“Have you heard about Simon?” a friend asked on the ‘phone – “he’s become a Samaritan!” I knew what the questioner was saying – I didn’t think for a moment that Simon might have gone off to the Middle east to join the tiny sect who live in Samaria – I knew that my friend was telling me that Simon had joined the charitable group who have become world-famous for their work in helping people in distress.
Their ministry is to listen on a ‘phone or in person to the terrible things that have happened to their fellow human-being. They listen and try to talk the sufferer through their distress in a calm manner. They endeavour to help the distressed person find a route through their problems. This was what Simon had signed up for.
Many tourists or pilgrims do go and visit ancient Samaria to see and to learn about a way of life that goes back to long before the time of Jesus. It is particularly popular is to visit during the time of the Passover. This gives visitors a glimpse into the world as it was during the time of the Bible.
At the time of Jesus the Jews were not allowed to make contact, leave alone accept hospitality from the Samaritans. Reading the New Testament might make us wonder why this should have been so. There is a lot of “good press” for the Samaritans contained in the Gospel writings. We can think of the lepers who were healed – the one who came back to say thanks for the healing was a Samaritan. We think of the traveller who was attacked and left for dead on the Jericho road – the person who stopped to help him was a Samaritan.
Our story today tells of a simple act of kindness shown by a Samaritan lady to a Jewish traveller – she gave him a drink of water. It is not difficult to see why Chad Varah (founder of the Samaritans) chose to name his organisation after those talked of in Jesus’ teaching.
Our Gospel story today might strike us as being a simple telling of a common everyday occurrence. The scene described is set on the road between Judea and Galilee. The most direct route took the traveller through Samaria, a journey that could lead to conflict between the traveller and thieves and robbers who made a living by robbing travellers (The Samaritans obviously were not all “good”) but on other occasions the journey would be without problems. Such a journey is one we read about today. Except…… if we stop looking at the scene with our own eyes and try to imagine it as seen by a person of the time and place in which it happened what will we see and understand? Let’s look at the facts!
Jesus was known as a “holy man” who was leading a movement to bring Israel back to God. John’s readers (i.e. US) know that Jesus was and is much more than that, much more than a ”holy man” but we are trying to look through eyes of those who could have been present at the time of the scene happening. So he was known as a holy man. In the culture of the time, devout Jewish men would not have allowed themselves to be alone with a woman. If perchance owing to circumstances beyond their control a Jewish man found a woman in close proximity, he certainly wouldn’t have started a conversation with her.
The risk of so doing was too high. Risk of impurity, gossip and ultimately being drawn into immorality would have been considered too much, so best a) not to let yourself be alone with a woman and b) certainly not to talk to her! But here in our story we have Jesus in conversation with this woman. John describes in this chapter of his book how shocked the disciples were when they returned from their shopping trip and found what was going on.
The fact that the woman in question was a Samaritan would only have added to their horror. Their shock would have increased when it was revealed that she had had five husbands and was now apparently living with a man who wasn’t her husband!
It appears that some of the conversation concerning water and the drinking of it, and whether it is ordinary water or living water could have left some confusion in the mind of the Samaritan woman. Jesus said to her “if you drink of the water I give you, you will never thirst again.” She replied eagerly – “please give me the water!”
This casual conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman that took place in a public area beside a well lead to the woman becoming an evangelist to her people – she obviously knew of some of the Jewish expectation of a Messiah who was to come and she told Jesus that she knew about this. Jesus replied with the news that “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Upon hearing this, our un-named Samaritan woman made her way back into the city and shared her experiences with “many from that city”. Many from that city then went out to the well to see with their own eyes and listen with their own ears to hear Jesus.
The scripture tells us that many believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony and even more believed because of the word of Jesus. They believed that he was truly the Saviour of the world.
In our Lenten discussion group this coming week we will be considering this encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We will see that it reveals a couple of aspects of God’s love. It teaches us that His love is deeply personal (Jesus revealed that he knew all about the Samaritan woman) and that his love is universal in its reach. Jesus crossed both geographical and social borders to get to know her. We will be asking what are some of the barriers that might prevent us from getting to know our neighbours, including those of other faiths and asking how we might overcome them?
I think that we need to learn and to accept that the invitation of the Gospel is an encounter with Jesus Christ that allows God to make each of us into the unique disciple that he wants us to be.
We need to remember that we are called to be disciples – called to be evangelists – the people of Sychar (the Samaritan city outside of which stands Jacob’s well) started to believe because of what the woman told them and deepened their faith after encountering Jesus. She led them to him. Can we talk about him? Can we lead people to him?