Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well – John 4:5-52
The Gospel reading today speaks to us of community, of equality and of unity in God alone, regardless of our theological differences. (And today’s bible sheet reflects on how humanity must find a way to see that millions starving to death simply must be more important to us than making money or having power – because loving neighbour is what is more important to God and that is what the whole teaching of Jesus rests upon – loving and caring for each other. In solidarity with the famine crisis, we have joined in the emergency appeal and the plate will be at the back of the church these next few weeks.
In the reading, a thirsty and tired Jesus is left alone as the disciples go to the town for food and asks the woman for a drink. The irony here is that Jesus, confident as one who promises the water of life is himself vulnerable, thirsty and dependent on the Samaritan – arch-rivals of the Jews due to their racial mix and religious views. But not only is the ethnicity of the woman respected but so too is her gender.
Jesus and the woman embark upon a deep discussion that reveals Jesus – for the first time in the Gospel – as the long awaited Messiah, and Son of God – ‘I am he’ he declares….(v26) This is remarkable because Rabbis – teachers – discussed and argued theological points only with those in whom they had the greatest respect for – and who would more than likely to have been men…
But Jesus – as ever – cuts all boundaries – and is saying by his actions – you are just as important and I respect you…
Eventually, this woman of five husbands – reputation in doubt but faith clearly converted to believe in Jesus, returns to her community and evangelises and bears witness to the Gospel – the good news of Jesus – which in turns brings the whole village to the point of acknowledging Jesus as nothing less than the saviour of the world- bringer of truth and justice
By telling her community that Jesus knew all about her past life – yet still honouring who she was as a person of God – the woman paved the way for others to want to know more and to go to him and see…
There are some points about the woman you might find interesting to think about at this point and which supports Jesus inclusion of women as disciples….
The first – is that the woman is representing all of Samaria in her dialogue and confession – ‘Are you greater than OUR ancestors?’ she asks in verse 12; ‘OUR ancestors worshipped on this mountain’ – verse 20. What Jesus teaches her – he teaches them all….
She seems to have experienced her conversion through Jesus knowing her 5-husband history – in just as Nathanael did when Jesus tells him he saw him under the fig tree – and her evangelising in her village is just like the way disciple Andrew witnessed to Jesus as he rallied his brother Simon to follow….
Furthermore, we are keen to portray the woman to be perhaps somewhat licentious – but actually, there was a custom of levirate marriage that says that a widow should marry her dead husband’s brother to continue the line – and just maybe the last male in her family line has refused…maybe she is just an unfortunate person of circumstance…
Either way, Jesus showed her respect and understanding – exact qualities that the Queen spoke of in her Commonwealth message this week – and by telling the disciples that ‘others have laboured first’ in their places of mission – Jesus is honouring the fact that people like the woman have already been in some places in his name – that the church doesn’t hold some exclusive ticket to God’s love and grace – God’s love and grace are already out there in the goodness of the world – but waiting to be revealed all the more in the darker places.
And that is what we are called to remember in this story – treating people with respect and understanding – engaging in good conversation – taking others seriously – are ways to discover the heart of Christ in the most unlikeliest of places – and that loving communities can break down barriers and divides that prevent us from living in peace and solidarity – and from feeding the starving…
They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have [now] heard for ourselves, and we know that [Jesus] is truly the Saviour of the world." Let us pray that this woman’s enthusiasm for Jesus’ loving and graceful way of life spill over into the world today – let us pray for the healing of the world. Amen
Rev Jacqueline Drake-Smith – 19 March 2017