Jesus Breaks All the Rules

the text: John 4:1-26
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’


the ideas
Samaritans worshiping
Jesus doesn't baptize with water - because he baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This doesn't undermine water baptism, which is very important. Jesus is just being set up to be something so much more - living water.

Samaria and Samaritan - Samaritans live in Samaria, which is just outside of Jewish land. These people are racially mixed (Jewish and other races) and proper Jewish people did not associate with these folks. In Harry Potter language, these are the Mud-bloods. Their religion is Judaism mixed with other elements, but they claim to be the true Jewish lineage and worshippers. They traditionally wear all white.

Jacob's stuff - The well and name-dropping of Jacob seem, in my perspective, to give some legitimacy to the situation that is going to take place. Jesus, who was in the land of Judea, now is going to a people who have a connection to Jewish practice, but are usually considered outside the blessed people.

Wells - In the Old Testament, scenes with wells in them usually had sexual connotations and involved women getting married. Something is afoot here, for sure, especially with this morally questionable woman.

Jesus is tired and hungry - While John is adamant that Jesus comes from heaven, he is careful to preserve Jesus' humanity. This whole situation, the one where Jesus breaks all the rules, comes about because Jesus is tired, hungry, and thirsty. He is human.

Samaritan Woman - From an ancient Jewish perspective, this woman has three strikes against her. She is the wrong race, she is the wrong sex, and she is morally reprehensible (the multiple husbands + live in boyfriend = not so good). There is a lot of speculation about why she comes to the well at noon whereas most women traditionally got water earlier in the day. Mostly the speculation settles on her being a social outcast because of her moral state (those pesky husbands). There may be a lot of truth to this historically, but the text doesn't say. 

Unholy, improper boldness - this woman knows the rules. "Our kind does not associate with your kind, and your kind is usually more arrogant about this whole mess" (paraphrase). In case his audience didn't catch the heavy social awkwardness, John adds a parenthetical about Jews and Samaritans. As a subjected person, she reminds Jesus that he is walking into a social faux pas. She may even be coming off as holier than Jesus, at this point, because she is the one maintaing proper social customs.

Jesus epiphany - Remember what we said earlier, when Jesus is in a conversation he tries to bring the conversation to a point where he reveals who he truly is and invites people into his mission to live into eternal life now. Here, Jesus cuts through the awkwardness and gets to the business at hand. With Nicodemus in ch. 3 Jesus gets real confusing. With this woman, he gets to the point. This, to me, is grace on the part of Jesus. With the people, whom he loves, he gives them grace and love. He makes it easier. He comes closer and reveals himself in a fuller way.

"Are you greater..." - Jesus points to the well and says that this well, the one from Jacob, only deters thirst. Jesus has a water that is eternally quenching. Her interest is high. But she asks a question that also gets to the heart of the matter - "are you greater than Jacob? Not only Jacob, but my whole people and tradition, which we think is handed down from Jacob and his God?" - Jesus' answer: Yep, but only if you think everlasting water is better than regular water.

Living Water - Jesus is not offering literal water, but everlasting spiritual nourishment that quenches the thirst for something that we are without. A quenching of that desire for God that all humans possess, which we now find in the closeness of Christ. Blaise Pascal, a famous French scientist, philosopher, theologian, says, "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him... this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pensees).

Husband(s) - Just as she is buying what Jesus is selling, he brings up her marital situation. A lot of people and scholars look at this as Jesus cutting her to the quick to bring out her sin so that she can repent and believe the good news. This may be true, but I disagree. She already wants something new. To me, Jesus brings up her marital situation because it is symptomatic of her thirst. She wants love. She wants to be known. She wants to be safe and happy and in relationship with someone who values her, loves her, respects her, and honors her - just as all humans do. But her situation seems more desperate as there are so many publicly failed attempts. Jesus never condemns. Jesus never even says, "Go and sin no more" as he has a million times before. This isn't to say she is wrong or right, but, more importantly, Jesus dives into her desire and lack of being quenched. He is addressing her, and offering her eternal-life fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. 

This is too awkward, let's change the conversation - she acknowledges that Jesus is totally right and then moves the conversation from a personal level to an ancient theological debate (this is my kind of gal). My mountain or your mountain? My people or yours? "Mountain" - Probably Mount Gerizim, but it doesn't matter to Jesus or John. 

More spiritual stuff, Jesus? - Jesus gives a nod to the Jews, but ultimately salvation comes from the Jews because Jesus is Jewish. On the whole, mountains and people groups are not determining factors for who is right. Jesus ushers in the new point of human history ("is coming and now here") where racial and religious barriers are broken down. God is not bound to any people group, and this even means the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. No, God's new realm, the Kingdom, has come and everyone is invited to enter through Jesus Christ.

I AM the Messiah - Again, usually Jesus isn't this transparent. After giving in to her changing of the subject, he comes right out and says that he is the Messiah that was to come. More than that, there are a number of "I AM" sayings in John. These are very important. Many scholars believe that Jesus is reclaiming the divine name that God gave to God's-self when he was talking to Moses and Moses asks "who should I say sent me?" "God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you"'" (Exodus 3). When Jesus makes an I AM statement, it is believed that he is associating himself with God in such a way that God is now present with the people in him - present with the people in a Exodus sense who leads them out of darkness (currently religious and political darkness) into the light of the Promised land ("light" being Jesus and "Promised Land" being the Kingdom of God). 

the ideas
There is so much here. Worship could be emphasized. Go and worship in spirit and truth. 

Jesus breaks down social barriers that impede people from experiencing the Good News of freedom, justice, and love - this should not be missed. Assess your prejudices and destroy them. African Americans? Illegal immigrants? Middle Easterners? Or have you given up on someone closer to home? A lazy sister? A hard-hearted mother? A failed son? Don't give up on someone being able to come in, or you may be the one in danger of missing out. 

Assess whether or not you are living a life the keeps people out of the kingdom by your comfort, clothes, wealth, jewelry, politics, habits, hobbies, etc. Do you live in such a way that creates walls for someone entering into the church?

Find your lingering thirsts and admit you are thirsty like Jesus, the Son of God from heaven. Find your quenching in Jesus. Do not let them fester underneath. Secrecy is as dangerous as giving in to them. Get help. Lean into the everlasting water. There is healing and wholeness here in this well.

But, if there is one thing I could have you do, it would be to watch this sermon from a beloved professor of mine who is a national, if not global, expert on gospel reconciliation:

I've Got A River of Life: Brenda Salter-McNeil

Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14, Aug. 13, 2014)

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