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Read John 4

So here’s this woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar. She’s there to draw water for the basic needs of her household: water to drink, water to clean with. Approaching the well she notices a worn out, thirsty, hungry man who’s not a local. She can tell by the way he dresses, the way he wears his hair and just his whole look that he’s a Jew. Jews and Samaritans don’t get along.

She’s must be thinking that it is unusual to see a Jew in Sychar. Jews don’t typical venture into Samaritan Land – and that’s just fine with her. She’s all too familiar with their arrogance and contempt.

Jews and Samaritans don’t get along.

She attempts to ignore this stranger and go about her business. She doesn’t have much to say to her neighbors, why would she bother with this Jewish stranger? He’s likely to condemn her anyway.

She’s surprised when he asks her for a drink. Because Jews and Samaritans don’t get along.
The shock of it is enough to break through her outer shell. She loses her filters and what she is thinking is changed to words, “How is it that you – a Jew – ask me – a Samaritan and a woman for a drink?” Maybe she’s insulted by the audacity of this Jewish man to ask her for a drink. He’s like all the others - the prejudice, contempt, and exclusion are firmly in place until he needs something. Then it’s “give me drink!” No please or thank you! What gall to demand a drink of water when he and his people make certain that everyone knows why Jews and Samaritans do not get along! So here’s this Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar.

Listen to Jesus’ reply: “If you knew God’s gift, his generosity, and who ask you for water, you would ask him for living water and he would give it to you.” Jesus perceives what she doesn’t know: 1) God must not be very generous in her experience. 2) She doesn’t understand who he is – she has filed him away under “Jewish Men” with all the rest of her assumptions and stereotypes. And even though that may not be excusable, Jesus understands it. After all, Jews and Samaritans don’t get along.

The conversation about sharing living water is enough to get her interest. Even though her rejoinder seems defensive and skeptical, there’s a single word that allows the conversation to change. “OUR.” She mentions “our” ancestor Jacob. She admits that Jacob, the founder of the well, is as common to Samaritans and Jews as the need for water.

Maybe the past is a source of hope for the reconciliation of Jews and Samaritans who don’t get along? Maybe, but the past is also a source of tension. When Jesus describes the better living water as never-thirsty water that creates a bubbling spring in someone, then woman asks him for the water. Then Jesus gets personal and asks her to bring her husband.

This woman has something to hide. She facing that moment that all of us know when the conversation, the interview, the relationship, the confession moves into the past and down hidden roads we try to avoid.

She knows that she has two obvious strikes against her when it comes to talking to Jesus. She’s a woman and she’s a Samaritan. If Jesus knows the third strike – that she’s in and out of relationships – then surely there’s no living water for her.

So she makes a clever dodge – “I don’t have a husband.”

And Jesus tells her everything she’s trying to hide. And he doesn’t condemn her, he commends her: “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the man you are living with know isn’t your husband.”

Now, instead of focusing on the well that they had in common, the woman is bold enough to bring up the big dispute. Jews and Samaritans are really so much alike. But the one huge difference between them is whether you should worship on a mountain or a temple.

Jews and Samaritans don’t get along because they are so much alike. An outsider looking in probably couldn’t tell the difference. They have basically the same Scriptures. They have the same rituals. They have the same ancestors. They have the same stories. But anytime you might think that these Children of Jacob would have a unity meeting, the Jews tend to bring up a nasty part of the Samaritans history (2 Kings 17). After the King of Assyria invaded the north of Israel, he moved in some foreigners: Babylonians, Cuthanians, Avvanites, Hamathites, and the Sepharvaim. Five tribes of Assyria who brought their pagan Gods with them. And then the King of Assyria sent kidnapped Israelite priests backs to the land to teach all these people how to worship the Lord. And worship of God took place on the hilltop, just as it does for the gods of these five tribes. Jews point that out. And they don’t listen when the Samaritans bring up the point that their common ancestors worshipped on Mount Gerazim and long before any of this. Instead, the Jews see their northern sister sleeping around with five foreigners and her latest relationship isn’t legitimate either.

