A woman of Samaria
Third Sunday in Lent, 24 February, 2008
Br Chaplain Soma, St Peter's, Eastern Hill
I want to thank you all for your support that led me to be part of this parish and for your presences at our ordination service. I don't know much about you however I am looking forward to know you gradually.
The Gospel of John is a missional document that reminds us what the mission is all about. Jesus came to save sinners and turn them into worshippers. John continues to show his storytelling as he includes this incredible and surprising story of Jesus' encounter with a woman of ill-repute from a hated racial group. Previously we heard Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus, who was a respected religious Jew.
The contrast is interesting. He meets Nicodemus in the night and sheds His light, which is misunderstood. He meets the suspect woman in the middle of the day using metaphors for His story, and she gets it. John does this to show a bit of how God works and how we are part of this story. Whereas this story has cross-cultural missional instruction from God's promise to Abraham that, "All nations would be blessed in him," to this encounter in today's gospel, we see God's plan unfold and culminate in the person of Jesus Christ.
The gospel says, "Now He had to go through Samaria." There is a question as to the meaning "He had to go." Was this geographical or missional? The natural path to Galilee from Judea, would be through Samaria, but there were certain Jews who would cross the Jordan and go north instead of walking through the region of the people they despised. There was another option where Jesus didn't have to go through Samaria. I, along with others, believe that in doing the will of His Father (See Chapter 17), He had a divine appointment. I think this was an intentional act of cross-cultural ministry for Jesus, because He came to seek and save the lost of both Jews and gentiles.
Jesus no doubt went to Samaria to begin His mission to the whole world. As this story is in contrast with the encounter story of chapter three, we have an upstanding Jewish male, and here we have a woman of ill repute from a hated racial group. John's gospel is written for Jews and gentiles, and emphasizes Jesus' mission outside of Jerusalem and the Jewish areas.
Interestingly, Jesus intentionally crosses four major barriers. First He crosses a racial barrier where the Samaritans played a part in acting against the Jews in the Maccabean revolt, and the two groups hated one another. Secondly, Jesus crossed a religious barrier. Thirdly, He crossed a gender barrier in which both Jews and gentiles considered women inferior, and meeting with a woman as a rabbi would be considered offensive by the time.
Fourthly, Jesus crossed moral barriers.
Jesus, tired from His journey showing His humanity, asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. As we have already heard, this was offensive to anyone watching the test, including His disciples who had gone to get some food. The woman rightly sets racial setting. But Jesus intentionally moves beyond the obvious barriers with a divine method of getting to the point. He questions, and utilizes metaphor to turn the conversation to a spiritual one. Since the issue was water, He was able to appeal to the great need of water to sustain life. Jesus' reference to "Living Water," is a reference to the Spirit of God, which is often rejected by many in order to fulfill their own plans. (Jeremiah 2:13-15 cf. John 7:37-39).
The woman looks only from the human earthly perspective just like Nicodemus did. She was speaking horizontally, but Jesus was speaking vertically. She was concerned about her own temporal survival needs and Jesus was concerned for her eternal needs. So often our spiritual lives appear insignificant or take a back seat to our physical "needs," while our spiritual lives really needs attention. It is too easy to get caught up in our lives and try to find ways to enhance our personal developments, while avoid our spiritual selves.
Christ, knowing that the woman has not really begun to understand that she is filling her life, He commands her, "Call your husband and come back". She meekly answers, she has no husband, and Christ rightly calls out the fact of her marriage hidden background. It is here that she perceives that Jesus may be a prophet, but Jesus' intention isn't to reveal Himself, as much as it is to expose her need. This woman, like many in the world today, find it hard to believe in God the spring of living water, and created her own means of fulfillment.
Fascinatingly, the woman falls right into Jesus' line of argument, the issue of worship. Jesus' mission is to bring humanity to His Father and to Glorify Him. This is to bestow honor and weightiness to Him. This woman's idea of worship is purely physical. "God is Spirit and His worshippers should worship in spirit and truth." What does this mean? It is linked to His words to Nicodemus that no one can experience the kingdom of God unless they are born from the Spirit of God.
It's not surprising that Jesus uses this whole conversation to remind His disciple's including us of the mission that we are called to be part of at this time of Lent. It's a mission that is our sustenance, like food. It is because it gives us purpose. His disciple's had to be confused over Jesus' unusual behavior, but it was a pre-cursor to the ministry that would unfold in Acts and the building of the kingdom of God, to the Jews first and then to the gentiles.
In this incident of confrontation with the woman at Sychar, Jesus brings the listeners to the idea that they need to know God and not rely on their own means to fulfillment. Our great fulfillment and joy comes from knowing the true God, and worshipping Him with our hearts, mind, and soul.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.