PRM sermon part 2

During this post, we’re looking at the text of John 4:5-42, the story of the woman at the well.  I titled this portion of my sermon, “Water and the Samaritan Woman” (i know; pretty dull, right).   Only having 30 to 40 minutes to give this sermon, I actually moved through the following content pretty quickly, so while this post may seem long, the sermon was only 30 or 35 minutes.

I began by identifying some portions of the story that I found interesting, based on previous sermons and teachings that I had heard on this passage.  The first interesting point of this story is that Jesus passed through Samaria.   During the time period when Jesus was around (the first century) as well as previous and subsequent times, the Jews actually never went through Samaria.  If you look at an ancient map of the middle east, you will notice that located between the region of Galilee (which is where Jesus is from in Nazareth) and Judea (which is where Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and his birth place Bethlehem are located) is Samaria.  In order for the Jews to go around Samaria, they would either have to cross the Jordan on the east side of the region, walk south, and cross the Jordan again to get to Jerusalem, or they could go to the western shoreline along the Mediterranean, walk south, and then come back to the east to get to Jerusalem.  Let’s just say that it was way out of their way to by-pass Samaria, but why did they walk around Samaria in the first place?

The Samaritans were half-bloods or traitors to the Israelites.  They were, more specifically, the offspring of Israelites and Gentiles (people who are not Jews).  These Gentiles were some of Israel’s enemies when the Israelites were conquering the promised land and when Israel was forced into exile by foreign nations such as Babylon, Persia, and Greece.  These people were not fully Jewish, so the Jews segregated them from the community.  In fact, the Jews often referred to Samaritans as “dogs.”  This was a deep racial hatred that went back nearly one thousand years, if not more.

So Jesus is a Jew and he’s going through Samaria (something a Jew would rarely, if ever, do).  The next interesting point is that the Samaritan woman comes at noon.  In my translation (which is English Standard Version), it says the sixth hour with a footnote by it.   The footnote says that it was around noon, so it’s probably around the hottest or getting near to the hottest point in the day.  The text even says that Jesus stops to rest and wait on the disciples to come back with some food.  I’m wondering why the woman is coming at noon, for she surely had chores and other duties to attend to before then.  Not only that, why would she be carrying water back at the hottest part of the day?  Wouldn’t it be easier to leave early in the morning when it is cool so that you can get all the water that you need and not work yourself to death just trying to get to and from the well?  As I thought about the entire passage, I began to realize some of what she was thinking.  Because of her past and the community probably ostracizing her for her actions, she is going at noon so that she will not see anyone.  She expects no one to be at the well when she goes.

The third interesting point in this story is that Jesus actually talks to this woman.  Not only did Jews not associate with Samaritans, but a man never spoke with a woman in public.  It was grounds for suspicion of adultery on the man’s part.  Not only that, but women were not considered to be equals to men in that culture.  Women were more like property than anything else.  Jesus was crossing an enormous cultural boundary by speaking to this woman.  This idea is confirmed when the disciples return and they marvel that Jesus is talking to a woman.  They know the social and cultural rules around them, and they’re not sure what Jesus is doing.

Of even more interest is that the woman even asks Jesus why he is talking to her.  She knows that he shouldn’t talk to her, for he is a Jewish man and she is a Samaritan woman.  Her question also tells us something about her.  She does not value herself.  She knows what she’s done, and she knows that the people of her community disapprove of her actions.  She sees no reason for anyone to speak to her.  The final interesting point is that Jesus knows all that she has done, and even in spite of knowing these things, he still talks to her.  By speaking and listening to her, he is showing her that he values her.  While she may not see any value in herself, Jesus wants to know her and gives her the confidence that she is actually valuable.

So you might be wondering what the relationship between this passage and the prior passage in Exodus is.  I was wondering too as I was preparing for this sermon, but then I realized a couple things.  In the same way that the water from the rock brings life and vitality to the Israelites, Jesus’ words are living water to the woman, reviving her from her lack of self-confidence and lack of self-esteem.  She is valuable, no matter what anyone may say or tell her, because Jesus values her.  Not only are Jesus’ words water to her soul, but Jesus’ love is the living water that she needs.  His love empowers her.  How do we know this?  She goes back to the village, from which she came earlier hoping that she would meet no one at the well, and she tells everyone in the village about Jesus, this man that knows all that she has done and still speaks with her and values what she has to say.

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~ by randallkoehler on March 30, 2011.

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