaching of Moses. But what is loving is always a matter of Judgment.

Boundaries are not bad. For instance, we now teach that two adults should always be in the room when there are children. Always! Boundaries can be good things!

But in the case of women, women Samaritans and Samaritans in general, Jesus chose to cross the well established and scripture justified boundaries of his day. He included a gender and a people who had been excluded.

No doubt this was a part of the reason why he was marked for execution. Jesus must have known that he was putting himself at risk to include women and Samaritans in his community.

This is not because he had no values or boundaries, but rather because he was responding to the deeper values of his faith tradition.

Today we welcome and affirm human beings who are part of the GLBT community not because we don’t have values but because we sense in the Scripture a deeper set of values. Right now, they are the group by the well.

In two decades there may be another outcast group going to the well in the middle of the day. Perhaps there always will be. But those who worship in spirit and truth will, as Jesus did, welcome them into community, welcome them home.