Let us pray. Tell us what we need to hear, O God, and show us what we need to do to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The long Gospel lesson appointed for us today is the longest recorded conversation of Jesus with anyone in the New Testament. The committees that appoint the Lectionary would have us begin at Verse 5: Jesus came to a Samaritan city, called Sicar. But it’s helpful to know why he came to that Samaritan city. I think we have to begin at Verse 1: Jesus ran into some trouble with the ecclesiastical and civil leaders of the time. He thought it best to leave town. He was in Judea where Jerusalem was. His hometown was in Galilee. A little bit of geography helps. If we can say that Jerusalem is in the rear of the Church, the West End, the narthex—that’s Jerusalem. Galilee is the East End, the High Altar. It’s said in verse 3 that Jesus went from Jerusalem to Galilee. And then, verse 4: but he had to go through Samaria. Now there were two routes to get from Jerusalem to Galilee. One route would go around to the Jordan River. Let’s say, over there in the South End is the Jordan River. By the way, all you kids—this will be on the test!
The Jordan River was a beautiful route. It was lush. It was green. Lots of life around the Jordan River. That was one way, and a popular route.
The other way was to go through Samaria, straight through. And let’s say Samaria is there where the Choir members are. You are the Samaritans. In the visiting choir.
What was the problem with going through Samaria? Well, the problem was that Samaritans are there. The problems with Samaritans and the Jews,….well, it’s a complicated story. It’s always complicated when there’s conflict. All you have to do is talk with Christians fighting Christians in Northern Ireland. Complicated. Or Serbs and Croats. Or Palestinians and Israeli. Or African-Americans and white-Americans. It goes back. There’s history. There’s a lot there. It gets complicated, and it seems that the closer you are, the more vicious the conflict.
This one went back several centuries between the Samaritans and the Jews, back to the 8th century BC, where Assyrians had taken the Northern Kingdom off into slavery. But some remained in Samaria, and there the Assyrians intermarried. And so their Jewish blood was diluted, along with their religious practices. What was the problem? They were half-breeds. They weren’t quite “as good as.” They were them. And you know who they are. We have our own Samaritans. They are wrong. They’re the wrong color, the wrong ethnic-racial group, the wrong people, they worship in the wrong way, they have the wrong religion, they are of the wrong gender, they have the wrong orientation, they’re from the wrong political party. “They.” In order to go home, Jesus first had to go through them, (the choir) the Samaritans, to get to the Alter.
And why did Jesus go? Why did he have to go? He didn’t have to go. He could have gone around, the beautiful route. He didn’t have to go through “them”. Well, my stepdaughter said, “Well, it’s obvious. It was because of a woman! That’s an age-old story. Men always go out of their way when there’s a woman involved. Sometimes in harm’s way, to see a woman.”
Did Jesus go there because he was going to meet this woman? He knew he was going to meet someone. It was a Samaritan. And so there he went. And at noon—high noon—at that watering hole, he sat. The disciples had gone off to get something to eat, and he said, “You go on. I’ll stay here.” And they knew already that trouble was coming.
Well, trouble came. And it was she.
Do you know who “she” is? This Samaritan woman? Do you know her? Have you seen her? Of course you have. You see her every day that you go through Samaria. You see her in the Hollywood B movies that come late at night. There she is. Too much makeup. Too little skirt. Too small a blouse to contain too much of a body. There’s a tattoo on her lower leg that you cannot see because of the stiletto boots. She hikes herself up on that barstool at that watering hole in the middle of the day. Why the middle of the day? Because no respectable woman would come there at that time. She had the field to herself. Dangling with jewelry and with lots and lots of hair of uncertain hue. Have you seen her? Yes, you’ve seen her. And you’ve already known who she is, and you’ve painted her scarlet. And letter “A” is burning through that makeup.
