Thursday, 22 November 2018

Breaking down barriers to the living water

This is one of the Bible Studies led by Assembly National Consultant Rev. Charissa Suli at the South Australian Presbytery and Synod meeting in Adelaide.

The unnamed woman of Samaria met Jesus by Jacob’s well outside of Sychar. John takes the time to tell us which route Jesus is taking in today’s story. There must be a reason why we’re being told this. We’re told Jesus takes a different route. Jesus was headed to Galilee by way of Samaria. A little history here: Samaria was outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod had just arrested John the Baptist. So, John tells us that Jesus had to go to Samaria. This is Jesus, does Jesus have to do anything? 

Now what’s interesting is it’s not the kind of have to when I say to my 12-year-old daughter you have to make your bed or you’re going to be grounded. It’s not that kind of have to. The Greek verb here means “to be necessary” so it was necessary for Jesus to take this other route. We’re going to find out in a moment why that was. Why was it necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria? Well.

So, the Pharisees had been investigating the credentials of John the Baptist and they were starting to press in and start to examine the credentials of Jesus. Did Jesus have to go to Galilee by way of Samaria to avoid confrontation? Perhaps, but if you read his word you realised that the time was going to come when Jesus would certainly be confronting the Pharisees. So, I don’t think that was the reason. To understand this particular route. We need to understand the lay of the land first.

Now I must tell you my grandmother would always tell us grandchildren when we would gather on the fala (mat) if we’re going to tell a story then go the old-fashioned way and use your hands. Here is the map of Israel. Here is Jerusalem. Here is Judea, here is Samaria and up there is Galilee. Now you got the map of Israel, right?

Now the Jews, particularly the Pharisees, the ultra-legalistic, shallow religionists of the day would never ever step foot in Samaria. They would instead go from Jerusalem down a footpath along the Jordan river plain which today would be modern Jordan and come up along the Jordan and cut a path and underneath the sea of Galilee… anything but a direct route. They did not want to go into Samaria at all. The direct route was Jesus going to Jerusalem and down here was Sychar.

This takes them past Mount Gerizim which is not too far from Sychar and it takes it right smack dab into Samaritan territory. Now, what’s the problem. In a word racism - stinking, rotten racism. To say to Jesus that Jews rather despised the Samaritans would be a gross understatement. It was an ancient animosity to the Jews. The Samaritans were half reeds and it goes back to the result of intermarriage between the Jews and the Samaritans hundreds of years before. The Samaritans had built their own temple and they didn’t worship in the temple at Jerusalem, they worshipped at Mount Gerizim.

Some Jews trace the Samaritans back to Shechem. Shechem was the one who raped Dina who was the daughter of Jacob and Leah, you begin to see where this hatred is coming from. Bitter hostility existed between these groups. They had long entertained a national feud with each other. So, to call a Jew a Samaritan was deemed to be a gross insult. It was a racial slur. To avoid contamination Jews wouldn’t even go into Samaria. They would avoid it altogether.

But not this traveller. Not this man. Not this Jew. He wasn’t fleeing the Pharisees, he wasn’t bowing to the historical feud, he wasn’t going to give into the phony religiosity. He was on his way to a divine appointment. 

Sychar. Interesting town, a significant place geographically because this was land purchased by Jacob later given to his sons, it’s also the place where Josephs bones would eventually be laid to rest. 

There are no rivers in Samaria. You live in air desert climate you are going to need water, right? No rivers in Samaria. But what they had instead were something called wadis. Wadis are a valley that is dry except during the rainy season. I think we would call them dry creeks in our times today. When it doesn’t rain, their dust and when it rains there filled to overflowing. It’s an inconsistent way to get water. So, a well you can see becomes extremely important to thirsty people.

So the distance for Jesus to travel from that Judean countryside to Sychar would’ve been a walk of about 2 days. Think about that. Travelling with his disciples 2 days through the desert in sandals in the heat in the dust non-stop the Jesus was a messiah on a mission. And he wanted to get to Sychar.  

Bible Study John 4:1-15 Connection, Understanding, Crossing Borders, Crossing Cultures in Faith

John tells us that Jesus tired as he was from the journey. Friends, I don’t think I’m the only one, but I’ve got to tell you something. I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus got tired. Because I get tired too. I get emotionally tired, I get spiritually tired, I get physically tired but it’s almost incomprehension that Jesus got tired too.

