2nd Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 4:5-26 Sermon
February 19, 2005
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
309 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
499 "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
379 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FAITH
TEXT: (vs. 13-14) “Jesus said to her, everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
If you’ve been paying attention to the news and other TV programs, you probably know that this month is known as black history month.
Since this is the case, there have been various special programs on Martin Luther King and other events surrounding the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The one notable story when talking about this civil rights movement is about the 42-year-old black woman in Montgomery, Alabama by the name of Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955, she was the woman who refused to give up her seat on the city bus so a white person could sit down.
There’s actually a little more to the story than just that. In those days, racial segregation was rampant. If a black person wanted to ride the bus, they had to first go into the main door and pay the bus driver. Then they had to exit the bus, go to the back door, and enter there. The blacks had to sit in the seats behind the back door. Sometimes if the bus driver was really mean, he would leave before the black person could get to the back door. Black people were even prohibited from sitting across the aisle from a white person.
Considering that the majority of the people using the bus in Montgomery were black, the backs of the busses were usually quite crowded. If there were more white people than black people on the bus, the black people had to give up their seats. Believe it or not, that was the law.
Rosa Parks admitted that she was no more tired than usual on that day. She also said that she did not set out to get arrested that day; all she wanted to do was simply go home. But she felt there was something wrong with her having to give up her seat. She paid the same fare as a white person, so she determined that she had as much right to the seat she paid for as a white person would. She had no idea that her act of civil disobedience would spark the civil rights movement that it did.
Segregation and bigotry have been huge problems for the human race for a long time, and it goes far deeper than the problems experienced in the United States within the last 50 years. If someone is different in some way, or if someone threatens to upset the status quo, the knee-jerk reaction is to hate it, reject it, or even kill it.
I’m guessing that when Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation back in the 19th century, which freed all of the slaves, he probably felt that the problem had been fixed. Obviously that didn’t happen. The laws can be changed or enacted; but it takes a lot more to cure bigotry and hatred. Those are conditions of the heart, and they can’t be changed by any civil decree. We need only to look at the activity of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party right here in southeast Nebraska to see that bigotry is alive and well right here amongst us.
As we look at our text for today, we find Jesus having a dialogue with a woman from Samaria. Jesus was on his way from Jerusalem to Galilee, and his trip took him through Samaria. Now the so-called “good Jews” of the day never went that route, rather they took a more round about route through Peraea, which was a country east of the Jordan River. The Jews went that other route, because they had serious problems with the Samaritans. Why do you suppose that was?
If we go back to the Old Testament, in II Kings chapter 17, we can see what had happened. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and otherwise scattered. The king of Assyria sent colonists from Babylon and other places to inhabit the cities of Samaria. These people were a strange mixture of nationalities and religions.
When the Southern tribes of Judah returned from the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans offered their cooperation with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. However when the Jews refused their help, the Samaritans used every possible influence with the king of Persia to oppose the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
This bitter opposition to the Temple, along with the fact that the Samaritans’ religious character was basically Paganism under the mask of Judaism, is the basis for the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. The fact that the Samaritans held to this form of religious heresy made them a great abomination to the Jews—more so than even the Gentiles.
In our text, we find Jesus at Shechem, about 7 or 8 miles from Samaria. He was at Jacob’s well, which is in the narrow valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. It was a well traveled area, and a convenient place to have water. It’s at this well where Jesus meets up with the Samaritan woman in our Gospel story for today.
Meeting up with Jesus had to be a real surprise to this woman. She knew Jesus was a Jew; and for any Jew to be at that particular place was not common at all. But he was there, and he ministers to her.
Jesus’ first question to her puzzles her. He simply asks her for a drink of water. In verse 9, she responds to him: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).”
This was a perfect metaphor for Jesus to use. In verse 10 Jesus replies: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus begins to start chopping away at that wall of hatred and bigotry, which separated the Jews and the Samaritans. The living water, that gift of God Jesus was speaking about, was something that would be for her every bit as much as it would be for the Jews. There would be no segregation as far as Jesus was concerned. And so, Jesus offers her this water of life, so she would never thirst again—that is in a spiritual sense.
This couldn’t be some abstract theory. Her need for a Saviour had to be real for her—she had to see her sin, and also know that God was aware of her sin too. To accomplish this, Jesus asks her to do something relatively simple. In verse 16 he says, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
Now the woman’s reply is simple and true, without getting too personal—almost like she was avoiding the issue, hoping that her answer would satisfy Jesus. She says in verse 17, “I have no husband.”
