Surrounded by Samaritans

Surrounded by Samaritans

Here’s something to ponder about from today’s Gospel reading: Who are the Samaritan women today? Who are the Samaritans in your life?

They don’t just have to be people who have had a number of spouses or partners. Think about people who you believe are not acceptable. Maybe they are people you are not comfortable being around. Perhaps they are people with a different set of values. And maybe they are people who do not seem to live as you believe they should. Or perhaps they don’t carry on their business as you think they should. Often such people are shunned. We tend to avoid such people. Maybe it’s because of how they live their life. Maybe it’s because of the stories that others tell about them; people who often don’t really know them or their situation.

Maybe it’s in part because we are worried about our own reputation. What would people think if we hung around with someone odd?

Who can you think of who could be a Samaritan in your life today? The homeless person on the streets of Austin? The immigrant at your place of work? The classmate that nobody else likes very much? The person who irritates and offends you with constant swearing? The business person you suspect is making money immorally if not illegally? The person who you think is a bit strange, or who your friends ridicule? Who are the Samaritans in your life?

When we look at today’s Gospel reading, we see a woman who is broken. She has experienced rejection in her life. She knows that people around her love to point out her flaws and judge her actions. She probably doesn’t like mixing with people, but she still needs to live.

So, she approaches the well to get some water. This will at least give her some short term refreshment. And she does this at a time when she thought no one would be around—the heat of the middle of the day—to avoid having to experience any unnecessary embarrassment. Do you know anyone like this? Someone who will avoid a situation or steer clear of certain people so as to avoid feeling uncomfortable or ashamed?

Some years ago a Lutheran congregation decided to do something out of character. They decided to physically introduce themselves to the people living around the church. They didn’t just send out a flyer. Small groups of members actually walked around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and introducing themselves and their congregation. They told the people they met where the church was, invited them to a fellowship meal, gave them a brochure of their activities, invited them to worship and other events, and answered any questions they could about Christianity and what Lutherans believed.

They received a variety of responses. Some people expressed amazement that others would be interested in them coming to their church. Some said, “I always wondered what that building was.” Many said, “We ain’t into that religious stuff.” Others asked, “What’s the catch?”

However, there was one instance that really stood out for this congregation. They knocked on the door of an elderly lady who lived alone. On hearing who they were and that they were inviting her to something, she was overwhelmed with emotion. Tears came to her eyes. She said “I used to go to a Lutheran Church, but I got divorced, so I just stopped going. I was worried about what people would say. I thought that I would be constantly judged by people. I didn’t think that God would want me there, either.”

She now is a regularly-worshipping member of that congregation, because the people of that congregation took the time with her. They not only told her, but they also showed her, that Jesus constantly loves her and wants her to be part of His family.

And that is what Jesus did at the well for the Samaritan woman. Jesus demonstrates this love to the Samaritan woman in at least 3 ways.

First of all, Jesus was resting at that particular well by choice, not by chance. Although Samaria was on the direct route between Judea and Galilee, Jesus had to make a deliberate decision to go to Samaria, because it was the Jewish habit to bypass Samaria. Usually Jews took a longer route so as to avoid the unclean and unacceptable Samaritans. So Jesus goes out of his way to be in a place where he would meet people in need. Where He would meet people who are hurt and broken… people like the Samaritan woman. People like you, and me.

Remember, He came to earth for us. For people infected by sin. Sin which brings hurt into our lives. At times we are hurt and broken because of our own sin; at other times we’re hurt and broken by the sins committed against us. But Jesus came to us despite these problems we have.

Secondly, Jesus takes the initiative. He does something which even this woman knows is not normal. He talks to her, and asks her for a drink of water. In our culture, this may sound like nothing. But in that world, it was not considered appropriate for a man and a woman who did not know each other to talk to each other, no matter the circumstances. It was not acceptable. And what’s more, those who are Jewish, like Jesus, would have nothing to do with the Samaritans.

Not only would they not drink from the same container, but if a Samaritan person had even so much as touched a water jug, then that jug was totally unclean. It would have to be ceremonial purified or destroyed, so that it wouldn’t contaminate everything else with which it came into contact.

So Jesus initiating conversation with the woman shocks her. A male Jew, wanting to talk to her, and wanting her help, surprises her. And it begins a discussion that brings her closer to Christ.

In relation to our lives, this is what Christ does for each one of us, too. He takes the initiative with you. He suffered, died, and rose again for you. He invites you into his family, which you first experienced when you were baptized. And you continue to experience that invitation every time you are exposed to His Word and His family.

He gives you plenty of opportunities: In worship, in Bible studies, and in other congregational settings. Opportunities that allow you to participate and contribute in this family.

However what was the women’s response? Look at verse 9. She attempted to use society’s rules to prevent this interaction between her and Jesus. Maybe she felt a little uncomfortable. Perhaps she had been burned by broken promises before, so she acted defensively. Or maybe she was just so shocked she didn’t know what to say or do, sort of like Peter at the Transfiguration.

As a Christian, how often have you experienced this? Whenever you have attempted to talk about the church or Christianity, have you encountered people who have tried to halt the discussion by relying on what they believe are the acceptable customs?

