If you missed the Sunday, April 18, 2021, zoom Worship Service with Guest Minister, Rev. Jane Siebert, you can catch it here. The sermon is under the video.
While in the Holy Land several years ago, we visited Jacob’s Well. It is one of the Holy sites that they are sure is the exact well, a natural well, now nestled and protected by a Greek Orthodox church. It is now considered a Christian Holy site. Like many holy sites in Israel it has been fought over by Jewish, Christian, Samaritan and Muslim factions, all with connections to Jacob. We remember Jacob as the patriarch of the Israelites and he was later given the name Israel, so he is an important figure in all Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jacob was the father of the 12 sons representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
There was fighting over this land even before the time of Jacob, some 2000 years before Jesus was born. At the time Jesus walked this area, there was still dissention about the land and beliefs of the Jewish people and the Samaritans, which we witness in this account of Jesus and the woman at the well. In Jesus time Samaritans were considered part Jewish and part Gentiles, mixed and impure. Today they continue as a small, racially mixed society living in the region of the West Bank and they hold dual Israeli and Palestinian Authority. In Jesus time and today they are generally thought of as immigrants and foreigners and are ostracized.
The Jews considered themselves better than the Samaritans, but as we can tell from Jesus meeting with the woman at the well, he did not consider himself better or higher than anyone. All are equal and Jesus showed sympathetic love for all people, no matter how they lived or poor decisions they had made in their lives.
Jesus had been traveling away from Judea because the Pharisees were up in arms against him because his following was growing. He was headed back to Galilee. And it says, “Now, he had to go through Samaria.” Judea is in the south and Galilee in the north, with Samaria right between. Most Jews avoided Samaria by crossing the Jordan River and traveling on the Eastern side of the country. But Biblical scholars say Jesus had to travel this way not because of geography but due to his mission. The mission to bring the Good News to all people, even those that may think differently than him, as he was brought up in the Jewish tradition.
The three divisions of the holy land, Judea, Samaria and Galilee represent three stages we must go through in our spiritual journey. The first (Judea) is the will or desire to do what is right. I want to treat everyone with kindness and acceptance, even if they are different from me. The third (Galilee) is taking our desire and acting on it. I will be kind to everyone I meet today, and hopefully tomorrow, too. To connect our desire and our actions we must think about it and that is the middle ground (Samaria). To get from the desire to be kind and the action of kindness, we have to think about why we want to be kind and how we want to act on our desire to do something kind. We have to internalize it, or it will continue to just be another good thought or desire with no lasting effect on who we are or want to be or any good action.
God gives us this desire. We chose if we will act on it and that is traveling through Samaria. Our minds are the connecting link between our motives and our conduct. It’s like the glue holding them together as we grow spiritually. This lesson is about the importance of our thoughts.
Here we are tied back to the Old Testament as Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jesus was traveling with his disciples and they went into town to buy some food as he rested beside the well. A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus spoke to her. “Will you give me a drink?” The Samaritan woman was taken aback and responded, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” The lines of demarcation are drawn. I wonder if it was a difference in the way Jesus was dressed, or talked, or looked – you are different from me. You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. Reminds me of…You are a Mexican and I am an ‘American’. You are a Muslim and I am a Christian. You are gay and I am straight. This is how the Samaritan woman was thinking but not Jesus. He only saw a person, a woman, a child of God.
Jesus speaks to her of the gift of living water, that he can give. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Of course, she took him literally, but she was curious and wanted some of this water so she would not have to keep coming to the well to draw water. And Jesus was talking about eternal life and the living water of the Word of God which tells us how to live. The water of truth is living because the Lord is in the truth and the Lord is in us, guiding us how to live.
The next part is very important. Before he shares more about the living water, he asks her to call her husband. And she is honest to tell him she does not have a husband. And Jesus fills in the rest of her story, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Jesus does not chastise her or demean her, he simply points out her immoral principles, so she too could reflect on them and chose a different path. Confession (repentance) prepares us for instruction (reformation) and recognizing the Lord in all things (regeneration).
As we reflect back on our Old Testament lesson, we read “As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.’ So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw.”
We can see what we would like to change within our spiritual journey, but along with that vision we also are good at rationalizing why we should not change, convincing ourselves “we are good enough” or “better than our neighbors”. Our eyes are open but not our understanding. We need to travel through Samaria. We need to question our motives, our justification for not changing, and seek what the Lord would direct us to do. The Lord opens our thought, our understanding, and then we can see what needs done. I love this Swedenborgian quote from Divine Love and Wisdom. “Thought from the eye closes the understanding, but thought from the understanding opens the eye.”
It is not the issue of being a Samaritan or Jew but worshipping what she does not know. Jesus goes on “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” She knew the stories of the Messiah, but when he was right in front of her, she did not recognize him.
And Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman, “I, the one speaking to you-I am he.” She is astonished and she believes him.
Afterwards the woman went back to the town and told everyone about what had happened at the well and the Samaritans came out and asked Jesus to stay for a while, so He stayed with the Samaritans two days and he taught them and many believed, saying “we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” It seems many were easier to convince than the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees and religious leaders of the Jewish tradition. Their minds were still open and not closed like some that thought they had it all figured out.
This special story and others in the Bible about his teaching to the Gentiles shows Jesus was not in the world to condemn or divide or build walls or suggest one nation was better than another. He came to bring people together. To help them see the way to a better life. To understand we are all connected as children of God. To make us think, not just believe something because someone told us so.
We are each represented by the individual characters in the Bible and their stories. So, what can we learn as we think of ourselves as the Samaritan woman at the well? With humility we need to see that we each have our own journeys filled with mistakes, poor decisions, transformations, good desires and wrongful motives. We may think we know the truth, but it is when the Lord is in the truth that it becomes living water, leading us to a better life in this world and the next. This living water carries us beyond the anxieties, the worries and the judgments of others that can flood our lives.
It feels like this story moves from a woman searching from one belief to another, trying to find the right one. She questions the Lord, as we have to question. It takes time to come into understanding. We have to think deeply about it. And once she accepts that this is the Lord offering the gift of living water, she shares the good news. And others come out to see who this is at the well, inviting the Lord to stay with them as they want to hear more and learn more.
This is a good story as we are hopefully moving out of this pandemic. This has been a very difficult time as we have been isolated, loved ones have died, and division has deepened in our country as we try to control what we cannot control. In the midst of this I have found people are sharing that some good has come of this pandemic time. Maybe now we are in Samaria. We have been slowed down, given time to think about how we want to live our lives, what do we want to change? So now let us pause in Samaria and think about how we can fulfill our desire with our actions and move onto Galilee changed, more loving and kind, not holding onto the reasons for our division, but like Jesus, accepting others that may think or look different from us, with a plan how we will act and follow our Lord.