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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Samartian Disciple - 03/19/2017

For many years and in many places, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well has been couched as a story of Jesus' encounter with a tarnished woman – a harlot or an adulteress.

But when you pull back the veils of those assumptions and prejudices and really look at what the text tells us about this scene between Jesus and this woman, those ideas not only fall away, but we find they limit the real power of this story.

So who was she? In the story we are told she had been through five husbands and was now living with a sixth man she was not married to at all. It's important we remember this was a different time – women did not typically have the power or the wherewithal to divorce their husbands. But husbands, as I mentioned in another sermon recently, could divorce their wives rather easily. All they had to do was write it down – “I divorce you” – hand it do her and it was done. Perhaps this is the main reason Jesus speaks so strongly against divorce in some of the gospel texts. This practice of throwing away wives because they could not bear them a son or had not met the husband's expectations in some other way was creating a subculture of women who were very vulnerable … often reduced to begging – at best – in order to eat, particularly if they did not have a son.

It's also possible this woman was a widow, remarried to the brother or brothers of her deceased husband so she hopefully would be able to bear a son to take care of her. That possibility brings to mind the story from Matthew of when the Sadducees question Jesus about resurrection and the true husband of the widow who remained childless through her marriages to a string of brothers. “If a man dies childless,” the Saudecees proposed hypothetically to Jesus, “his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’” (Matt. 22: 24-28). Ultimately, Jesus said these were earthly concerns that did not matter in heaven with God.

It is also unusual that this woman was at the well at noon. Typically women from a community went to the well together in the morning and evening – cooler times of the day. It was a social thing. The fact this woman is at the well at this very uncomfortable time of the day tells us she was not accepted by the others. If she were barren, for instance, the other women would not have wanted to be around her. It would have been considered bad luck. So, you see, the more you dig into this story, the more the picture of this woman as a victim emerges.

It's really Jesus who is crossing boundaries in this story. It was not proper etiquette for a Jewish man to talk to a woman like this – and certainly not a Samaritan woman. But Jesus, as we know, does not always play by the rules – especially when it comes to bringing the Good News to those who are vulnerable, rejected and on the outskirts of society. And with the shattering of those social norms in this story, an amazing conversation and sequence of events is set into motion.

The woman slowly lets go of the boundaries and social norms she is accustomed to, as the picture of who this man really is begins to emerge. First she is intrigued by this idea of living water – water that would quench her thirst forever and keep her from having to come back for more at this unbearable time of the day.

Then Jesus amazes her by telling her everything about herself. “You are a prophet,” she proclaims and she is drawn in even more.

And then – being the  courageous and intelligent woman that she must have been – she brings up this difference in opinion and theology that exists between the Israelite Jews and their now distant cousins, the Samaritan Jews. It was about the proper place to worship. Was it on this mountain on which they stood, in the northern kingdom where Samaria was? Or was it really the temple in Jerusalem? Jesus really throws her for a loop here, telling her that this earthly concern between these two peoples – the Israelites and Samaritans – all of whom are children of God and part of God's creation – means nothing and soon that will be apparent.

The Samaritan woman is captivated by Jesus' answer. Could this really be?

No matter, she's knows the Messiah is coming and he will make all of this clear when he arrives. Jesus reveals himself. “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” This is the first time Jesus reveals himself fully in the Gospel of John – and it's to an outsider – a woman … one who is shunned … a foreigner … someone Jesus' own people would have always identified as a sworn enemy following a wrong religion.

The woman responds by abandoning her jar – just as the other disciples abandoned their their nets and other means of daily life when Jesus called them. She is now running to tell everyone and anyone she could find about this encounter with Jesus. “Let me tell you about who I met around the living waters of the well today! Could he be the Messiah? Come and see!” she urges everyone.

And while the disciples come back from the village with some dinner, the woman returns with her people. The people are ready to hear what Jesus had to say – the fields are ripe for harvest. Because like today, there are a whole lot of people who could use a life-giving word of grace in their lives. And through this turn in the story, we begin to understand – this Samaritan Woman is a disciple, not a repentant and healed harlot.

And in that realization is the true power of this story.

She is our reminder today that God chooses each of us regardless of whether others do. She is our evidence that God in Jesus will continue to tend to the outsider, the vulnerable, the ones without voice or power in this world. God has sent Jesus to shepherd us all into eternal life in the Kingdom of God. And she is our inspiration and challenge to be the light of Christ in this world.

Each of us are called though the living waters of this well to be disciples too – no matter our imperfections. Washed of the burden of our sins and anointed into the priesthood of all believers, we too are meant share the Good News that the Messiah has come and is breaking down earthly barriers.

He has set into motion the healing of all that has been broken and tarnished by our sinful ways and causes us to drop our earthy and temporary concerns like an earthen water jar and run to our neighbors crying “Come and see for yourself and then you will believe through your own experience and  your own eyes that Jesus is truly the Savior of the world.”

Amen

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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