3rd Sunday in Lent!
John 4:5-30 & 39-42
I have grown up in some ways with a very sheltered life. The area we lived in
at the time we lived there, about 1964 – 1974, was largely white. I remember seeing one black guy in high
school when I was walking by from elementary school. When we moved to ,
we moved into a county that had the designation of being lily white and
dry. There were no blacks in the
school. Corning, Arkansas Corning had a past with a bad reputation when
it came to blacks. Blacks from
Neelyville, in the past knew not to be caught in Corning after dark. Things weren’t that bad when I lived there
and now, but it is still an area with a high rate of prejudice toward
Over the years, I have had more exposure to people of color. One of those was when I took a seminary class that included an immersion trip to
where we spent time with native Americans.
That ended up being an immersion in cultures in more ways than one. In my class that went out there, we had about
3 or 4 people of color who traveled with us on the van. They were on the track for ministry just like
myself. I talked to them a lot during
our travels together. One time we
stopped at a Walmart, and one of them jokingly and some seriously commented
about how clerks would watch them closer than others in our group because they
were black and asked some of us to walk with them. I became pretty close to these fellow
classmates on our trip.
I like to think that I am not prejudice. I have come a long way, but when I go into an all black area of town, do I think about it. Yes, sadly I still do. I push myself to minister there in spite of my reluctance, if it is in my parish, but I do think about it. Would I be less inclined to stop to check on a car on the side of the road with black folks in it than white, I am afraid I might be. I have grown to the point I can see this in myself, and in some ways, that in itself is growth.
Our story today again is from the gospel of John. This is a story that has no parallels in the synoptic gospels. Why did John include it, and what does it mean that he did? Jesus goes through
Samaria on his way from Judah
to Galilee in the North. Most Jews, by the way, did not go through Samaria but instead went
around. The Samaritans were a despised
people to the Jews.
When the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians, they were carted off to
Babylon and given an area
in which to live. During this time, they
were able to keep some of their Jewish traditions and were able to maintain a
large degree of their identity. This is
when the synagogue was developed since they were no longer able to go to the
temple in Jerusalem. On the other hand, when the Northern Kingdom
fell (which included the area of Samaria and Galilee) to the Assyrians, the King of Assyria, sent men
in to rape their women and do away with the race that way. They were a nation of half-breeds! II Kings 17:24 names people from 5 nations
that the king sent in to live in the Northern Kingdom. In the Northern Kingdom,
they lost their identity and they lost their Jewish faith. Later, in the area of Galilee,
the Jewish faith had been restored. They
were still half-breeds in that area, but because the Jewish faith had been
restored there, they were in good standing with Judah at the time of Jesus.
So Jesus goes into
spite of the fact they were half-breeds!
In spite of the fact that they did not share the Jewish faith as they
did in Galilee and Judah! John likes to use metaphors. We can see that even more in John’s
Revelation. When metaphors are used,
there is a hidden meaning that people of the time get. In John’s Revelation, there was hidden
meaning to all the metaphors that the people got and that gave them hope. Some scholars think there is some metaphoric
language used in this story. Jesus says
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.” They would argue that
it would be very unlikely for a woman to have actually had five husbands at
this time but that this was instead referring to the five nations that the
Assyrian King had sent into the Northern Kingdom to rape and/or marry the
women. The sixth man who she was not
married to would be the current state of Samaria. “Knowing everything that I have ever done,”
would be referring to Jesus knowing all about this past history of the nation
of Samaria. He knew about their false worship! He knew about their consorting with Judah’s
enemies! He knew about everything that
the people of Judah ever
thought the people of the Northern Kingdom was
guilty of. In spite of all this, he
still loved them and accepted them! The
living water was still available to them!!
This is a story of overcoming a deeply entrenched hatred and prejudice
against the Samaritans. It is a story of
the gospel overcoming divisions between people.
Christianity has had a long sad history of prejudice and divisions! There were the Crusades between Christians and Islam. There was the rift between Catholics and protestants! Many churches were divided over the slave issue and the rift between blacks and whites! Jews and Christians have not always been on best terms. There are still divisions looming today!
Jesus faced the prejudice of his day by planning a face to face encounter with this Samaritan woman at the well. You have to come face to face with the “other” before you can ever begin to overcome long standing prejudice. The enculturation experience I shared about earlier is probably one of the biggest factors for me that has helped me see people who are different than me as people who God loves just like me. People who are equal to me in God’s eyes! People who we need to genuinely love and care for as a church! People who we as a church need to be proactive to include!
Jesus was proactive about overcoming the prejudice of His day and including these despised Samaritans. As Christians, we are to be over-comers! We are to bridge the gap between peoples. Before we can do that, we need to realize our own prejudice.
As we have our closing hymn, the invitation is two-fold. First, do you need to come and pray that God would help you with your prejudice towards some group (that the Spirit has convicted you of this morning) and help you to take steps toward overcoming it in your life? Secondly, do you need to ask God to help you be an over-comer of the prejudice you see in society, just like Jesus? Prayer