March 19, 2017 3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17:1–7 Romans 5:1–11 John 4:5–42
Relationships are key in Judeo-Christianity. From Judaism the first commandment is to love God with all our being and the second is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Although the Hebrews believed those two commandments to be the cornerstone of their faith, they weren’t very good about honoring them when it came to people outside of their faith.
After Jesus has a discussion with Nicodemus about being born again in the spirit Jesus hit the road with his disciples and started bringing his ministry into the wider world.
The first place that he takes his message to is Samaria. Now I am sure that Jesus’ disciples thought he was nuts to go through Samaria since respectable Jewish people did not set foot in Samaria. The Samarians were descendants of the people who had been left behind when the Babylonians took over the Judea-Israel territory and shipped off all the middle and upper class people to Babylon and transplanted people from other nations into the territory. Many of the remaining Jewish people intermarried with those other people. When the elite returned a few generations later they were horrified that those lower-class uneducated people had disrupted the purity of the Jewish bloodline. Basically they exiled them to the area that was Samaria.
If you look at the map of Israel you have the river Jordon to the East, with the Sea of Galilee at the north end of the river and the Dead Sea at the south end. Between those two seas, imagine the area between the Jordon River and the Mediterranean. In the middle of that is rocky mountainous terrain, with some valleys. That is Samaria. The people who wouldn’t follow the purity laws were basically shipped off to the reservation and told that they had to survive in that very difficult environment.
I spoke a few months ago about the fact that Jesus was from Galilee and that many Jews looked down their noses at them because they felt that Galileans were uneducated and provincial. Well, the Samarians were even lower on the social scale. Most Jews didn’t even consider them to be Jewish even though the Samarians took great pride in following the Laws of Moses and believed that they were descendants of Jacob and Abraham.
I can imagine that the disciples must have voiced some opinions at Jesus’ travel plans: Hey, Jesus, you know we are upright Jewish men and we don’t want to travel through THOSE people’s land. And I’m sure Jesus was like: Hey, you don’t want to come, don’t come. But that’s where I’m going.
And the first person he talks to is a woman. Men aren’t supposed to talk to women, but he talks to her anyway. Not only that but she is a sinful woman who is living out of wedlock with someone, and she’s had five previous husbands. Not only that but he has asked her to give him a drink of water. This doesn’t sound like much, but a Jewish person would consider this to be a breaking of the kosher food laws – tantamount to accepting food from a Gentile.
This is the first demonstration of Jesus breaking the boundaries of who an acceptable human being is and expanding the idea of who our neighbor is. Not only that but this is the first relational-healing story in this Gospel.
It is significant that there is a three level healing of the Samaritan woman. First of all, Jesus gives affirmation to the woman about herself and her goodness in relationship to God. When he tells her that he is offering her the water of eternal life, he is telling her that she is connected to God and worthy of that connection. But when she says: I want to drink that water, Jesus then tells her to bring her husband.
Now can you imagine what a shameful blow it must have been to her to have to tell Jesus that she had been married five times and was living with a sixth man. Here she was having this nice conversation, with a holy man, just like a “good” person, and she has to reveal that she is a “bad” woman. All she manages to say is, “I have no husband.”
But instead of brushing her away or dismissing her Jesus tells her: Yeah, I already knew that. In fact I know about all the other men. Now she knows that Jesus is a prophet – but he is still talking to her – as if she’s a person of worth. In fact, he knew who she was BEFORE he stared talking to her and still he talked to her. This is the second way Jesus heals her – by giving her validation to herself.
Then Jesus says that soon everyone will be able to worship God anywhere, and that God will accept anyone who worships him in the Spirit of truth. The woman runs and tells her neighbors to come and meet Jesus. Now we might not think that is a big deal – but a woman of her reputation would not have been accepted by the general population of the town. The fact that the people of the town listen to her when she says that this Holy Man Jesus, might be the Messiah, and go to check him out, shows that there is a third healing taking place between this woman and her neighbors.
In this story this socially outcast woman is restored to a relationship with God, a relationship with herself, and to relationships with her neighbors.
But that’s what we all need: To be healed in our relationship with God, or our relationship with ourselves, or we need healing in our relationships with our neighbors.
I would venture to guess that the majority of the gaps and rents in our souls have to do with our relationship with God, ourselves, or the people we relate to. It’s difficult when we hurt ourselves or others to get beyond the pain and guilt to healing and restoration. Often we feel so badly that we think that we can’t repair our relationships enough to bring about healing. But in this story there are a few clues that can help us begin that healing, and it centers on the third commandment that Christ gave to us which is: Love each other as I have loved you.
When you feel the pain of your hurt, whether it is a hurt from another person or a hurt from your own feelings of guilt and worthlessness, the first thing to remember is that Jesus came to and for you, and is available to talk to you, no matter who you are. The Samaritan woman needed to validate her own worth. Jesus gave that to her by treating to her with dignity and respect. Yes, he acknowledged that she hadn’t led a perfect life, but that didn’t take away her worth as a child of God. Jesus spoke directly to her soul, not to her circumstances.
It’s hard to when someone has hurt you to speak to their soul and not to the circumstances that hurt you, but that is what we need to try to do, and the way to do that is to invite Christ into the process with us. We can ask Christ to help us seek the understanding of the other person’s pain and then forgive the circumstances that drive them to do what they do. This doesn’t mean that we excuse or allow destructive or negative behavior. But it does mean that we seek to understand so that we can prevent destructive or negative behavior in the future.
Also we need to speak honestly to our own souls about our pain and circumstances. We need to speak the truth to Christ of what our pain is and how it affects us, because that honesty allows us to open up all our pain and allows complete healing. Christ demonstrated that he already knew the completeness of the Samaritan woman’s shame, and yet he still offered her salvation. Because she was willing to live in the truth he was able to heal her completely. Christ knows the completeness of your pain, and if you offer it to him in honesty and truth he can help to heal you.
The Samaritan Woman is so transformed by her new validity and healing that she becomes a witness to Christ. She brings the other people of the town to meet him, declaring that Jesus could be the Messiah. After two days of staying in the town the people say to her: 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. You have to wonder how many other relationships Jesus healed while he was there. But we know that many people at the end of those two days were relating to the Samaritan Woman’s soul and not her circumstances. For her the healing was complete and I am sure that she went on to do great things in her town because of her healing.
All of us can transform if we are willing to open ourselves up to Christ in the Spirit of truth. Christ already knows who you are – He just wants to have an honest conversation with you about your pain. Go ahead tell him about what needs to be healed in your relationships. He’s waiting by the well to fill you with the living water of His spirit.