Jesus and this woman have just named the ugly history that stand between her people and his. He knows everything she’s ever done and it sounds a lot like everything that her people have ever done. How does Jesus answer her question? What can he say? “So how about that drink?” How do you get past such a looming and painful history. How can Jews and Samaritans ever get along?

God is spirit. Mountains and Temples aren’t what matters. Being right on the arguments is not nearly as important as knowing the One who knows all. God isn’t making appointments to meet us on Mount Gerazim or in Jerusalem. His preference is for those who worship him in spirit and truth.

The Samaritans know one thing. This woman knows one thing. Something that her people have believed for generations. There’s a man coming that they call the Taheb. He will restore everything. He’s also known as the Messiah. Maybe she’s saying – It would really be great if he were here to settle all these divisions and restore us from our broken world.

Jesus says, “I am the Messiah.”

She runs off to tell her people about a man who knew everything she ever did. He knew everything that her people ever did, but he still invites her to living water.

Here come the disciples. They noticed Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman. They are surprised too. Because Jews and Samaritans don’t get along. And yet, they don’t have the nerve to bring it up.

Trying to ignore this breach of protocol, the disciples choose to fuss over things that really don’t matter. They want Jesus to eat lunch. But Jesus is focused on mission. For the disciples, mission ends outside the border of the Samaritans country. And it isn’t that they are clueless. Rather they are avoiding the mission. John says that no one had the nerve to ask Jesus about this discussion with the Samaritan woman. Why avoid it? Maybe because their afraid that the Samaritans are part of the mission too? After all Jews and Samaritans don’t get along.

Do we do that? Do we get fussy about things that aren’t part of the mission because we worry about the implications of the mission. Do we fuss about our own mountains and temples and where we’re going to get lunch because we are afraid of the deep waters of worshipping God and we might even be afraid of who else we find around the well of living water?

There’s a lot of fuss over shape notes and songbooks. There’s a lot of fuss over what we’re wearing and the Welch’s we’re drinking. There’s a lot of fuss over lifting hand and bending knees. There’s a lot of fuss over preaching and Power Point. There’s a lot of fuss over this and that.

Do you think we fuss over all that because we find it easier to deal with our symbols rather than our spirits? Do you think we like to make something pretty and precise out of worship to cover over the ugliness of our sins?
The Samaritan woman could argue all day about the proper location of worship, but it didn’t change her history. Jesus knew everything that she ever did.
The Samaritan people could make the case for Mt. Gerazim and their historical claim to being the one true people of God. But that didn’t change their history. Jesus knew everything that they ever did.
The Jewish people could make their case for Jerusalem and stand on their knowledge, but that couldn’t change their history and their sins. Jesus knew everything that they ever did.
And the church, the bride of Christ, can fuss and argue and dress itself up and make the case for being right. But it will not change our history and it will not excuse our arrogance, our errors, our abuses, our nastiness, and all the sins that we bury deep inside. Jesus knows everything we’ve ever done.

Jesus knows. He isn’t fooled. He isn’t tricked. Jesus isn’t a forgive and forget kind of a guy either. Nothing is forgotten – but here’s the good news – all is forgiven. He knows everything we’ve ever done. He knows everything you’ve ever done. But he still offers us living water.

Worship evangelism. Worship and evangelism won’t come together as long as we’re fussing about worship. When worship is a game of insider and outsider, then there will not be any evangelism. Worship in Spirit and Truth gets turned inside out.

As long as worship is focused on our mountains and temples, there’s no spirit and truth. And if there’s no spirit and truth, then who are we worshipping?

Worship in spirit and truth means that our worship is not play-acting. Worship in spirit and truth means we are through hiding our history and we are through making excuses. Instead we proclaim the praises and the words of the one who knows everything we’ve ever done. Thanks to him we have eternal life. And if we keep on doing this – worshipping spiritually and honestly with ourselves and with one another, we will draw many others to believe in the words of the Savior of the World.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 February 2009

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