But that wasn’t the answer Jesus wanted. He wasn’t about to sweep it under the rug. So he replies in verses 17 and 18: “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Even though she didn’t know Jesus from a bar of soap, and had never even met him or seen him before, he knows all about her. There might well have been a whole list of things Jesus knew about her and talked about with her that Scripture hasn’t recorded for us—we don’t know. But it might have been that way, because in the section following our text for today in verse 39 we read these words: Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’”
In the instance which Scripture records for us, we can see that this woman had been married and divorced five times. And now, she was living with a man without being married to him. Through this exposure, and perhaps through others of which we aren’t aware, Jesus makes this woman aware of her sin. She becomes painfully aware that her sins are the thing that has separated her from God, and not the fact that she was a Samaritan. Ethnicity had nothing at all to do with it.
This woman also knew something else. She knew about the Messiah, the promised Saviour who would be coming from the Jews. She indicates to Jesus that she was anxiously awaiting this Messiah. She demonstrates a degree of faith and hope. And Jesus immediately lets her know that he is the Messiah she had been waiting for.
Her sinful life left her woefully lacking. She desired this “water of life” Jesus was offering to her, which was a way of describing his ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The woman had faith. And now Jesus needed to give her direction. She needed to know what and in whom to believe.
Through faith in Jesus, the sins which separate people from God are forgiven. Through faith in Jesus, the past didn’t matter anymore. Through faith in Jesus, salvation would be hers just the same as it would be for anybody else. Anybody who would come to Jesus in faith would have the gates of heaven opened wide for them, irrespective of heritage or ethnic background.
In Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, he makes this point very clear. In Galatians 3, 28-29 we read: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
It has to be that way too. Can you imagine how much confusion there would be if the Gospel were different for different people? Not only would that make God a fickle God, we’d also have a lot of trouble keeping things straight. Besides, with the way people have inter-married throughout the years, it would make it next to impossible.
The very fact that Jesus broke down the ethnic barriers in his ministry was something very important that needed to be done. Jesus was the Saviour through whom the Samaritans and Gentiles would be saved, not just the Jews. Through faith in Jesus, everyone would become spiritual “Sons of Abraham” and would have the hope of eternal life in heaven.
Racial segregation, discrimination, and bigotry is a huge problem in our society today. I guess I don’t knowingly encounter it all that much, but I know it’s there. I was visiting with a gentleman from Kansas City a few weeks ago, and he openly admitted to me that he didn’t like black people at all. Even though he is in a city where there is a large black population, and even though he has several black families living in the same cul-de-sac as he does, yet he just doesn’t like them—and he couldn’t give me a very good reason for it.
In my own life, I’ve had to deal with it too—both my own feelings, and from others. In Australia there are those people who hate Americans. Admittedly there aren’t too many that are like that, but they do exist. There are those who wouldn’t consider joining a church that had an American pastor, simply because he was an American. Being disliked because you’re different is not an easy thing to understand.
But I’ve had my hang-ups about people too. In my early years, I lived just outside the Winnebago Indian reservation. In my experiences, I would see the occasional drunk Indian stumble into town and get picked up by our local cop. I would see them get nice things and nice places to live, only to have them destroy what they had been given.
Over the years of course, I’ve learned to look at things differently. I’ve learned not to paint people with a broad paintbrush, or to condemn a whole group because of the actions of a few. But I also know that old prejudices die hard, and will rear their ugly heads from time to time.
That’s what happens with all of us. I’m sure that if we look deep within ourselves, we will find some of these feelings of which we are ashamed. Even the most liberal of people who speak words of acceptance about everybody will be just fine—that is, until they meet up with someone who is conservative.
What we need to remember is that Jesus is the Saviour for everybody, regardless of race or anything else. When Jesus broke the ethnic barrier with this Samaritan woman, many Samaritans came to faith in Jesus because of her testimony.
Thankfully Jesus is our Saviour too, and he understands and forgives our sins as well—even when it is our sin of bigotry and discrimination.
Let us then remember to look at people the same way Jesus does, knowing that forgiveness of sins is the same for you and me and everybody. Faith in Jesus is something completely universal, and he does not discriminate because of race, color, or ethnic origin. Let us then all drink from that same well of the water of life given to us by Jesus, knowing that through him we will be completely satisfied, and that we’ll never thirst again.