I think the way that I had always heard and understood the relationship between the Judeans and the Samaritans came from the perspective of the Judeans, the Jews. That is to say, I really only knew one perspective. So when we learn about the good Samaritan, it is always that the Samaritan is seen as less than, or the enemy of the Jewish people at the time. The Samaritan is set up as despised by the Judean people. But here’s the thing, the Samaritan hated the Judeans the Jewish people just as much. Some of it goes back to that history we talked about in the fall. When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel they sent into exile some significant portion of the population of that northern kingdom and replaced it with people from other parts of their Empire. Those who had been left behind and the gentiles who had been placed there At some point they started intermarrying. The northern kingdom had long ago established its own temples and places to worship the God of their ancestors of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. Babylon conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judea where Jerusalem was. But it didn’t last long and when Babylon was conquered and some of the Southern kingdom Jews were allowed to return to Judea which is when they started to rebuild the temple and built the wall around Jerusalem. Those who had been living in what had been the northern kingdom of Israel and Became known as Samaria, they disagreed they fought against the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Why build a new temple when there’s one just up the road on the mountain of God that they had been worshipping at for years. Of course, the people who had come back from Babylon and had been living in Jerusalem and Judea saw that those who were in Samaria hadn’t remained “pure,” They judged them for their marriages, for not having worshipped in the temple all those years, probably for the whole history of the divided kingdom itself.
In 127 BCE so about 150 years before our story today the armies from Judea, from Jerusalem marched up to Mount Gerizim and destroyed the temple that the Samaritans had built there. I imagine when you are a storytelling people, your memories are long and you can tell the story of your Ancestors 150 years ago as if it were your own parents.
That is what Jesus was walking into. He doesn’t have power in Samaria and he doesn’t have authority in Samaria and he doesn’t have safety in Samaria. He has put himself and everyone who is traveling with him at risk because he had to go through Samaria.
This isn’t true, of course, because Jewish people of the time would have crossed the Jordan traveled up alongside it and crossed back over to get into Galilee.
Now, I have to be of the opinion that our gospel writers were not idiots. And the writer who put ink to parchment for these stories in which we now call the gospel of John did so strategically and with a purpose, which we can know because at least in part because the stories are in such a different order than who they show up in the other 3 Gospels. So there’s a reason this story is found immediately after Jesus meets with Nicodemus. They look like absolute opposites of each other. The visit with Nicodemus was planned ahead of time and well-coordinated; and Jesus met with this woman because he stumbles upon her at a well. There is the obvious Nicodemus a man with a name and Jewish; the woman, a woman who inside of the Bible remains unnamed and Samaritan. Nicodemus and Jesus meet in the middle of the night, at peak darkness; Jesus and this woman be at a well in public when it is noon and the sun is high in the sky. Nicodemus comes to Jesus; Jesus approaches the woman. Nicodemus doesn’t seem to understand at the end of their conversation; she does. They are opposites in every way.
Jesus and the woman have this conversation. She is questioning his presence his requests his statements because it doesn’t make any sense. A Jewish man wouldn’t be having this conversation with a Samaritan woman no one in this situation would be safe. And he speaks of water that 1 might receive and never be thirsty. And here is this woman, She has come to the well in the middle of the day to retrieve water. This was the work of women but generally, they’d arrive in the morning and in the evenings at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, staying more or less inside during peak heat of the day. Instead, we find this woman here at noon, with the sun overhead and the heat overwhelming, outside of the city at the well, by herself, except this man who has wandered over and asked for a drink. So we have to wonder or ask why? Why is she there on her own in the middle of the day?
And Jesus suggests? tells her? to go get her husband. It kind of comes out of nowhere. And she says he has she has no husband, Jesus says “I know you’ve had 5 and the man you live with now is not your husband.” And for no less than 500 years, at least since the time of the reformation, preachers and theologians have declared that this woman, having had 5 husbands must have had an abundance of moral failing. She’s been called all kinds of things, all of them disparaging, most of them still used against women today for owning their bodies or their space, even for questioning men as this woman did Jesus. But that’s not the world she lived in. Picture it: women had few or no means to get a divorce, they had few or no resources on their own. Imagine what it must be like to have been abandoned 5 times, whether by death or divorce. We know in ancient times men could get a divorce for any number of reasons. We know the Samaritans also had the 1st 5 books of The Bible–the Pentateuch–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy which were the rules for living in community. And the primary reason men reason why men would get a divorce, as permitted in those texts, was because their wife the woman couldn’t bear him an heir. It’s possible that the man she lived with now was Levirate marriage, a relationship a woman would enter into with the brother of her deceased husband with the goal and hope of bearing a son in her dead husband’s name. But it was also to keep her safe, housed, fed. Not all of these Levirate marriages were legally marriages, sometimes it was an agreement, an arrangement, a legal contract that is formed, but it is designed to keep a woman who would be vulnerable after the loss of her husband without sons from becoming desperate.