Here is holy god and holy human and he understands the human condition. Here is Jesus who comes down and puts on sandals and walks the walk more, dust and dirt of the earthly experience and gets thirsty and gets tired. WHY??? Scripture tells us that he is acquainted with all our sorrows and comforts us because he knows the human condition. Wearied, hunger, thirst, poverty, weariness, every vexing and humiliating trial that flesh is heir to.

So, Jesus got tired. He got thirsty.  

It’s noon, the weather would’ve been hot, the sun high, the air is dry and here is Jesus. I’m not making it up. The text tells us he is tired, he’s thirsty and he’s been walking for 2 days. He meets a woman who is much thirstier than he is.

A Samaritan woman comes to draw water at the well and Jesus says to her, give me a drink.  John in the apprentices tells us that they are alone. John writes there that the disciples had gone to the city. So here is Jesus and the woman alone at the well. 

Jesus says to the woman “will you give me a drink?” Friends, Jesus started the conversation. He knew the rabbinical teachings of the day, “talk not much to women kind”. She’s a woman, but she’s not just any woman. She’s a Samaritan woman. Let me tell you how serious this is. 

During the monthly cycles, the Jewish women are considered nadah. It’s a Hebrew word meaning removed or separated. They were to be avoided by Jewish men lest the men become contaminated. Unnedah. The Jews considered a Samaritan woman unnedah from the moment she was born. Are you getting how serious this is? From the moment she was born as a result the Pharisees instructed the Samaritan women should be strictly avoided.

Wow, so Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman knowing the teachings of his day. Jesus sparks the conversations and he doesn’t care about the tradition of the day or the feud between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus cares about his people, about relationships and so he begins to (open the fala, time, space) and talanoa with this woman.

Now notice the time of day. The woman comes to the well at absolutely the hottest time of the day and she comes alone. She was physically thirsty, and she needed to fill her water jar like everyone else in the town. In those days the women gathered water and they usually would come as a group. It was where they chatted about their lives and exchange the gossip of the town. But not this woman. They were socialising, they were interacting and integrated as a community. Not this woman. She was alone. She was the other. The Outsider. 

20kgs of water on her head. That’s hard work. Why would you do that in the middle of the day?  Why doesn’t she do it at dusk or dawn when it’s cool and comfortable and when you can meet with the other women and socialise and get caught up with the latest news. Why would you do that?

Well, there was that woman. That Samaritan woman. Alone, isolated, on the fringes and she’s about to have a conversation that will change her forever!

His disciples are off buying food and in a very short period, they are about to get a lesson on how to be an evangelist.

Verse 9 the Samaritan woman says to him, “You are a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman how do you ask me for a drink?” John doesn’t want us to miss this and he adds: “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans”. John wants us to see that Jesus is alone with the woman, he starts the conversation, he violates the Jewish law and just in case you’ve forgotten the deep racism Jews don’t associate themselves to Samaritans. Distinctive in the saviour. 

I love how this woman has a bit of an attitude and she really doesn’t know yet who she’s talking to.  But Jesus’ response is compassionate, it gracious, and its profound. Jesus responds to her heart.  

This is what Jesus does to every one of us, he cares, and he is always seeking us.

Verse 10 says: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

Jesus is offering her the gift of salvation right then, right there without asking her first to get her life in order. He’s offering her that gift, he is inviting her to have the thirst in her heart to be quenched once and for all.

This woman is not stupid, and she is still sceptical of this man. She can clearly see that he has no leather bucket to draw water from the well. She becomes more courteous in her speech. She says to him: "Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  And are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?

Jesus answered: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I gave them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.

Again, she considers the wonder and awe mingling with her doubts and tempering the manner of her tenacious questions. “Sir give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water”. 

The woman takes what Jesus is saying literally. Of course, she wants that kind of water she doesn’t want to carry her 20kg jar of water up and down the mountain each day. There must be another way. Give me that water!  

Jesus probes the depths of her heart and to recall her to a salutary sense of degradation and sin.  She was a skilful disputant, she knew her history, a great theological thinker, a sturdy inquirer; one remark shall call her thoughts home to her own life.

John 4:16-26 – Speaking Truth, History, Forgiveness, Acceptance

Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back”. 

Confused, hold on, she doesn’t lie but speaks truth, “I have no husband”. 

That’s right “you have 5 husbands and the man you now have is not your husband”. 

The woman replies, “I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem”. 

The woman is suddenly compelled to face herself and the looseness and immorality and total inadequacy of her life. There are two revelations in Christianity: the revelation of God and the revelation of ourselves.  No man or woman ever really sees himself until he sees himself in the presence of Christ.  Here the woman begins to see her life unravel before her.

