This Sunday we’ll be reading a long passage, John 4:1-30.
It’s one of my favorite stories from the New Testament. It’s the longest conversation that Jesus has with someone recorded in the gospels. It’s delightful to me because it is so outrageously improper and scandalous in almost every detail. The fact that Jesus is talking to a woman in public (something not done and especially by a rabbi) – the fact that she is a Samaritan (the folks North of Judean territory whom the Jewish people hated) – the fact that she has a history of serial marriage and divorce – it’s like a perfect storm of cultural and religious taboos which Jesus unhesitatingly dives into.
John’s gospel is trying to instruct us that if we want to know what God is like we have to look at Jesus – if we want to know what God is doing we have to look at what Jesus does. This is a startling picture of God indeed. A God who’s love is not restricted by any boundaries enforced by culture or religion.
Have you ever felt far from God – ashamed or embarrassed by choices you’ve made or the lot you find yourself in? Does this picture of God tell you anything about how God views those who are outcasts?
She arrives at the well at noon – in the heat of the day. Most people would do that chore early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun wouldn’t be as hot. What does this tell us about her place in the village society? Have you ever felt like her?
Jesus knows all her secrets – by her admission, he knows everything she’s ever done. Does he seem mad at her in this conversation? Does he tell her to get her life together or change some things before he offers her the living water of a new life? What does that tell you about God’s disposition toward you?
As the church – as those who represent this Christ – do we represent this sort of scandalous grace very well? Who are the Samaritans of our culture and time? What can we learn about how we should be interacting with the world around us in light of what Jesus does in this story?
There’s an awful lot of stuff in this passage – layers of stuff. We’ll pick out a few gems, but take your time and read this over. Try on the characters for size – the woman, the townsfolk of Sychar, the bewildered disciples who find their Rabbi talking with a strange woman in public. It should be an interesting study – hope to see you there!
By the by – I did a retelling of this story in my webcomic Rabbi Encounters – you can read it HERE.