The Woman At The Well
(Read John 4:1-9) So when Jesus gets word, that the Pharisees got word, about how Jesus is now baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist, he leaves Judea where he and John were baptizing. And he heads for Galilee. But to get there, he decides to travel through Samaria–where the Samaritans live. They were an interesting bunch those Samaritans. They followed the law of Moses like the Jews, but they changed the scriptures around a bit to suit their own purposes. For centuries the Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. When traveling from Judea to Galilee, many Jews took the long way, just to avoid the hated Samaritans.
But Jesus didn’t do that.
Jesus went straight through Samaria, which went against the cultural conventions of his day. And tired from his journey he sat down at Jacob’s well there in Samaria. It was midday, and a woman approached the well.
Now at the time, the Jewish teachers warned men against talking much to any women, let alone a Samaritan woman. A Samaritan woman was considered unclean from birth. (Even her water vessel was considered unclean.) Also, in that culture, asking a woman for a drink could be interpreted as flirting. And it was an especially delicate situation at a well because both Isaac and Jacob found their wives at wells. But Jesus is a violator of societal expectations, and he engages this woman anyway. He starts with a simple request.
“Give me a drink,” he says.
“What is happening?” She must be thinking to herself. And she says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
We love this don’t we? I know I do. Jesus extends God’s grace and love to a woman of a different race. We find out later she’s had five previous relationships with men, and she’s currently unmarried but living openly with her sixth. Because the Samaritans were as pious as the Jews, she was almost certainly ostracized. It may be she chose to come to the well during the heat of the day so she could avoid the other women in her community who disliked her, because of her promiscuity. But Jesus, Jesus blows her mind. I’m cheering inside when Jesus demonstrates his love for people on the margins. It’s a great truth about God’s heart that He loves people without regard for their position in society.
The Man Who Left Church
I was talking with a thirty-something yesterday and some good insights came out of that conversation–mostly from him. He told me about a friend who when he reached the age of twenty or so, refused to attend the church he grew up in. When he became an adult, this guy went to a different church for awhile. A church whose theology differed from that of his parent’s church. He decided he disagreed with his parents’ church’s theology, and since he made that decision, he refuses to worship with his parents, at their church.
In the words of Eddie Kaufholz, this happens in every generation. The twenty-somethings “of 50 years ago just needed more of that sweet hymnal-singin’, pastor-in-a-robe goodness.” Then, the twenty-somethings “of 25 years ago no longer wanted those things and decided that the rock and roll that all the kids like should have a place in church. Not to mention fewer pulpits, more humor, and significantly more hair product.” (Kaufholz, I Don’t Like Going To Church, Relevant Magazine)
During my conversation with the thirty-something we talked about how some people who grew up in non-denominational evangelical churches felt they needed more reverence and structure, so they embraced the Orthodox Church as adults. But others, like Eric Metaxas, author of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography, grew up in an orthodox church but embraced a non-denominational evangelical church as an adult.
But here’s the thing: It’s great to find a different church where we feel better able to draw closer to Christ, but it’s not great to feel bitter towards those other churches where people worship in a way that no longer resonates with us.
Just before the woman at the well, just before his encounter with the Samaritan woman on the margins, Jesus engaged in a one on one with her exact opposite number: Nicodemus.
She was a woman–He was a man
She a Samaritan–He a Jew
She of low socioeconomic class–He of high socioeconomic class
She was infamous–Nicodemus was a famous teacher of the Jews
She’s on the margins–He’s a leader of the mainstream
We like it when Jesus reaches out to people on the margins, but don’t forget, Jesus didn’t have regard for people’s station in life whether they were of a low position, or a high position.
Jesus loved the Samaritan woman, and,
Jesus loved the Pharisee.
They both sought Jesus in different ways, but they both sought Jesus.
In the same way, we need to love those who seek Jesus in a different way than we do, because Jesus does. He loves the twenty-something who smokes weed and feeds the homeless downtown. And he loves the guy with a crew cut who flies the American flag from the back of his pickup. He loves the man who finds Jesus in the Orthodox church, and he loves the woman who finds Jesus in the Quaker church. He loves the Catholic, and he loves the Protestant. He loves the non-denominational evangelical, and he loves the United Church of Christ member.
He loves the church. The church is so important to Jesus that he “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her… This mystery is profound,” the scriptures say, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32) Jesus left the place where he was most comfortable, his home, in heaven, and came to the church, to give himself up for her.
Jesus loves the church, all churches where he is found. Jesus loves your church, and your parent’s church too, and even your grandparent’s church.
Jesus loves the church,
and we’re to love like Jesus.
You might also like reading about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus.
References and Resources:
Eddie Kaufholz, I Don’t Like Going To Church, Relevant Magazine
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity Press, 1993
*Some of the details in this blog post were changed to protect people’s anonymity.
Image via Alex Luyckx – Creative Commons