Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
A Sermon for Lent week 3
Readings from John 4:5-42; Romans 5;1-11
Important and strange things take place next to wells in scripture: Jacob meets Rachel, his favoured wife and the mother of Joseph; Joseph will go on to be the progenitor of the two tribes that unite as the Northern Kingdom of Israel until it's fall to the Assyrians in 732BC. Also by a well an angel speaks to Hagar about her son to be called Ishmael, which means 'God is listening' and Jesus meets the Samaritan woman, where God is speaking.
The Hebrew word ayin means both well and eye; the connection being that the eye and the well can be both deep and reflective. Traditional Rabbinical wisdom says we have two eyes so that one can view the greatness of the created cosmos and that one can view the smallness of ourselves. Ultimately, in scripture when there is a well, we are invited to look again.
It is not true that Jews that never travelled through Samaria; however, relations between Jews and Samaritans were always tense and often hostile, so contact was generally avoided. John’s comment, in verse 4, that Jesus ‘had’ to go through Samaria, suggests a certain divine necessity that God had ordained this special meeting by the well.
The exchange is special, in that it was rare that a Jewish man, particularly a prominent rabbi would speak to a woman, let alone a Samaritan woman. But when we frame it against the previous chapter of John and Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus we find an interesting parallel and a great separation.
Jesus sparks interest with a spiritual analogy, for Nicodemus it is the concept of being ‘born again’ for the woman it is the ‘living water’. The analogy is at first misunderstood, Jesus elaborates, then reveals something of himself.
Nicodemus, the theologian, the spiritual elite of Israel and a religious insider, is unmoved, barely flinches, and remains spiritually blind to Jesus’ revelation. For the woman it changes her entire outlook on life. We could say that it opens both her eyes!
It is such a special moment in scripture the Church even has a term for it – dei loquentis persona that is ‘the person of God Speaking’. Jesus isn’t sermonising, he isn’t talking in parables to a large group, he distils his message given to the disciples over time and he speaks to the woman as he spoke to Nicodemus, straightforward, uncomplicated – It’s me, I am the Messiah. I’m not what you expected. In an odd twist, the open eyed woman is also witnessing the 'smallness' the personal part of Jesus.
Picture it from the woman’s point of view. She comes across this man, this person, in the middle of nowhere, at the hottest part of the day, tired, dusty from the road, by himself, in need even. Soon enough he’s telling her it isn’t about holy mountains nor sacred temples, true worship is done in spirit: it’s not about ritual, it’s about relationship.
So let us address the relationships mentioned in the gospel, about the five husbands. Theologians have always asked of the Gospel of John – is it a work history or a work theology?
You should look out for the NT affirmations of OT truths - v5 - Jesus comes to the place where Jacob gave Joseph the well, for John that’s just history.
Had the woman at the well really had five husbands or is it a reference to 2nd Kings 17? In the ancient Near East a conquered people would be resettled elsewhere to prevent them uniting again; when the Assyrians took Samaria scripture tells us:
‘Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites.’
These cultures brought their own religions that increased the syncretism found in the Jewish scripture – could these be the five ‘husbands’ John is talking about? Is the Samaritan woman representative of all of Samaria? Perhaps Jesus is there to reconcile the entire relationship of the Samaritans.
In the wisdom of scripture, can’t both things be true at the same time? The bible we have is the bible God always intended for us to have; so that we can look again. and like I said important and strange things happen next to wells in scripture.
It’s another dimension to the text, that shifts us away from the Jewish understanding of salvation. Yes, as Jesus states :salvation comes from the Jews, but it is not limited to only the Jews. He is the Messiah in which we find the correct relationship to God, regardless of where we have come from. His very act of revelation to the Samaritan woman shows us this.
The lesson comes today from the part of John’s gospel called The Book of Signs, a rich work that continually points forwards and backwards to the works of God. The truth and the lesson today is the revelation of Jesus as Messiah, and of the woman’s reaction to the spiritual truth. Her faith in the man Jesus.
We turn to the Epistle from Paul to establish why faith is important. It’s always been important, and it is useful to understand that that the earliest Christian writings come from the apostle Paul. Where the events of the Gospel happened first, the writing down of the Gospel came after Paul.
In his deeply important letter to the Romans, Paul points out why faith is so important. I’m sure you are all aware that with faith in Jesus comes justification: that is being judged to be righteous in the eyes of God. When viewed as righteous we can and will be saved.
Paul outlines the three consequences of being found righteous in his Epistle: peace, access to grace and hope.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have access by faith into His grace in which we stand. And we exult in the hope of the glory of God.
Returning briefly to the well in Samaria; it exists today inside an eastern orthodox monastery near Nablus in Palestine. It remains a holy site for those of faith and is a place of pilgrimage. A place where perhaps people can still perceive, in some sense, the greatness of the created cosmos. For it was at that very well, where according to John, Jesus invited the Samaritan woman, and by extension us, to be fully part of something beyond us.