Column – If you only knew the gift
Published 7:23 pm Friday, March 17, 2023
Jesus sat down with a woman at a well in Samaria and the possibilities for all of us changed. Most of these columns I write will make so much more sense if you read the scripture associated with them. This time, we’re in John 4: 5-42.
This story starts pretty innocuously, I think. Misleading, but innocuously. I say that because John’s telling of it says that Jesus departed Judea headed toward Galilee, and that “…he needed to pass through Samaria.”
One person writing on this text reminds us that actually, there were two ways to get from Judea to Galilee. One took you up the Jordan River Valley. It’s soft and flat. That would’ve been the easier way, even if longer. That’s the way most people chose back then.
The other took you through Samaria. It’s rocky and mountainous. To borrow a line from Frost, Jesus took the road less traveled. He was on a mission.
Back when Jacob first met Rachel, the Jews and Samaritans were one people. They shared a common faith, a common heritage and a common devotion to Yahweh. It was back in the days before they went their separate ways, pointing their fingers at each other.
So, Jesus came back to where it all started. One observer says that like his forefather, Jacob, he came with a proposal in hand. But not a marriage proposal. His proposal had to do with reconciliation. That was his mission. To reconcile the world to God.
Another reader of this story says that in these passages, there is a parallelism that is setting itself up around these Lenten journeys. Jesus in the Wilderness with Satan. Jesus in the darkness with Nicodemus. Now, Jesus is at a well in Samaria with a woman. Every one of these involves our Lord having conversations.
But I know that you want to pay closer attention than that. You want to notice that these conversations do far more. They instruct us as we look over the shoulder of the storyteller.
You might be fascinated to know that this conversation is the single longest one that Jesus had in all of the New Testament. The Bible doesn’t have too many coincidences or accidents. We might do well to notice that these conversations are stacking up.
One friend of mine says this is a story of inclusion, empowerment, affirmation and dignity. Just to remind us, Jesus is moving from Judea back to Galilee. “He had to pass through Samaria.” Most good Jews avoided Samaria.
So, why did he have to? Was this a divine appointment he was keeping? This woman was also on her own journey. You know, it’s hard living a life that doesn’t work. Jesus intersected her at what may have been just the right time in her life.
The setting of this story, at high sun, is fascinating. At sundown or sun up, there would have been other women there. This would have been a meeting up place where there was community and camaraderie. No, the suggestion is that she’s here at a tougher time that would almost guarantee her that no one else would be there normally.
This story has exclusion written all over it. Jewish Law permitted two marriages. Five would have been unthinkable, and far outside the bounds of society. The man she was with now wasn’t one of her five.
She is an outcast. Now, we know why she’s outside the town at a well at a time when no one else would’ve been out there to get water. She’s by herself intentionally. Jesus not only says that Heaven has a place for her, but that he also has living water for her.
When Jesus has a conversation, if we’re paying attention all sorts of things could happen. But here, we are reminded that the presence of Jesus can change a life dramatically. The presence of Jesus can welcome and include even those we’d rather him not welcome. The presence of Jesus can give living water that lasts, satisfying our thirsts and hungers and yearnings like nothing else can.
Lent is a time to among other things, listen for the voice of Jesus as he speaks. I wonder if this conversation Jesus has with the woman will ever connect with any of us as vividly as it could unless we realize the one truth that makes it make sense. Just like with all of us, Jesus was far more interested in her future than he was in her past.