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Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Samaritan Woman: a theological discussion with a lady of ill repute

Today's sermon was based on the passage from John 4 - Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan Woman, re-imagined as a text conversation.

I love the exchange between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan Woman - it's such a great conversation on so many levels.
But of course, it should never have happened.
There are three good reasons why the two of them should never have spoken.
First off, an unattached man would seldom initiate a conversation with a woman, unless he thought the woman was a prostitute, and he was propositioning her. And she would never reply, unless she was willing to entertain the proposition.
Secondly, a Jew would never talk to a Samaritan.
And if that wasn't enough, thirdly, a rabbi would not talk to a woman of doubtful repute. Rabbis, as upholders of the Law, would not risk defiling themselves with unnecessary contact with sinners.
So Jesus defied the conventions that said you only talk to a woman if you want sex with her, you keep yourself racially pure, and you shun her if you think she’s shoddy goods.
Remember what we were saying about subtext last week? There's a very cheeky subtext going on here, at least for the first half of their dialogue. This has led me to think what their conversation would look like if it was a flirty text chat.
First of all, you might want to read the whole passage in a proper Bible, so you know where I'm starting from.

Here we go - Jesus launches in.

Although the woman's reply sounds dismissive, it wasn't, because as I've said., the very fact she replied means that she was willing to consider his proposition. So the subtext was Come on pretty boy, let's see what you've got.

Jesus tries to move the conversation on to a different plane. I'm not exactly what you think I am, lady - that's his subtext.

The woman replies with the obvious point that she's the one with the water jar, and where is Jesus going to get this magic water from anyway? But she knows her Bible - She recalls a time when someone else asked a woman for a drink – Jacob asking his future wife Rachel, and defending her against rival shepherds.

Jesus persists, using a common theme of his. Drink this water, and you’ll get thirsty again. Drink the water that I can give you, and you’ll never thirst. He paints the fascinating and attractive picture of a stream of living water, welling up from within a person's heart.

The woman is half hooked, but still not convinced. But she asks Jesus for water. Maybe I won't have to come out here alone in the heat of the day. Of course, she only had to do that because she wasn't welcome for the girly chats that took place around the well first thing in the morning.

Then, suddenly Jesus plays hard to get. He asks her to pop home and bring her other half back so they can have a cosy family chat. This conversation is beginning to change tack.

In reply, the woman plays with the straightest of bats. Sometimes it's best not to give too much away.

The trouble is, with Jesus, the forward defensive doesn't work. He demonstrates that he knows an awful lot about her - far more than she could have imagined, or would be comfortable with.

So she deploys her diversionary tactics. This man's a rabbi, and a Jew - he won't be able to resist telling me that my Samaritan worship is all wrong. Clearly she is well practised  at deflecting unwelcome attention.

Surprise surprise - Jesus lets himself be diverted. Or maybe he wanted to talk about this all along. Either way, he tells her that a new day is dawning, when it won't matter if God is worshipped on this mountain or that mountain, but God the Father is seeking worshippers in Spirit and in Truth. He speaks as if it is an invitation - you could be one of these new worshippers, you know. God is looking for people like you.

And then she reveals her deepest hope. One day, Messiah will come, and he will explain everything. One day, someone will answer all my questions, tell me why my life has ended up like this - five times betrayed, now not daring to trust any longer, ignored and ostracised by my neighbours. One day, someone will come and show me a way out of this.

If this was a game of chess, we would shout checkmate. But this hasn't
been a battle, it's been a friendly contest of conversational wit, and both parties end up as winners. This Samaritan lady has met her Messiah. Jesus has a new believer. She rushes back, not just to fetch her partner, but to call out the whole town to see this man who told me everything I ever did.

And with the end of the passage we see the outcome. Jesus has made this woman into an evangelist. She fetched the whole town out, and they invited Jesus to stay.
They - the Samaritans - invited Jewish Jesus to stay in their houses, and eat their food and talk to them about himself. And they understand what the dense disciples don't yet - Jesus is the saviour of the world. In the verses before the final quote, we see the disciples in one of their classic dim misunderstandings:
Oh, has someone else brought him some sandwiches?
What Jesus promised this lady came true for her – there was indeed a spring within her, out of which came streams of living water, to the delight and refreshment of all who heard her.
This is the amazing privilege that we share, you and I. As Christians, we are not Jesus himself, we can’t necessarily do the things he did, but we can bring his refreshment and peace to others.
Would you like to share in this ministry? It is one of the most thrilling things to do, as a Christian, to meet people, talk to them, and have them find a well of refreshment that doesn’t come from you, but comes with you, that comes in alongside you. We can offer comfort, peace, encouragement, hope to people, not because we are skilful counsellors or trained listeners. We can do it because we bring Jesus with us into the room.
We bring his refreshment, his streams of living water, his promise of new life that surprises and delights.
It's wonderful.
Come and discover it afresh. Come and join in with Jesus' joyful harvesting of the fields that are ripe for the picking. Doesn't matter if you haven't done the groundwork - you'll find out it has been done for you, by others or by God himself. Just come, with the living water that God's Holy Spirit has put within you, and share it with the thirsty people all around us.

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