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The Samaritan Woman, Part Two

July 14, 2009

John 4:1-42

Verse 9-10: The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”…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.”

Thus a profound, intriguing, and life changing conversation begins.  One thing you begin to notice in the book of John is the conversations that are part of the overall telling.  Dialogue is front and center throughout the book.  These conversations are uniquely honest and welcoming.  I love how this woman begins to sort through what Jesus is telling her and how she tries to wrap her mind around it.  Rather than keep things to herself, she begins by trying to clarify just exactly what Jesus could possibly mean.  He is telling her about living water, but she is standing before him and he has asked her for water.  What is this all about?  Where could you find living water that you would never be thirsty again?  Would living water mean that her life would not be so hard?  Would she be able to “bottle” this water and provide for her needs?  I can imagine the many thoughts that must have fired as she hears Jesus tell her about living water.  But would any of this have gone anywhere unless Jesus had asked her for a drink of water?  He was willing to receive water from her “defiled” leather bucket.  What takes place in the conversation is initiated because Jesus was willing to receive from her and therefore he empowered her.  A woman.  A Samaritan.  A Samaritan woman.

The conversation that ensues between them covers a wide range of areas.  They discuss (or she brings up) the contrast between Jewish and Samaritan belief and, political issues and concerns.   In some ways this is a reflection of our many conversations with one another.  But verses 14-15 provide insight into what drives the conversation.  Jesus has told her that those that drink from the well will be thirsty again.  We are physical beings that require water.  He is helping her to see that the water he refers to is not something a bucket can hold by telling her the water he will give is something from within that will be gushing up to eternal life. This is it, she wants this, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus has touched a deep place in her, and she is responding to her own thirst, perhaps not quite recognizing her full need or what it is Jesus is offering her.

We recognize that what this woman seeks is something we all tend to seek.  Sermons regarding this portion of Scripture recognize this and realize this woman represents more to us and for us than her gender.  Perhaps in some ways we hold her gender in one hand and yet sweep it aside with the other to focus on the living water Jesus offers.  To be certain we see in the honest boldness of the Samaritan woman the common experience of humanity.  We want what we believe to fix what we know deep within is lacking.  We want the daily grind eased.  We want our happiness fulfilled, we yearn to be known and not considered second-class.  We desire justice for ourselves.  We suffer from an inner discord we know originated in the Fall.  Carefully Jesus begins to show her and reveal to her that religion isn’t to be about goods or services provided.  And in the process he does not reject her or her questions, he listens and reveals.

As the conversation continues it suddenly becomes personal and she faces a choice and it comes amidst a command.  Jesus tells her to “Go, call you husband and come back” (Verse 16).  What will she do, will she lower her head, ignore what he has told her, will she lie, or will she say nothing and just go and get the one who is living with her?  Does Jesus know what he is doing when he tells her to “Go?”  Here in this moment – it really is about as dramatic as any real-life television show, only it really is real.  Here this woman, someone who has been marginalized for her nationality, her gender, and her lifestyle is given an opportunity to confront her shame and her sin.  In this rather bizarre setting, one that breaks all social protocols, Jesus empowers this woman, “Go.”

He tells her something remarkable – that is worshiping God isn’t confined to a particular mountain where the Samaritans worship and neither is in going to be centered in Jerusalem, but true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.  The Father is seeking for those that will.  Jesus continues, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Verse 23-24).  Perhaps a connection is beginning to take place for the woman between these words and what living water might just be.

Here amidst this story John includes the first of the “I Am” statements.  In response to the Samaritan woman’s comments that she knows that the Messiah is coming and when he comes he will proclaim all things (vs. 25-26), Jesus tells her – he reveals the very core of his identity to this woman.  Men in the Church do you see how profound this is?  Women in the Church do you see how profound this is?

I am pondering and wondering what the link between this revelation is, the empowerment extended to this woman, and her own fulfillment.

Can’t you just imagine the scene as the disciples return from the village?  John mentions that they were astonished (and he must have known!), but no one questioned him or asked why are you talking with a woman (verse 27).  Again we need to recognize just how profound this was.  One structure is being broken, a paradigm is shifting.  Its inclusion in the gospel texts is not just a coincidence.  Although he asked her for water, thus fitting within acceptable social and cultural roles and expectations, what is about to take place reveals the same level of empowerment that Jesus had offered the disciples.

Remember he told her to go?  Jesus has given her a new understanding, she has been “un-masked” by his genuine concern, by asking for water from her he demonstrated sincere need, rather than intent that would take advantage of her.  And now with the disciples present she leaves her water jar and returns to the village.

She does not proclaim the kingdom of God is near, she performs no healings, she casts out no demons, but in every sense her words are the words of an evangelist, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah can he?” (Verse 29).  The people of the village listen to this woman; her truth-telling on herself moves them to seek Jesus out.  Later in the story we learn just how profound this woman’s message was (in Christian lingo we would call it a “testimony,” but there is no way around the fact that this woman is listened to by the men in the village and because of her boldness and transparency an entire village is transformed.  This isn’t preaching is it?  Her words become the “gateway” – the entrance point, a threshold for the entire village to hear what Jesus has to say.

In these simple actions, though I think we realize in some ways how very “un-simple” these actions were the Samaritan woman had to acknowledge her own sin.  Then the opportunity came to risk, to risk not being listened to or perhaps even ridiculed when she returned to the village.  Her risk involved being a witness to men, ultimately introducing them to the Messiah.  Because of her actions, recorded in Scripture men had an opportunity to expand their horizons beyond a prophet in the mold of Moses to a Messiah who was a Savior.

That this story and the words and actions of the Samaritan woman are included in the Canon, what Christians affirm as the living word of God must bear implications for the community of faith.  We dare not lose sight of the Samaritan woman’s gender as we recognize the vast impact and significance for men and women and children.  Nor should we miss that in this story (and others like it) Jesus elevates the status and position of women.  And in this we realize a gender wall is no longer a barrier.  A woman who was an outcast receives living water even as she goes and witnesses to her village.

May grace abound.

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2 Comments
  1. July 14, 2009 11:19 am

    From the societies point of view, Jesus elevates the position of woman. However, form his point of view he treats her like He already sees her, indeed how she is in His eyes is the reality and what society told her about herself is the lie. Good thoughts.

    • pathwayjourneys permalink*
      July 14, 2009 1:06 pm

      Hi Chris…
      Thanks for joining in … You bring out and underline (if you will) Christ’s posture toward others. Your insights add to our “view.” Grace.

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