SERMON: Lent III
Breaking Down Boundaries…One Person at a Time
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The 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.) Jesus 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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but 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.’ The 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.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
…Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘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 Saviour of the world.’
• John 4:5-30, 39-42
(Excerpt: full text is 4:5-42)
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If ever there was a Gospel story for Christians in these days in which we live it is this one. As Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary says, “We are living in a time when conversation needs to be cultivated and valued. Practiced and pursued. Longed for and lived. Without real conversation, we lack intimacy and understanding; connection and empathy. Without real conversation, we risk detachment and distance.” And it is especially important that we learn to have conversations with those who are different from us.
Last week, we heard Jesus talking with a distinguished, respected teacher of the Jewish people, Nicodemus. Now we would expect that, wouldn’t we? Jesus the Jewish Messiah, meeting with a religious leader and having a conversation about salvation? That’s sounds perfectly natural. Even though, as we saw last week, the content of the conversation itself was surprising and paradigm-shattering, the fact that Jesus had such a discussion with a Bible scholar and spiritual man was in no way unusual.
Fast forward to today. Here we see Jesus:
- A Jewish person crossing a geographical border to go through what the Jews considered an unclean place, Samaria.
- A Jewish person crossing a political border where people had profoundly different views of culture and society.
- A Jewish person, speaking with a Samaritan.
- A Jewish man, having a public conversation with Samaritan woman.
- A Jewish man, treating this woman as a conversation partner about spiritual matters in the same way he encountered Nicodemus.
- A Jewish man, asking for help from a Samaritan woman.
- A Jewish man, asking to drink from a Samaritan cup, something the Jews considered ritually unclean.
- As a Jewish man, Jesus had this encounter with a woman who was on the margins of her own society. She’d had five husbands, whether through death or divorce, and was being cared for by another man. Whatever the specifics of her situation, she was likely a poor, dependent widow to whom society paid little attention.
So then, this story is about a boundary-breaking Savior who entered into a personal conversation with someone other Jewish people would have avoided completely.
Geographical boundaries? Jesus broke through them.
Political boundaries? Jesus disregarded them.
Religious boundaries? Didn’t matter to Jesus.
Gender boundaries? Forget it. Jesus didn’t have a glass ceiling when it came to the way he treated women.
Social class boundaries? Whether it was Nicodemus, a respected member of the Jewish community, or this woman, a marginalized, invisible person in a Samaritan village, Jesus was willing to meet you, to converse with you, to respect you and take you seriously.
As one commentator said:
His simple request for a drink of water provoked a dialogue with a marginalized woman that teaches us that God does not desire any human being to shrivel and die from a broken body or a parched soul. Rather, he longs to quench our deepest needs and desires with the “living water” of his Spirit.
As Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee he stopped in the town of Sychar around noon time, tired and thirsty from the journey. He sat down by a well and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. And as John tells this story, she actually becomes a spiritual hero, an example to us all of faith and witness.
In this encounter we see a revolution in religious behavior. Jesus was willing to break down any number of strict and polarizing boundaries to have a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This is our God. The God we know in Jesus Christ is relentless in breaking down boundaries and barriers in order to bring his saving love to all the world.
Friends, do I need to tell you that the church has not always been good at this?
We are not always as comfortable in this messy world as Jesus was. We have our boundaries.
There are people we like and feel comfortable associating with.
There are others we avoid like they have some contagious disease.
We distrust people who look different, who don’t speak our language, who don’t share our background or common experiences.
We look down on those we deem morally inferior or broken.
We have our rules, our standards, our comfort zones.
It’s likely we wouldn’t have gone through Samaria like Jesus did, much less sit down and ask this Samaritan woman for help. Much less treat her as an equal conversation partner in religious and spiritual matters.
One person at a time, Jesus came to change the way we all encounter our neighbors. Perhaps this text in this Lenten season is calling us to reconsider who our neighbors are, and how we might see them in a new light. How we might overcome our parochialism, our tribalism, and our tendency to be suspicious of and withdrawn from those who are different from us.
There was one more boundary that Jesus broke, which is the greatest one of all.
In the course of their conversation, the Samaritan woman said this to Jesus: “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth….God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
When Jesus lived, and throughout the history of Israel, it was the Temple that was the meeting place between God and human beings. One of the themes that runs through John’s Gospel is that Jesus came to replace the Temple. He is now the place where we access the presence and salvation of God.
At the end of the story, in verse 42, the Samaritans from the village say this: “We know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”
Not just the Savior or Messiah of the Jews, but the Savior of the world. Everybody’s Savior. No boundaries. No exceptions. People are no longer required to go this mountain or that mountain, to this temple or that temple, to this priest or that priest, to make this sacrifice or that sacrifice. No, it’s simply about coming to Jesus, about opening your life to the saving work of his Spirit.
No more spiritual boundaries. No more hoops through which we must jump. As Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman that day, as he spoke to Nicodemus earlier, as you see him talking to individuals throughout the Gospel, he meets us where we are , and in him we find life.