But what does Jesus see? Maybe Jesus doesn’t see her as we see her. Maybe Jesus is looking beyond all of that get-up to something less than obvious. Maybe Jesus sees a woman victimized by a culture that values only as an instrument for breeding, or as decoration on a man’s arms. Or maybe Jesus sees a young woman some years ago who was passed around like a beer bottle at a frat party, a victim, discarded by men who have abused her. Or when they died, passed her on to a brother. Or maybe Jesus sees a scrapper, a survivor, someone who has seen it all. She has “been there and done that.” And she knows what she has to do to survive. And there she is at that watering hole.
He sees someone who says, “I don’t care what they think about me anymore. It doesn’t matter.” Or maybe Jesus sees a little girl, who at an early age learned not to trust men. Certainly they were not able to give her what she needs, and that is water. For she is thirsty. Her parched soul, her dry spirit, which was more brittle than that hair that had been burned by too many dying of blond.
What does Jesus see? Jesus sees her.
And what did she see in Jesus? She saw first a Jew. And if you follow the passage, that is the first thing she calls him. He says to her, “Please give me a drink of water,” and she says, “What do you, a Jew, have to do with me?” But then Jesus said, “If you knew the gift, the gift of God, and if you knew who was saying to you ‘give me something to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would give you living water.” So, first he was a Jew, just a man she didn’t know she wanted to be with at all. But now she says, “Sir, sir, you have no bucket. You have nothing to get water in. What are you about?” But he identified to being identified only by his racial group to now she could see was a gentleman. But there is more.
And it has to do with a custom of the day that is still prevalent in many of the cultures around the Middle East today. If someone, a stranger, asks you for a cup of water, that person is inviting you to be their friend. And in the social contract you have bound yourself to be that person’s friend for one year. If Jesus says, “Give me a drink of water,” and she says, “Help yourself.” That means you can have the water, but you’ll have nothing of me. Or if Jesus says, “Give me a drink of water,” and provides one, she is offering friendship. She is shocked, for this man is speaking to her, a woman, and asking to be her friend in a culture where men are not to speak to women, especially women like that, but are not to speak with women in public unless she is his wife. If you think it’s strange, I invite you to go to some nations of the world today where it is still true.
And not only was she a woman, but she was a Samaritan woman. And not only was she a Samaritan woman, but she was a woman of ill repute. She was thrice marginalized. And this man said, “I want to be your friend.”
When she finally says, “Yes, give me this water you’re talking about,” Jesus says, “Well, why don’t you then go get your husband? We’ll have him too.” And she says, “I have no husband.” And he says, “You’re right. You have had five husbands, and the one you’re with not is not your husband. Maybe someone else’s, but not yours.” We don’t know why she had five husbands. We can’t automatically assume that she just couldn’t settle down with a man. That would be quite a spectacular career, wouldn’t it, especially in that day? Maybe she was caught up in the labyrinth marriage laws which caused her to be passed from brother to brother after they passed away. We don’t know. But society had already seen her as scarlet.
And then she says, “You then must be a prophet. You know so much.” He’s no longer a Jew. He’s not just a gentleman, but he’s a prophet. And as they began a religious discussion where she said, “Your people worship this way, and my people this way. Who is right? I know when the Messiah comes, all the questions will be answered.” And he said, “I am he, and the day will come, and it is now here when it makes no difference where you worship, or even what your specific practices are. For all will worship God in spirit and in truth.”
And at that, she ran home!
She went back into the city. Left her purse there at the watering hole, and said, “Come and see, come and see. See a man who knows everything about me, and by implication, and still wants to be my friend. Can he be the Messiah?” That woman with the “A” on her forehead became the first apostle to the Gentiles. They all came back. And what did they see? At the end of the Gospel lesson they saw the salvation of God. Not a Jew, not a gentleman, no merely a prophet, not just a Messiah to his own people. But the Savior of the world.
So, what do you see?
If you are to follow Jesus, you’re going to go through Samaria, the place you don’t want to go. And you will meet him there. But what will you see of him? Just a man? A Jew? A prophet? A Messiah to his own people? Or maybe you will see your own salvation. Water for your parched soul. And maybe you’ll see the possibility of salvation for the whole world.
Jesus had to go through Samaria before he could go home. And so must we.