A Reflection on John 4 and the Samaritan Woman
Those people. White people. Black people. Brown people. Forgeign people. Powerful people. Rich people. Poor people. Gay people. Conservative people. Liberal people. Russian people.
Those people. Different people. Weird, wrong people. Enemy people. Other people we don’t understand or know. People. Those people. Those people are not our people.
Do you remember the first time you realized this was a lie? That you came to realize that “those” people are actually just “people”?
Encountering God across boundaries
The woman we meet at the Samaritan well in John 4 doesn’t just come to realize that “those people,” the wrong people, are actually just people. This courageous, strong and smart woman goes a little further than that. In connecting with someone from across the border, she actually connects with God.
But let’s not make this sound easy for her. Oh no, many obstacles stood in the way of her seeing Jesus as one of “those people.” Here’s a starter list of the many boundaries she overcome just to speak with Jesus:
- He’s of the wrong religion
- Jews were enemies who destroyed the most sacred Samaritan temple (in Garazin in 128 BCE)
- She was fully aware that Jews had a deeply ingrained and ancient Superiority Complex in relation to the mixed-race Samaritans.
- He’s a man, and relationships with men have too often turned against her (remember, women had no power to divorce, only men did. She’s been abandoned by 5 men in one way or another!)
- Jesus is an outsider coming onto her turf, into her sacred space (Jacob’s well)
- He’s a beggar for goodness sake (who of us assumes we’ll receive anything helpful from a beggar?)
Yet through all these obstacles and more, she meets God in the form of a stranger.
In our Texas context complete with people we negatively refer to as ‘illegal aliens’ or invaders, or poor people who bankrupt us through welfare, this is a radical concept indeed.
It’s not at temple, prayer or study that she meets God; but in the ordinariness of life as she goes about her daily tasks. And the way that she meets God is equally surprising. She meets God in dialogue, in a conversation and sharing of life that allows meaning to flow through her.
We too are likely to meet God in ordinary life, in the midst of crossing boundaries to dialogue with folks radically different than ourselves. I mentioned this last week as well: that we experience God in the poor, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned, widows and orphans…. The shadows of empire.
But its here, precisely here at a boundary she’s been taught not to cross, where she hears and accepts a transformative invitation. The invitation is to new, full life. To an abundant bubbling life that springs up from within to quench any and every thirst with the truth of who and how God is in our world.
In ancient times God provided living water that flowed out of the rock to save and sustain the people in the wilderness. And later prophets imagined God as “the Fountain of Life” (Jeremiah 2:13) who makes “justice roll down like waters and right-relationships like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:14).”
Here Jesus gives water that “becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life (John 4:14, NLT).” Here again is a call to move beyond and into the realm of something divine: Living Water, eternally generating and reproducing, sustainable, renewable. The Perpetual flow and movement of God’s gospel goodness gushing through us into the world.
God is pouring Spirit into the world and wants us poured as well. We’re invited to join the stream, to allow ourselves to be taken over by the energy and life of divinity.
Do you need a drink today? Are you thirsty? Tired? Poor? Stressed? Doubting? Lonely? Come! Come to the water and drink.
It is never too late to find meaning and purpose and redemption in life.
To which she, in her own way in the midst of dialogue, says yes. And we can see the effects this has on her in this brief exchange.
As she opens her eyes more throughout this dialogue, she experiences what the hymnist says, “purer and higher and greater will be, our wonder our transport when Jesus we see.” When she opens herself up to the other, God’s gospel bubbles up to change her:
- View of self
No longer needing to feel she’s a victim for having men abandon her and leave her to fend for herself, she embraces the truth about herself and willingly shouts it as proof that Messiah has come. What once may been a source of shame has become a tool for ministry. She is loved, and welcomed by God!
- View of God.
It was in willingness to cross boundaries that her image of God was inspired and broadened. God is not just the God of Jacob, but God is also most clearly seen in the life and teachings of Jesus who is the Messiah. God is no angry old man in the sky, God is, more than anything, like Jesus: radically inclusive, passionate peaceful, committed to the common good.
Her entire community finds shalom due to her openness to the stranger! A truth not unheard of in Christian tradition: Abraham’s hospitality to two strangers who end up being angels; the disciples encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus; Dorothy Day’s concept of the Catholic Worker. Whole worlds can be redrawn when we open ourselves to those different than us.
Jesus gospel message did, precisely as he suggested it would, cascade and bubble up as a spring of living water in her soul, transforming her from the inside out until even the world around her was changed.
Which reminds me of a beautiful truth from the last chapter in John, that God loves the whole world, and in loving the world ends up loving each and every one of us. But God’s primary concern is for the whole, not its parts. In other words, God cares so much about you he wants every relationship and institution and group you are connected with to experience the fullness of life that is shalom.
Worshipping this God
This amazing woman stands as a model for us all. She’s nuanced, takes initiative, is theologically adept, and is faithfully hospitable. She stands as a model disciple, the first in John to “get it” and the first in John to be missional.
And because of her response, Jesus invites her (and us!) to “worship in spirit and in truth.” This acknowledgement from Jesus moves us from going through the motions to an encounter with God as God actually is. We worship who and how God is in the world when we ascribe worth, value, and allegiance to God through orienting our entire lives (heart, priorities, time and money) to living like God.
Worshipping in spirit and truth demands we ask, “Do our lives and our priorities ascribe worth to the God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ?”
In this story, we learn some significant things about who and how God is in the world. God in John 4 is a God who is:
- Crossing borders and breaking down boundaries.
- Building community through mutual dialogue and respect
- Empowering women and all minority voices
- Restoring not just individuals but entire communities and social systems to shalom wholeness.
Worshipping God then, means we orient our own lives to engage in the exact same behaviors: crossing borders, building community, empowering marginalized voices, restoring all of creation. One of the worship songs we sang today called us to just such a lifestyle, “Jesus calls to each other: vastly different though we are, race and color class and gender neither limit nor debar.”
So leave your water jugs and go, find your true identity as a Disciple of Jesus living interdependently with others together on mission where you live, work and play.
And, oh yea, expect to get wet. God’s living water is flowing everywhere!