Probably the most common one today is something along the lines of, “Religion should be kept private. You can believe all that stuff about Christianity, but keep it to yourself. Religion isn’t for me.”

Ironically, if people examine their lives, they may discover that even though they say they are not religious, they are in fact extremely religious. Many are even more religious than the average Christian. They are devoutly devoted to, fully committed to, or even worshipping many other gods in their lives. Like sports, money, their careers, their families, holidays, their right to determine how they live their lives. All these things may offer some satisfaction, but it is never lasting satisfaction.

And this brings us to the third way Jesus shows his love to the Samaritan woman. When Jesus said that the woman had five husbands in her life, he may have been hinting at something a little more than just poor sexual discretion.

On the surface, this appears like a moral judgment and perhaps it was. However there’s another meaning to consider. The word Baal in Hebrew, a language familiar to the Samaritans, can be applied to mean both “god” and “master”—that is, in the cultural context, a husband, the master of the household. Either way, what Jesus was saying to the woman was: “You have sought love and support from so many things, and all these things have let you down. They have in fact given you extra worries, extra burdens in your life. They could only ever give you short-term satisfaction. But I have what you truly need, what will fully satisfy your longings and last forever.”

And at times God does this to us, too. He uses situations that occur in our lives to jolt us into realizing that maybe we are devoted to things with a limited life. Not only that: Some of those things actually cause us damage for many years after they appear to have been of any benefit.

God also uses the Holy Scriptures to tell us what things are worthwhile, and what are not. He sometimes even uses fellow Christians to guide us and support us. This is not a license for any of us to go running around hypocritically pointing out each other’s flaws, of course. Remember, Jesus developed a relationship with the woman first, and we should take the time to develop relationships with others before we are too critical.

But it is an action of love on Jesus’ part to point out to the Samaritan woman—and to us—that some of the things we are devoted to will only ever give us short term satisfaction, or possibly even do us great harm. We may not like hearing it. However, in doing so, Jesus helps us put our lives into perspective. He helps us to see that we should be more devoted to the things that offer us eternal life.

In doing this for us, Jesus gives us another road to take. A road that leads to life, to the glory and lush beauty of heaven, not the emptiness that this world can offer. On this road, He nourishes us with His life giving water. The water we first experienced at our baptism, where we received promises that we can constantly call upon, but also the constant nourishment of His Word, both to guide us with His Law, and to comfort us with His Gospel.

This road is constructed by God himself. It exists because God wants us to be in heaven with him. He knows the best we can do when left to ourselves is to build a crumbling road, with a bridge that is guaranteed to collapse under the weight of our sins, our burdens, and the things that trouble us. So God builds us a road that is based solely on His son’s death and resurrection. And he provides us with the necessary sustenance for this journey with him: Our baptism, the scriptures, Holy Communion, and worship.

These things are God’s tangible ways of showing us his love. These are His means of reinforcing and continually bringing Christ’s death and resurrection into our lives to sustain our faith and keep us close to Him.

These things say to the Samaritan women of today, and to each and every one of us: “God accepts you, even with all your flaws. God loves you, even with all your bad habits, and with all your burdens and worries. And he has given, and continues to give you, the gift of eternal life.

A few of you may have noticed that our altar paraments and the vestments today are red, rather than the purple that is normally used in the season of Lent. Red is the color of fire, blood, and martyrs, as today happens to be the Feast of St. Matthias. You all remember him, right? Well, I expect that most of you probably don’t, actually. He’s one of the more obscure disciples.

Matthias was the follower of Jesus who was added to the Twelve apostles after the suicide of Judas. While he may have joined the effort a bit later than the others, his role in the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world of his day was every bit as important as those apostles who are far more familiar to us.

He may not be well known, he may not have had anything he might have written get incorporated in the Holy Scriptures. But Matthias conveyed the Word of Christ to others, and for those who heard it from Him and were granted faith in that hearing, his ministry made all the difference in the world—and beyond. Just as your role in spreading the Good News of Jesus may be every bit as critical to some Samaritan out there in your world today.

Matthias may be somewhat obscure, and Judas may be famous for all the wrong reasons. After his treacherous betrayal of Jesus, Judas had remorse, but not repentance. He didn’t believe that Jesus could forgive what he judged to be the horrible magnitude of his sin. And so, Judas died apart from the forgiveness the Savior offers to everyone, forgiveness we all desperately need, regardless of how terrible or how righteous we might think we are. Judas died in sin, and was lost, but Matthias lived in faith and served Christ’s kingdom. He, too, was a sinner, but he knew and trusted Jesus to be his Savior, and so we celebrate Matthias as a saint of the Christian Church.

The Samaritan woman and her neighbors were sinful, too, but Christ’s words reached them, and they believed. We, also, in spite of our sins, are numbered with them and with Matthias among the saints of God.

If we repent, if we believe, Jesus brings us from a state of brokenness, from the despair of being burdened by sin and doubt to a state of being fully accepted by God. He places us in a position of being reconciled with God, to being welcomed by God. It doesn’t matter that you may be a modern-day Samaritan, outcast and despised. It doesn’t matter if you become Jesus’ follower as an infant, a youngster, a teen, or an adult. All Jesus wants to do is to reach you, to make you whole, and to give you His living water and the heavenly food of His kingdom, now and forever. Amen