A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? John 4:7-11
I will always remember the first time I visited my new home in Sarasota, Florida. It was late in the evening, the stars were twinkling over head, and we were meeting the chair of the search team at his condo. Now you need to know two things: 1). we had just heard before boarding our flight from Wisconsin to Florida that our family cruise on a Disney boat had been cancelled; 2). I dislike flying...really dislike flying. So, we were exhausted: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We pulled up, parked the car, and were greeted with a hospitable smiles and warm hugs. Then, the chair asked my children to stop and be silent (the fact that they did was no minor miracle!) and listen. We all did. Standing silently under the star-filled skies in Sarasota, we heard the crashing and churning of the wave on the beach. We dropped our luggage in the condo and stepped out onto the sandy/shell filled beach. The moon was bright, glistening off the gulf; the sound of the waves relaxing; and water could be tasted in the air. At that moment, I knew I was home.
Jesus asks for a drink from the Samaritan woman. Samaria is famous in Scripture as being on the wrong side of the tracks with "those people". What you may not know is why. During the Babylonia exile in the time of Isaiah (587 B.C.E), Babylon not only took people from their native land to live in Babylon under the watchful eye of the leaders, they also settled people in other lands ~ causing people to intermix and in the case of the Samaritans - inter marry. This was perhaps the origin of the Facebook relationship status of "Its complicated!" Jewish folks frowned on marrying someone who was not Jewish...even though many of the kings in Israel thought that did not apply to them! Moreover, when the people of God were allowed to come back to Israel, the Samaritans did NOT want to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (we will get to that in the next post).
So, when John writes the word "Samaritan" (like when Luke tells the narrative of the Good Samaritan) it would raise some eyebrows and shine a light on a complicated history. Think of someone you struggle to get along with at the place you volunteer; or even better - think of the people you know of the opposite political party! Our brothers and sisters on both sides of the aisle who claim to follow Christ would do well to learn from what the gospels are trying to proclaim God's realm is like...especially as the State of the Union is given tonight. What would you do if that person...you know that person... asked you for a drink? Would you give the person a drink? Would you try to walk away with your head low?
Who is the Samaritan in your life? For far too long in our world and in our culture we continue to define people by other-ness, we look for differences in skin color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, geographic location, and the list goes on and on. Jesus does not seem as interested in a political agenda here as he does a genuine relationship. Yet, the vexing problem is the reality that for the relationship to be authentic it needs to be a two way street. Jesus engages and the Samaritan woman engages him right back. Too often the decades of tension render us mute to the other. Or as I just heard someone say, we 'turn people into issues'. We hear someone is part of a different religion/gender/orientation etc. and we start to think of issues rather than the person right in front of us. We wonder, "What is that person's agenda?" Therein lays the problem, we've stopped seeing people.
Jesus sees the Samaritan woman and engages her! How does that wisdom speak to you today? Is there someone you've been meaning to talk with, but find you've lost your voice? Is there someone you've automatically placed in a box based on the fact that the person is other, locked the door and thrown away the key? Can you find a way to start talking again? Not because words solve our problems, but because relationships do! I invite you to have lunch with your friend who has a different political view. I encourage you to listen to someone you disagree about on some issue. Not because suddenly everyone will start singing, "Kum-ba-yah" but because our faith needs to engage each other to deepen and grow and be challenged and changed. Who knows, maybe even you will find the taste of living water on the tip of your tongue, maybe you might feel at home, or perhaps sense just a trace of God's grace in that moment.
May it be so for you and for me!