As the dialogue between Jesus and the woman unfolds it’s very clear how much they value and know their history. We don’t value our religious history that much but for both Jesus and the woman, they know all about temples. It’s the epicentre of things for them. It’s remarkable that the woman knows about it and Jesus doesn’t say, come to Jerusalem and worship there. He says no, we have a whole new system that will not focus on Jerusalem as the Jews believe, nor on Mount Gerizim as the Samaritans believe but, on the Father, who must be worshipped in spirit and truth. It’s remarkable how Jesus just wipes it all away.  The rivalries are on the way out.  It’s no longer about who is conservative or liberal, north or south, Samaria or Jerusalem NRL or AFL, black bear or brown bear, Paul or Apollos...

He tells her, “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in the spirit and in truth”. 

Jesus is moving us beyond tradition and reminding us that worship is more than just tradition. If God is spirit, God is not confined to things or places and we cannot limit the worship of God to any particular location. Our gifts to God must be the gifts of the spirit. So, Spirit and truth must be intertwined, must go hand in hand together in how we worship God. Jesus replaces all Jewish feasts and institutions, all other means of access to God and makes them irrelevant. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  He is the living water.  He is the revelation that supersedes any temple made by hands. 

The Samaritan woman expresses her expectation that the Messiah is coming, who will proclaim all things to us and in response, Jesus proclaims his identity, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you”.

Jesus and the woman have delved into issues of morality, sought the spiritual waters of life and have questioned the concept of worship.  The woman has bounced ideas back and forth with Jesus as male and female perspectives were explored and her experience of life was given a voice and a listening ear.  Despite Jesus being a Jew and she being a Samaritan, where truth is given a voice and where theological dialogue flourishes, differences wither away, and common ground is revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ.    

Crossing Borders, Nurturing Our Faith and The Living Water

Jesus has crossed so many borders in this story. He did not allow race, gender, moral, religious, misfit, self-esteem, geographical political borders, or indeed any stereotypes that get in the way of making a connection and offering life-giving water particularly with someone who has been isolated because of her pure existence.  When we drink from the well of Jesus Christ it is possible to talk across boundaries that may initially keep us apart and we discover common ground that transcends whatever tensions.

Through Jesus Christ, our lives are transformed or changed when we have allowed ourselves to cross over a border and be willing to experience at a deep level the discomfort of being without borders. It is on the edge of uncomfortable where our learning begins, and we begin to see our true identity- beloved children of God who see and believe in Jesus.

We also learn from the Samaritan woman that sin corrupts our relationships.  Here is a woman whose relationships have been corrupted and she is in need of water in the same way we all are.  Even though she is so Intune with her religious history and her own cultural identity she has had to be shaken out of that, redirected to have her eyes open to see Jesus. 

As her eyes begin to see Jesus, there is a shift in her understanding of who this man is for her.  He is no longer just a Jew, or Sir, or a prophet, he becomes for her the Messiah the saviour of the World. 

Jesus offers all sinners the gift of life-giving water. In the Bible, we find several places where water is an image of salvation. Here, the people of God are to find their water in the wells of salvation, an image of God’s lasting salvation of his people. Those waters never go dry and the water is rich and refreshing. Jesus is the saviour who gives living water to all thirsty sinners. The fundamental truth is that in the human heart there is a thirst for something that only, only Jesus Christ can satisfy. As Augustine says, “our hearts being restless till they find rest in thee”. We cannot find happiness out of the things that the human situation has to offer. Are you thirsty? What are the things that you thirst for? Are you even thirsty for Jesus?

Grow, Nurture, Flourish. We can learn so much from the Samaritan woman about growing our relational evangelism and growing our relationships even when one may be a Jew or a Samaritan. For us to nurture our faith, Jesus teaches us that the well of salvation is not reached through works or rituals or any other such thing. The water is found in Christ alone and once we have drunk of him, he puts living streams in us, living water that remains sure and constant. 

We are called to follow in the example of Christ and lead God’s people in worship, witness, and service; and equip them for their ministry and mission; and to work with them in building up the body of Christ. Part of the journey may be to widen our threshold of tolerance, explore uncomfortable places, and stay present. When we risk the unfamiliar, our resilience grows, and we become more capable of living life just like the Samaritan woman.

The Journey inward
Is the hardest of all;
Walls of self-protection,
Build over the years,
Block out light and truth.

Is it time to go to the well again and draw water? What do you need to draw in and out of your own well so that you can experience this life-giving water from Jesus Christ? 

I urge you, draw water from the well of Jesus Christ, drink deeply, and find your refreshment, it is there you will find water that forever satisfies your thirst in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.