Woman of Samaria at the Well: The First Evangelist? (John 4:5-42)
A story is told of three men who died and went to heaven. God was in a good mood and so he thought of giving each of them a chance to return to earth in any form they would like to be. So the first man said, “Lord, I want to go back just as I am except that I would be ten times smarter.” So God made him return to earth as a man but ten times smarter.” The next one said, “Lord, I want to be better than the first guy, so make me a hundred times smarter.” So God made him return to earth as a man but a hundred times smarter. The third one said, “Lord, I want to be the best. Make me a thousand times smarter.” The Lord thought for a while and then he made the third guy return to earth---as a Woman!
Today’s reading is about a smart woman whom Jesus encountered at the well. She was a Samaritan woman, meaning she was a mixed race, not a full-blooded Jew. In those days, the Samaritans were a segment of the population called Gentiles, despised by the Jews. The Jews, including the disciples of Jesus, would not like to be associated with the Samaritans and it was unbecoming of Jesus as a rabbi or teacher to be conversing with a Samaritan. But there must be something in the woman, which caught the attention of Jesus. It was the smartness of the woman. She was a good conversationalist. Let us examine the topics of their discussion:
The first topic they talked about was social ethics. How ethical or how appropriate was it for Jesus as a rabbi to ask the woman of Samaria for water? The Samaritans were called by the Jews as dogs and the woman, even a Jewish woman, was a considered second class citizen. To be a Samaritan woman would therefore be worse than a dog. So the woman asked Jesus, “Sir, how is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus responded by saying, “Woman, if you only know the gift of God and who is it that asks you for a drink, he would have given you living water.” Now this was interesting and so the woman replied with the second question, which is about history: “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 this well?” According to history, the Jewish faith come from the progenitor Abraham and handed down from generation to generation. God has been described as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The woman was not only knowledgeable of the history of the Abrahamic faith; she was also expressing that she and the Samaritans are part of that faith. Why? Because Abraham was not only a father of the Jews but the “father of many nations”---both Jews and Gentiles.
That was a discussion close to the heart of Jesus. When Jesus was born, he took on the Jewish culture and was born a Jew. But his bloodline comes from Mary and Mary as the Jewish girl came from the lineage of David and David comes from the lineage of Jesse, and Jesse comes from the lineage of Obed and Obed comes from the linage of Boaz who married Ruth, the Moabite. You remember the story of Ruth and Naomi when Ruth said to Naomi “Entreat me not to leave you; where you go, I will go; where you die, I will die. Your people shall be my people; your God shall be my God.” You remember that it was Naomi, Ruth’s mother in-law who helped Ruth marry Naomi’s cousin, Boaz? In other words, Jesus was not pure Jew because his bloodline can be traced back to the mixed marriage of Boaz and Ruth!. Do you get the special interest of Jesus here? It was this woman from Samaria, unconsciously, who was reminding Jesus where he comes from. She was reminding Jesus of his true cultural identity! Just like Moses who first thought that he was an Egyptian prince when actually he was a son of a Hebrew slave; so here was Jesus coming to the consciousness that he was a not a pure Jew. While at first he thought he was called to save only the lost tribes of Israel, now he is being challenged to think that he was actually called to be savior of the whole world---Jews and Gentiles alike!
At this point, the curiosity of the woman about the living water intensified so she asked Jesus where to get this living water and Jesus replied, “Go call your husband and come back.” We seem to think that the woman began to flirt with Jesus here when she said, “I have no husband” but Jesus said, “You are right to say that you have no husband, because you have had five husbands, and the one you are now living with, is not your husband.” So Jesus knew the reputation of this woman. Not only that she was a Samaritan; she also was promiscuous and had a bad reputation. But Jesus was not judgmental. Rather, the teaching moment moved to a higher consciousness when the woman said, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain but you (Jews), say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
What followed was the most profound, the most important teaching of Jesus about the presence of God.”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 I tell you, the hour is coming, and now has come, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God cannot be contained in Jerusalem (the City of God for the Jews). God cannot be contained in a mountain (the truth of the animists). God cannot be contained in the temple; God cannot be contained in the church. God is bigger than all of them. “Heaven and highest heaven can not contain thee,” according to Solomon. The spirit of God broods over the whole universe and all nations are like a drop in the bucket. God was not to be a tribal God but a universal God. God cannot be contained in one religion alone; God cannot be put in a box---and if our hearts are not big enough for God, then God’s heart is so big enough for all of us. This is the kind of worshipers that God seeks; they who worship God unrestricted by their ideas about God!
The woman had one final question that makes me believe that she was the first person whom Jesus gave the messianic revelation. The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming---and when he comes he will proclaim all things to us” and to this Jesus replied, “The one who is speaking to you is he. I am the Messiah!” What a tremendous privilege. In such a short and fleeting moment, the woman experienced an amazing encounter with the One whom the world had been waiting for, for a long, long time. Amidst the perplexity of the apostles of why Jesus talked with her, the Samaritan hurriedly left and told everyone she met about this wonderful Messiah, the Savior of the world! Jesus saved her for two reasons: one small and one big reasons. The small reason---that she may have eternal life; the bigger reason---she will be a bringer of the message of eternal life to others!
For me, this simple, sinful Samaritan woman, even a woman of ill-repute, became the first Christian evangelist---ahead of St. Peter, ahead of St. James, ahead of St. John, ahead of St. Paul. It is amazing that God is no respecter of persons; no matter how lowly and sinful we are, God can turn us around and use us as a mighty instrument in His gracious hand! The people, whom the woman had witnessed to, would later experience the salvation of Jesus themselves. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know now, that this Jesus is truly the Savior of the world."
May we, like the Samaritan woman, be used by God, to bear witness to His Name. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, The Episcopal Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Seaford, New York. 3/27/2011. Commnets Below.