An Unlikely Meeting- Lent 3
Some of the best stories are about two people who never really should have met: Romeo and Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, the Prince and the Pauper. In John chapter four we read about another meeting that shouldn't have happened.
Jesus is alone sitting on the edge of a stone well. It is an ancient well that was said to have been dug by the patriarch Jacob. The disciples have gone into town to buy food and Jesus stayed behind at the well. This is where he meets a Samaritan woman who has come for water.
The first reason this meeting shouldn't have taken place is that a group of devout Jews really shouldn't be spending any time in Samaria when there is a perfectly good detour around the territory. Samaritans and Jews were hostile to each other. They were ethnic and religious enemies. To a first century Jew a "good Samaritan" was an oxymoron. It was a contradiction. So the first reason this meeting shouldn't have taken place is because of geography. Jesus, as a devout Jew, had no business being in the enemy territory of Samaria.
The second reason this meeting shouldn't have happened is because of gender. Rules of decency and good etiquette in the Middle East would not allow for Jesus and this woman to be alone talking. When Jesus saw the lone woman approach he should have stepped away from the well and waited about 20 feet away until the woman had gathered her water. He shouldn't say anything to her. He shouldn't even look her in the eye. This is dangerous territory for both of them, especially since they are alone. There are no witnesses to attest to their behavior and nothing to stop people from assuming whatever they want when they hear that the lone woman was alone with a strange man by the well. But, Jesus did not move ... and she needed water. So she approached anyway. The scholar Kenneth E. Bailey says, "Throughout forty years of life in the Middle East I never crossed this social boundary line. In village society, a strange man does not even make eye contact with a woman in a public place." A meeting like this between a man and a woman in the Middle East should not have happened.
A third reason this meeting shouldn't have happened is because of ethnicity and religion. When the Samaritan woman comes to the well Jesus asks her for a drink. Verse 9 says, "The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" Samaritans and Jews will not even share dishes. These wells required you to bring your own bucket to retrieve the water. As a Jew, Jesus should not even consider drinking from a Samaritan's bucket even if she were to draw up some water for him. The water would be ritually unclean and not drinkable for a devout Jew.
There is also a fourth reason that this conversation shouldn't be happening. Morally they are on different playing fields. Jesus is a devout and holy person. He is leading a group of devout Jewish disciples. She is not only a Samaritan, but there is good reason to believe that she might not even be a very "good" Samaritan at that. As a woman she really should not have been traveling alone. She should have been with a group of women so that there would be witnesses to attest to her whereabouts and her virtue. Since she is arriving at the well alone and is carrying a heavy jar of water back to her home in heat of the day it is safe to say that she has become separated from her community- she is an outcast. As the woman and Jesus get further into their discussion it is revealed that this woman has been married to five men and is now living with a man who is not her husband. This may be the reason she has been separated from her community. She has perhaps gained a reputation in her community as being a woman with loose morals. Perhaps this is why she's willing to approach a lone man by a well. I don't know, but maybe. It’s also possible that numerous men divorced her because she wasn’t able to have children. We aren’t sure, but for some reason she is an outcast. She is a woman haunted by broken relationships.
Jesus jumps all these barriers that stand against him meeting this woman. And he does this in our own lives as well. Jesus jumps over all kinds of barriers to get into our lives. Some think that they really need to get their lives in order before they can really have a relationship with God. Perhaps some of you feel this way. Maybe you don't feel holy enough to really connect to God. Maybe you really don't think God would want to have anything to do with you. Maybe you feel like you need to shake some sin before God would want to meet you. We feel like we need to get our lives straight and then go on some pilgrimage, and get ourselves into a more holy pattern of life and then God might peek into our lives.
Maybe you feel like human beings and God are just too different to really be able to have a conversation. God has created the universe. God is the one who caused the Big Bang, and here we are on this blue and green marble floating through a massive universe that is beyond our comprehension. And we think that God would have anything to do with us? We are little bits of flesh that are here for a few moments and then we die. Why would the eternal God of the universe want to have a conversation with us? If we are really deeply thinking, we can't even begin to wrap our heads around what a being like God would even be like.
