Encounter

"Women at the Well", part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia
“Women at the Well”, part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26

5So he 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.”

The journey has shifted.  No longer are Jesus’ words limited to those in his immediate circle.  He leaves the confines of what he knows and begins to turn to outsiders, those who tradition and cultural and societal norms have rejected. First on the list are the Samaritans.  The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So, here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional religion.  He, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  He speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  And he speaks to the enemy. The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  This woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in the shadows of humanity.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class woman who is a Samaritan becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.

Now, the woman does miss Jesus’ point.  She looks upon Jesus as some sort of miracle worker, rather than seeing that he offers a new way of being.  Even this story deals with suffering—the woman surely suffered.  Good grief, she was there by herself—couldn’t even face the crowd.  And Jesus—well Jesus was just thirsty.  “Give me a drink…I thirst.” We all have needs; we all have fears—that is the nature of our true humanity.  And maybe the story teaches us that from our need we will realize who God is.  Maybe, in fact, it is IN our very need that we find God, those times when we are unsure of ourselves and not quite so confident that we are heading the right direction in our lives.  So, this woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ true identity.  Maybe that’s our problem.  We are still looking for the Jesus that will make our lives easier rather than the one who will give us new life.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will affirm where we are rather than leading us to this new thing that God is doing.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will become our own personal Savior, our own private Messiah, rather than the Salvation and Life of the world.

Our faith journey is not just ours.  Contrary to what some may tell you, you are not carrying the sole responsibility for “getting it right”.  The journey, rather is made up of encounters with those that God places in our path.  At each turn, we grow, we change, our pathway broadens.  The procession to the Cross has already begun.  We are walking together, gathering others into our midst as we walk.  This is what Jesus did.  The journey to the Cross began long before the gates of Jerusalem at the end of the Palm Sunday Road.  The journey began “in the beginning”.  The journey weaved through a garden, into the lessons learn from the stories of an ark, and was there as its followers were carried into exile.  The journey held deliverance and led us up to a mountaintop.  It has held prophets’ voices and the wisdom of sages.  On it were two women named Naomi and Ruth who held each other through their trials.  It was the road for kings and judges and those who were trying to figure out why a life had fallen apart.  The journey turned into a small town outside of Jerusalem where life and clarity and salvation were born.  It returned us to the place of exile, which this time held deliverance.  The journey is one of water and wine and welcome for all.  This journey has taught us how to love and how to thirst.  It has shown us what it means to have faith and not need certainty.  It has taught us that questions are part of it all.

We are still gathering in.  And now it turns…one more mountain to climb and then the procession will enter Jerusalem.  But that is not the end; there is always more up ahead.  But we do not travel alone.  God has already gone before us and still walks with us to show the Way.  So, as our Lenten journey nears Jerusalem, remember from where you’ve come and remember what you have received from those that you have encountered on the way.  Remember who and whose you are.  Remember that you do not walk alone.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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