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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before March 19, 2017

John 4:5-42

5So Jesus 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 once is once again crossing socially constructed barriers between people.

The first is that he and the disciples are in Samaria. Jews and Samaritans had racial and religious differences that separated them from one another. This is a complex story. The simple version is that Samaritans were Jews who refused to divorce their foreign wives after the the Babylonian Captivity. The Jewish leadership was on a purity kick when they returned and required that the Jews who remained in Israel divorce their non-Jewish wives. The Samaritans were the ones that refused. Samaritans found their own mountain to worship on, but generally were faithful to the Torah and Jewish worship practices. Things were so bad between them, that Jews would knock the dust off their feet after leaving Samaria.

Jesus went there anyway.

As if this was not controversial enough, Jesus goes to a well about noon and speaks to a Samaritan woman there. We think that it likely she was there at noon because she was not allowed to go with the women in the morning, who went to the well together. It may be that she was considered an adulterer who did not follow the mores of her village. It is important to know that Jesus did not ask her to confess this as a sin before he speaks to her. Nor does he seem to offer forgiveness to her. Jesus is willing to see her worth as a fellow human being whatever her previous behaviors or her status in her community.

It is very strange that she talks with Jesus. Women and men who were not related were not allowed to speak to one another as it would be considered pre-sexual behavior. Notice that the text says that Jesus' disciples were appalled by his interaction with her.

Jesus spoke first, and then instead of retreating to the village as expected, she responds to him. There are many things about this conversation that would be surprising to a first century reader:

  1. She was at the well at noon
  2. Jesus spoke to her
  3. She responded to him
  4. She and Jesus debate theology and religious matters
  5. She shares with Jesus about sexual/relational matters
  6. Instead of hiding her conversation for breaking the social conventions and relational morals of her day, she tells the village.

Then another surprise happens: the village leaders, instead of punishing her for her bad behavior, invited Jesus into the village.

Then another surprise happens: Jesus and his disciples stay in the village for two days, receiving their hospitality therefore recognizing them as equals.

Then a final surprise: This woman, outcast or not, sat with Jesus and the men of the village and they publicly acknowledged that she had shown public leadership by connecting them and Jesus! Women were not seen as public leaders in first century Palestine!

Several things are important to note here. First, Jesus is willing to talk with and respect any person, no matter if he has social support to do so. His vision is so important to him that he is willing to make his disciples and his own people deeply uncomfortable. Being a disciple of Jesus means to be and to sometimes lead others to be uncomfortable.

Second, when he engaged a community he most often began with those at its margins and then brought the change into the center of that community.

Jesus sought to bring reconciliation between people as individuals and groups. He was willing to break rules and expectations for behavior to bring healing and reconciliation. Jesus was not always a good boy!

Are we willing to break the rules to bring healing? Are we willing to engage in conflict with our friends and supporters and congregations and families to do it? Are we willing to be uncomfortable in ourselves?

As we are reoriented to God's way of mutuality (the reign of God) in our baptism we find that since we are beloved we have the confidence to be uncomfortable. So let's be uncomfortable participants in God's healing of the world - and find that disconnected parts of ourselves will be healed in the process.