For God so Loved Her, Part 2
Adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona few weeks ago...
Is there anything surprising about the idea that God loved the woman at the well? Why wouldn’t God love this woman? I think there are many people – people in Jesus’ time, and people in our time – who would say that at the very least that this woman is an outsider, and at worst, that she is a sinner who is unworthy of love. Let’s look at that a little more closely.
First of all, she is a Samaritan. Samaritans lived north of Jerusalem in what used to be the Northern Kingdom of Israel. When the Northern Kingdom fell, the Assyrians took away the 10 tribes of Israelites who lived there, and “foreigners” into the country. These new people married the Israelites who remained in the land; the Jewish people of Jesus’ day considered that kind of intermarriage to be BAD – with a capital B. The Samaritans worshipped God differently – and worshiped God in a different place - not in Jerusalem. We hear the woman at the well referring to it when she says, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” The Samaritans are the result of marriage with foreigners – they worship God the wrong way – I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, Jewish people and people from Samaria were not friends. In fact, Jews traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee in the North would go out of their way to avoid Samaria – so much so that it would double their travel time, but Jesus does not. Jesus walks right into the heart of Samaria, and strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan at the well.
But that’s not all. In addition to being a Samaritan, she is a woman. At the time, it would be sinful for a Rabbi to even speak to a woman in public – even it that woman were his wife. It was so bad, that sometimes Pharisees were referred to as “those bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they would shut their eyes when they were walking down the street and saw a woman – so much so that they would run into walls – hence bruised and bleeding. And yet Jesus speaks to this woman.
She is definitely an outsider. So much so that there were barriers between her and perhaps her entire community, between her and the disciples and other Jews who might have been listening to this story. We might even conclude that there were barriers between her and God. But we would be wrong.
We can see that in the way Jesus speaks with her and what he reveals to her.
Jesus tells her about her life. He tells her that he knows that she has been married five times and is living with another man who is not her husband. And this is where I get frustrated when I hear people talk about this scripture. We look at this story, and all we see is what we consider to be sin. We make comments (we do, and people who teach, preach and write about this scripture do) – we make comments that she was a woman of loose morals, a woman who Jesus forgives, and offers living water.
But, the scripture doesn’t say that. In this passage, there is no mention from Jesus that he is pointing out her sin to her, and there is no mention that he is forgiving her. I don’t believe Jesus is telling her about her life to point out to her where she has gone wrong. He is telling her about her life so that she will recognize who he is. She knows there was no way he would know about her life. By telling her, he is showing her that he is the Messiah. He doesn’t offer either judgment or forgiveness. He offers revelation and love.