Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Several years ago, I was watching TV, when I saw this weird commercial. It begins with a fishing boat somewhere out on the ocean. The men are lounging on the deck. As the captain scans the sea with a radar device, suddenly he calls out to the crew and everyone springs into action. A large net is lowered over the side. When it is pulled from the ocean, it is groaning with the weight of the catch. All the crew members are smiling and congratulating each other. And then the net is opened. Now I have to tell you up until this point, I'm thinking “seafood commercial,” or maybe a commercial for one of those shows on the Discovery channel about fishing. But when the net is opened on the boat and the catch is revealed, it is . . . bottles of water! Small ones, big ones, even giant bottles of water! And the bottles seem to be alive! They are flopping around on the deck like fish. And just as I’m sitting there thinking, “what the heck?!?”The announcer comes on and we find out that the commercial is from General Electric, advertising their new water desalinization process, bringing drinkable water to people who need it. WOW. That commercial really got my attention. It plays off of so many ideas: the excitement of discovery, the beauty of people working together, the life-giving qualities of water.
This morning, we hear that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Why is it important to know Jesus HAD to go through Samaria? Because most Israelites traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, or back from Jerusalem to Galilee, would do everything they could to avoid traveling through Samaria. The Israelites and the Samaritans were enemies. Although they shared ancestry with each other, both could trace their generations all the way back to Jacob and Moses. They hated each other so much they wouldn’t even speak to each other. This hatred had developed over hundreds of years. The Samaritans and the Jews had a long-running feud that started when the leaders of Israel were taken into exile, after being defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar. The Israelites who were left behind intermarried with the local non-Jewish people. When the exile ended, the returning Israelites ostracized the Samaritans - refusing to even speak to them because they were no longer pure enough to be accepted.
So why would Jesus deliberately decide to go to Samaria? If we remember Jesus’s words to Nicodemus last week, “God so loved the world…” Jesus does not limit his ministry to one group of people. Jesus is showing the disciples, and us, that God’s love moves beyond any boundaries we put between each other. I can imagine that the disciples were surprised that Jesus led them through Samaria, but they didn’t say anything.
Jesus is worn out from travel, so the disciples leave him at the well. A woman comes to the well to draw water, and Jesus asks her to give him a drink of water. Again, Jesus is breaking boundaries by talking to this woman. Why? Because men were not allowed to talk to women who were not part of their family. But Jesus is thirsty, so he asks for a drink. Rather than comply silently and share her water with this thirsty stranger, the woman sarcastically replies, “Why are you, a Jew, talking to me, a Samaritan?” And here is the first unexpected thing that happens. Jesus does not rebuke her for being so rude. What he says is “If you knew who was asking you would ask me for water… My water is living water.”
Living water usually means water from a river or stream rather than water from a pool or rainwater in a barrel. Living water was usually cleaner and safer than stagnant water. But Jesus is changing the idea of living water to mean so much more. The living water that Jesus brings gives eternal life - freedom not just from thirst, but from death itself. At first, the woman didn’t catch Jesus’s meaning. So Jesus explained further that the water he brings not only sustains life but brings new and abundant life.
The woman was so excited about her encounter with Jesus. She forgot her water jar, and ran to tell the people in her village. The Samaritan woman shared what had just happened in her encounter with Jesus with the people in her community. Meanwhile, the disciples returned and were shocked that Jesus would associate with Samaritans. But they are afraid to question him about it.
Through his interaction with the woman at the well, Jesus demonstrates that “God so loved the world.” Is not just a nice saying. Jesus makes clear through his words and actions throughout his life, suffering, and death, that this is the message he brings: God’s love is abundant, like water rushing from a spring - so powerful that even death could not overcome it.
So how do we respond to this Gospel story? Especially when we look around and see so much anger and so many divisions among even our friends and neighbors, it can be hard to love our neighbor when we can’t seem to even have a conversation without starting an argument. That is why I believe Jesus had to go to Samaria. He needed to not just tell the disciples about loving each other. He had to show them that God’s love was for all people - even Samaritans, their sworn enemies.
This message of God’s love is for us as well. We are called to share this good news in whatever way we can. We need to reach out to those we disagree with, and treat each other as children of God. Amen.