But what we learn from watching Jesus and this woman is that Jesus jumps those barriers. Those walls are not ours to jump. Jesus jumps all those barriers. God the Son has taken human flesh onto Himself. He came to us as a baby that needed milk and warmth and love. And here he stands before the Samaritan woman as a thirsty Jewish man asking for water. God has made a tremendous journey to meet this woman. And God has leapt over just as many barriers to meet us. It is not our journey. God has made the journey. God comes to meet us. Often in unexpected ways. To the Samaritan woman God came as a stranger needing a drink of water. God came to me unexpectedly in a bar and showed me His overwhelming love. God has come to many of you in a variety of unexpected ways as well. God comes to us and then asks us to respond to His invitation to know him better.
Jesus leads the woman step-by-step to know him more fully. When she points out the barriers that should not allow her and Jesus to have this conversation Jesus answers her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
He begins to draw her to himself. She becomes more interested. Who is this man? Where would he get this living water from? Is he greater than the Patriarch Jacob who dug the well where they are meeting?
Jesus responds to her questions, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Now it is the Samaritan woman who is thirsty and it is Jesus who has access to the water. "Sir, give me this water", she says. She doesn't quite understand, but she knows that she is weary. She is tired of making the journey to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the awkward stares and the reminder that people don’t want to be associated with her. But, she is even more tired of carrying her shame and dissatisfaction with life.
Jesus tells her to go and bring her husband. She tries to avoid her shame and says that she has no husband. Jesus sees through her half-truth and replies, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” Another layer is pealed away. She sees that this is not just an open-minded Jewish man who doesn't mind talking to Samaritans. This man knows her life. He knows her shame. And he does not look at her with disgust. He is a prophet.
Her shame has been exposed, she cannot hide from God. But where does she go? Does she return to God by going to the Samaritan holy mountain, or does she go to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. She turns to Jesus the prophet to answer her question. How does she return to God? Amazingly, Jesus says neither. … This is profound. Jesus announces that the Temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritan Holy Mountain are both obsolete. Jesus proclaims this daringly, "... a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” These are not the words of any ordinary prophet. (If any prophet can be called ordinary). What he is saying changes everything for Jews and Samaritans.
Another layer is removed. She is beginning to draw from the well that is Jesus. He is not just an open-minded Jewish stranger. He is not just a prophet. The woman says, “I know that Messiah ... is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Could he be the one like Moses who they have been waiting for? Could he be the messiah?
Jesus' response takes her even further. He is not just the messiah (if you can say "just" messiah). In the Greek version of the Old Testament we read about the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3 (v14). When Moses asks God's name he replies, "ἐγώ εἰμι" (Ego Eimi) I AM. … When Jesus replies to the Samaritan Woman he declares, "ἐγώ εἰμι", “I, the one speaking to you—I AM.” This is the one who spoke to Moses from that burning bush. It is this One who says in Jeremiah 2:13- "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water...".
Jesus meets her where she is, but she doesn't stay there. He guides her to himself. He does this with us as well. He is always meeting us in the everyday ordinary events of our lives. If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear we will notice his movements. God came to me in the bar and introduced me to his overwhelming love for humanity, but he didn't leave me in the bar. Many of you met God in a variety of places. You felt that warming of your heart. You felt overwhelmed by beauty. God met you, but he didn't leave you there. He wanted to start a relationship with you. He wanted you to know Him better.
The disciples arrived back from town and were shocked to see Jesus having leapt over the cultural and religious barriers speaking to a Samaritan woman. She leaves her jar there at the well and runs back to her town to bring people to meet Jesus. She isn't sure about every detail. She doesn't know exactly who this man is, but she feels that she cannot keep the news to herself. After being with Jesus she leaps over her own walls to tell people about Jesus. She leaps over the walls that cause her to get water at the well in the middle of the day in the heat of the sun, alone, rather than with a group of female friends in the cool of the morning. She leaps over the wall of her own shame. This woman makes herself vulnerable to further rejection and ridicule in running to tell the people to come and see if this man might be the Christ they have been waiting for- The prophet like Moses mentioned in Deuteronomy 18. She goes to her people not as someone made perfect. Not even as someone who really completely understands Jesus. She goes to the people of her town with a question. … Could it be?
We stand as people with many barriers. We have barriers that sometimes separate us from each other. We are divided by economics, race, language, marital status, politics, etc. … And we have barriers that separate us from God- our own sin, our own feelings of inadequacy, the vastness and otherness of God. … God crosses those barriers and teaches us to do the same. Once God has crossed those barriers and has entered our own lives and revealed himself as the great "I AM", then that unity overpowers any divisions that can stand between us. God's reality in our lives calls us to gather others to "come and see" and received the living water that spring up to eternal life. AMEN.