This past Sunday I took what I hope was a different yet faithful approach to the story of the woman at the well from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. During our worship at Christ Presbyterian I asked the congregation to consider the division that is present in this story. Throughout the text we are continually reminded that this world is torn asunder by the various notions that we have towards people.
At the well we experience the very nature of human sinfulness and how it expresses itself in cultural and religious separation. Jesus is confronted with the religious intolerance that has grown between Samaritan and Jew.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 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.)
The disciples come back from getting food in the city and automatically respond to Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman with their own distain and mistrust.
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
Perhaps Eugene Peterson helps us understand the spirit of the disciples when he offers his interpretation in The Message.
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
There is an obvious divide between the people in this story, and they stem from their social, political and religious beliefs.
I appreciate people who are transparent with their beliefs. I would much prefer to be around someone who is willing to openly express their beliefs. That being said, I am consistently disappointed by how folks use their beliefs as weapons. The woman at the well and the disciples held their convictions in such esteem that they were unwilling to approach the situation with an openness that God could do something new. Thankfully we see this stance change in the heart of the Samaritan Woman. Through Jesus’ approach to her she is transformed. Beyond that, her whole community begins to experience God doing a new thing.
This week begins the full court press towards the November Presidential election. Everything from Facebook to commercials are already full of the negative and hurtful attacks. Just like in John’s account of the experience at the well, all sides of the religious debate are filled with a desire to hold fast to their convictions. Also just like the well story, the basic approach to each other starts from a place of attack.
We may see another way in the midst of this story. Jesus, as he is often found to be, is the moderating voice in the interactions. Jesus is both firm and caring in his treatment of the woman at the well. He doesn’t concede his firm believe in the work God is doing in order to change the woman, but he does come to her with compassion and care. Even as she confronts him for even talking to her, he maintains an attitude of love and mercy. I pray that as Christ’s children in the world we can seek to express Christ-like love and compassion as we seek to negotiate the social, political and religious debates of our day.
Holy God, as our nation seeks to elect a leader in the form of our President, we ask that you help us to create a culture of love and grace within our political system. May all who stand for any political office find themselves in a place of service and care. When we are tempted to speak evil, call us to speak the truth in love. When we are filled with hate, wash over us with your love. We pray that who ever is chosen through our processes might be led by your Spirit. AMEN