One of my favorite Bible stories is about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. I’ve heard this in many sermons by several pastors and watched a recent episode of The Chosen that addressed this scripture from the book of John in chapter 4. Today’s sermon dug a little deeper into what’s going on here.
Samaria was a place that the religious leaders refused to go through. They would travel many extra miles to go around it because they didn’t want to defile themselves. Jews and Samaritans were not seen in the same circles.
So why did Jesus choose to go through Samaria instead of going around it? I can only imagine that he knew there was someone there that he needed to meet and talk to. He sent the disciples to get food and he traveled on by himself until he came to a well in the village of Sychar. This well is the same one that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jesus was weary and he sat by the well to rest.
Jesus was weary, tired, parched, and hungry. You know the feeling. That’s why we know that Jesus understands us when we feel the same. He experienced it as well.
The nearby town where the disciples went to get food was still in Samaria. Jesus knew that the food they brought back would not be kosher. It wouldn’t fulfill the laws of appropriate food for Jews to eat.
As Jesus sat there, a woman comes to the well to draw water. It was high noon. Not the normal time for women to accomplish this task. She’s alone because most of the women come to the well early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler. They other women went in groups, but this woman comes along because she’s an outcast, shunned by others.
Jesus knows this, but he speaks to her anyway. He speaks out of tiredness and thirst; from a state of weakness instead of power. Just showing us that we don’t have to have it all together to helps others.
He asks for a drink of water and this restores in her a sense of self-worth, simply by being acknowledged.
This is where Jesus starts tossing tables…
Here, he’s tossing the Torah (religion) itself. He is engaging a known sinner. A sexually broken woman with a bad reputation. In the Torah people like this woman are to be shunned, denounced, even stoned to death! But Jesus does the unexpected. He doesn’t reject her life he redeems it, at the same time tossing the Torah, the primary ethical guidance system.
But, Jesus doesn’t stop at tossing the Torah. The next table he tosses is tradition. I’d never heard it referred to as the “Billy Graham Rule”, but Jesus spends time in conversation with a woman. The religious leaders in the first century taught that a man should never talk to a woman in public. NOT EVEN HIS WIFE. That seems a bit extreme, but that was the tradition.
The Mishnah is the oral Torah, a manmade rule book. “Talk not much with womankind. He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the law and at last will inherit Gehenna.” To sum it up: talk to a woman, go to hell.
Women in ministry can be a hot topic. Many argue about the appropriateness of it, but let’s see what Jesus has to say about it. Jesus had women who followed him and helped support his ministry. He empowered, equipped and sent out women.
“…with Jesus, the traditional separation between men and women no longer applies.”Kenneth Bailey
Next table to toss is Tribalism. We identify with certain people. We can know if we are tribal if we ever refer to others as “those people”. The Samaritans and a woman are clearly outside the tribe of Jesus according to the law. But, Jesus dismisses it as unimportant in the scheme of things. Shouldn’t we all, knowing that we are commanded to love as Jesus loved?
The next table that Jesus tosses is the one of Territory. The woman knows that the Messiah is coming, but Jesus reveals to her that the time has come. He is the Messiah and he offers an inclusive kingdom message for everyone. This should heal the divides between geographical, political, and ethnical divides…not create new ones!
The last tossed table is about the Temple.
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”John 4: 19-20
We’re still doing this today. Not just between religions, but between the Bride of Christ – the church. Look around your community and those surrounding you. How many different churches do you count? Each church has their own version of the oral Mishnah. All convinced they are doing it the right way. But look at how Jesus answered her:
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”John 4: 21-24
No one place is more holy than any other. It’s all God’s creation. This doesn’t make a place less important, but upgrades every space!
So what’s this all mean for us?
- Jesus poked bears and tossed tables so that affectionate intimacy with God would be an everyday occurrence.
- The faith that Jesus invites us into is dependent not on place or procedure, but on an inside-out relationship with God
- God is beyond anyone building or any one building or any one political party or any one race…And those who will worship him acceptably will come to embrace this reality
- Jesus adjusts what he says to the woman in mid-sentence. (Picture him seeing this woman’s faith forming in the middle of the conversation…The Kingdom of God comes alive to her.
- No one is beyond the invitation to the Kingdom.
- Jesus dared the Samaritan woman to move out of the box of physically, political, and traditional focused religion…into His spiritual family of faith.
He offers us the same invitation today.
As I think back on this sermon, much becomes clear. I guess what stands out to me is how Jesus treated women. He didn’t treat them as someone to be discounted. The church I grew up in was a traditional Church of Christ. No instruments at all. We had a music leader that led us in song. Women were not allowed to serve in any capacity of leadership that I remember. Having my first female pastor was difficult for me. I couldn’t relate to it because I’d never seen women in that role. But as time has passed, I have dug into the Bible to see for myself what it says. The church I now go to has a praise band. When I read the Bible, I see nothing to show me this is unbiblical. In fact, I find quite the opposite. Many scriptures in the Psalms talk of praising with instruments. Reading of Jesus’ ministry, I see how he included women in his ministry. It actually surprised me to see how he related to women. Not as subordinates, but as someone who could bring others to accept him as their Savior. Hint: read the rest of John 4 and see what the woman does for her family and friends!