Imagine what everyone else would say if it turned out 5 of her husband’s died or left her because she was barren. Imagine what the women whispered when she walked by. It isn’t because of any immoral actions. But it was a time of blessings and curses, and so I wonder if they wondered if she was cursed. And I wonder if she hadn’t thought that herself because usually what we say about ourselves is far worse than what others even imagine. Imagine the pain, and the loss, and the grief. Imagine that feeling that there is nothing in your life that can go right, that if there is a bucket of good luck and bad luck you seem to be only drawing from the well of bad, grief, pain, sorrow. And you have to collect it in the bright sunlight of the middle of the day.
And here is Jesus, and we don’t know what his tone of voice was, but we do know he didn’t call her any names, he didn’t say any words of judgment, he didn’t even have an opinion about her history. And something in her stirs, and her heart and her mind start to put pieces together: this man, this conversation, and all the religious stories she’s been taught, and brings up the messiah and he says “I am,” the Greek translation of the name of God-given to Moses on the mountain in Exodus, one of her stories, too. Jesus says to her I am and I know you. I know all of you, I know all about you. I am the I am and I love you.
Jesus had to go through Sumeria, not because it was the only way or the quickest way to get from where he was to where he was going. And not because of some false idea of predestination. But Jesus had to go through Samaria because he had just told Nicodemus in the dark of night that God loves the world this way, The whole world, That Jesus was sent to it to reveal that love. And that love needs to be felt, and seen, and experienced in the middle of the day. That love is vulnerable enough to say that love and the world starts with your enemies, the people who hate you, who carry the wounds of their ancestors, or feel broken in their hearts today. It starts in the places you wouldn’t normally go, to the people you wouldn’t normally meet, where they gather, tell their stories, live their lives. It begins with honesty and intimacy and vulnerability. It begins with a relationship and an experience.
And the woman gets it. She is so overwhelmed by what has happened this has happened, by the wellspring of love and grace, of intimacy and compassion that is the living water that flows from Jesus, that fills her, that pours into the dry places, into the low places, into the things she tried to keep buried, and filled her with life. She was so overwhelmed she left behind the thing that she had come to the well for in the 1st place, her bucket. She went back to her community and she told her story, she asked if this might be the messiah, and she, like the disciples just a few chapters earlier, said come and see. Come and see what I have experienced. Come and see the grace upon grace. Come and see the welcome and love. Come and see and get to know. Come and see and enter relationship. And they did all of that. And they found a wellspring, an intimate relationship, and stories of their own.
Origen, an early church father call this woman an apostle of Christ. She told her story and invited people into it.
I wonder when the 1st time you met Jesus was. Maybe you don’t remember because maybe you grew up going to Sunday school and church and someone sat by your bed and taught you how to pray. Maybe you grew up with one version of Jesus, and met a new one in compassion or justice or the face of a stranger or a loved one. Maybe you met Jesus all at once in a single moment. Maybe you don’t know if you’ve met Jesus and that’s OK, too. But I bet all of these started with a story. The story of when someone met Jesus, or their experience in a community centered on the story of Jesus. Maybe it was a walk outside, maybe it was a particular worship moment, maybe it was driving down the road and it came in a flash, maybe it was in works of mercy and kindness and compassion and justice, maybe it was in a conversation, the kindness of a friend, the welcome of a community. We meet Jesus and all kinds of ways, all kinds of places, all kinds of experiences because Jesus shows up in the world, in unexpected places because that is how God loves the world, by showing up.
And the word evangelist has been taken and corrupted because some people have turned it into saving folks from hell. But I think we can take our lead from this woman, this first evangelist. We can tell the stories of our experiences because they are meaningful, because they have changed us, because being part of an intimate relationship with Jesus and a community has given us meaning and purpose, gives us hope when things seem hopeless, reminds us that our lives are more than ourselves, more than feeding our own egos, more than getting more. Telling and hearing stories remind us that we are about relationships; relationship with God and relationships with each other. And these relationships are about being known and seen exactly as we are and loved. It’s about the honesty and vulnerability and intimacy and compassion that is the living water that runs to the places in us and in each other and in the world that is dry and desperately needs it.
So what is your story? Or what are your stories, you might have more than one. What is the story of your experience with God and with Jesus and with the community of faith that gives you hope or fills you with joy or has moved you to compassion or has changed your life or maybe just changed a day you’ve lived. Have you shared those stories before? Have you told these stories? Have you let them bubble up like living water and pour out to those you meet? But it wasn’t just enough to receive the story of others, we are invited to tell our story, not out of manipulation and fear but out of the love that you have experienced. And because you’ve experienced something so good, want to share it, to invite them to come and see. Come and see the good news. Come and see what God is doing. Come and see Jesus. Come and see.
May you have The courage of this story of the 1st evangelist, a woman, to tell your stories to invite others to come and see.