The Samaritan woman at the well.
This is one of my favourite readings.
It has so many lessons for us it is difficult to pick just one.
Today I am making the point that I think it stresses that true worship is not found in any building or group but in the hearts of believers who worship God “in Spirit and in Truth.”
Rather than highlight the Samaritan woman’s inspired missionary leadership, preachers too often go on saying that she was a five-time divorcee before Jesus saved her from a life of sin.
I think that is a load of bananas.
That interpretation couldn’t be further from the truth if the passage is read carefully.
A bit of background information.
The Samaritans had moved from having one god and occasionally worshipped other gods.
I think that when Jesus’ commented about husbands he was speaking metaphorically about Samaria’s infidelity, pointing out that Samaria’s current “husband” i.e. their current God, was not a source of living water for the people.
That, though is a sermon for another day.
Like most of the Bible, taking this passage at face value doesn’t work.
In first century Palestine, a woman could not initiate divorce except in extremely rare circumstances.
Therefore, the Samaritan woman’s five former husbands must have either divorced her or died.
Either of those would have spelled disaster for her since women relied on the male household to survive.
I’d love to know where the idea that she had divorced several husbands actually came from.
Whatever else she may have been, the Samaritan woman was not a serial divorcee.
Hollywood hadn’t been invented.
While we will probably never know the exact historical circumstances of the Samaritan woman’s domestic situation it is clear that Jesus paid no attention whatsoever to her morals or the usual lowly social status of women.
The Gospel ascribed to John is not my favourite Gospel but I do admire the writer for the way the social taboos separating males and females is recognised but crushed. This upsetting of cultural taboos seems to be intentional.
What are the social taboos that are “broken and transformed” in this passage?
A solitary Samaritan woman approaches Jesus at a public well at the wrong time of day.
Since village women normally drew water only at dawn and dusk, a woman appearing alone at noon would have been considered improper.
Jesus spoke to her and a lengthy conversation ensued.
Even the woman herself remarked on Jesus’ improper behaviour on two counts.
Jews disliked and shunned Samaritans and it was considered inappropriate for men to speak to women outside their family in public.
Jesus was not deterred.
I can imagine him saying, “So what?
Second, when Jesus asked the woman to call her husband, she came back empty handed and then followed one of the deepest theological discussions, with Jesus, in the Bible.
It was a sparring match about where true worship is found.
Last week we heard about Nicodemus who met secretly with Jesus at night and went away no more enlightened than when he arrived.
The Samaritan woman met Jesus in broad daylight and went away a true believer.
The writer gives us one of the I am sayings ascribed to Jesus. “I am the Messiah”
This is the longest conversation that Jesus had with any woman in all four Gospels.
For John, the Samaritan woman represents a picture of the stereotypical outsider who, after her transformative encounter with Jesus, becomes not only an insider but also a leader.
She went back to Samaria publicly proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah to both men and women.
She did not conform to a typical woman of her day.
Yet her non-conformity presented no obstacle to her acceptance and subsequent leadership in her country.
For me, the most compelling piece of “good news” in this passage is that the Samaritan woman’s search for true worship came to fruition in her lengthy conversation with Jesus.
In the encounter not only is she changed, but so is Jesus.
Her joyful embrace of Jesus’ teaching satisfies his hunger to fulfil God’s will “on earth as in heaven.”
“I have food to eat that you don’t know about,” says a re-energized Jesus to his disciples
The woman’s search for true worship “in Spirit and in Truth” was at last fulfilled.
Jesus recognised that he was not the source of her wanting to know God.
That’s a lesson for all of us.
That longing already existed within her.
Jesus reaped what another had sown.
As for the Samaritan woman, she now joined a group of sowers and reapers.
As the passage puts it, “gathering crops for eternal life” (John 4:36).
She found she could worship and work for God wherever she was.
And what about us? Where do we find true worship? Do we need church or others in order to do so? Do we worship in Spirit?