As a church, I believe we listened with new ears last Sunday to the retelling of the true story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Through the record of this one encounter, God has touched quite a few of us. I thought I’d uncovered all her issues in my sermon, but then, this morning (Tuesday), Madeline came to the prayer meeting and said that she’d seen, for the first time, that the Samaritan woman was not young but old.
The seven major life issues which the Samaritan woman faced and which had a damaging effect on her all bear striking similarities to the issues we all face today. First, she was isolated. This poor woman had no social support. She exposed herself to the risk of attack, rape or mugging when she went outside the town, at lunchtime, alone. She had no friends to laugh with and no company for protection. She was left to carry a heavy water jar in scorching heat, because she was isolated.
She also suffered from racism. “Why do you talk to me? You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.” You can hear her racist attitude in the question. Jews and Samaritans did not mix socially. They were suspicious of each other, because of their race. Jews looked down on Samaritans as inferior and so they kept apart.
Then there was her social separation caused by gender; “I am a Samaritan woman.” In her culture, men and women could not speak in public like this. Sexual suspicion kept them apart.
When Jesus offered her living water, which he said would well up inside her to eternal life, she was confused. But then Jesus revealed her past to show what sort of thirst he was speaking about. All her life she had been thirsting for love and a sense of belonging. She had tried husband after husband after husband (five in all) but could not find the love she was looking for. And now she wasn’t even married. Her latest lover did not love her enough to offer her any commitment and protection.
So she was labelled a moral outcast. We can all imagine the sort of things people said behind her back, as she was shunned by polite society; “slut”, “man eater”, “husband thief.”
She’d tried religion but it had failed her. Samaritan’s worshipped on a mountain and Jews in Jerusalem. As far as she could see, religion made matters worse. It increased the racism, made her feel judged and even more of a moral failure. Religion created more social problems for the genders and did not satisfy her thirst for love.
Time was running out. She was waiting for the Messiah (The Christ) to come but she was getting old.
Isolation, racism, tension between the genders, a thirst for love, morally outcast, the failure of religion and she was in the later stages of life.
Then Jesus said “I who speak with you am he.” Jesus is the Messiah she was looking for. His life, teaching and death (Zechariah 12:10-13:1) and resurrection (Revelation 21:6) opens a fountain of living water for all who believe him. He says “Believe me, woman.” And when she believes, the living water flows freely, with out cost, as a great and life changing gift from Jesus. Her thirst is quenched and her eternity secured.
We are all thirsty for love, acceptance and belonging which overcomes isolation, racism, tension between the genders, moral failure and the divisions caused by religion. We long for a world where our children can grow up and be nurtured by the whole community; for an end to isolation; for all people from all nations can living in community together; for a way men and women can mix socially without suspicion or tension; for moral outcasts to welcomed back into community; for an end to religious division and for a place where it is safe to grow old, looked after by neighbours as well as family. Time is running out. We need a Saviour.
Our Lent course starts this Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm in the hall. It focuses on the theme of hospitality, which is how the story of the Samaritan woman ends. Her whole town urge Jesus and his disciples (all Jews) to stay with them (Samaritans) which they do for two days. The town is then transformed as the woman’s story is heard and believed and many Samaritans come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour and the Saviour of the World (John 4:42).
There is a way this can happen for us. We must each individually believe Jesus and receive living water from the Saviour of the World. He will gather is into community around himself as we tell our stories of his work in our lives.
This Lent, will you come to the Lent course and as we each receive living water from Jesus, be willing to urge others to come and eat, laugh and share with him?