Summary: As Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well, we see clearly that Jesus cared more about the person than the cultural mores that should have prevented him from having such a conversation. We, too, should care about and seek out the "outcasts" so th
A couple of weeks ago, I got a pretty funny email from my Mom. It was crazy headlines or stories found in real newspapers. I laughed for a good 10 or 15 minutes as I made my way through all the crazy news. As we get started this morning, I want to share a few of these newspaper headlines with you.
An advertisement: "Get 50% or half off, whichever is less."
"Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25."
"One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers."
"Alton attorney accidentally sues himself."
"County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds."
"Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons."
"Fish need water, feds say."
And this advertisement was found in the classifieds of one newspaper, "1995 Nissan Maxima, green, leather, loaded, CD, auto start, sunroof, 4-door, good condition, $4500. Not for sale."
And another classified advertised this, "Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."
Or how about this crime report, "Dog Attack -- Lower duck pond, Lithia Park, Ashland. Police responded to a report of two dogs running loose and attacking ducks at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. The officer cited a resident for the loose dogs. The duck refused medical treatment and left the area, according to police records."
The subject line of the email containing those strange newspaper clippings was, "You just can't make this stuff up!" And indeed, you can't make that kind of stuff up. People do silly, sometimes simply crazy things, and no made-up story can even rival the real thing. This is exactly what happens as Jesus travels into Sychar in Samaria and makes a midday stop at the local well. As Jesus gets a drink of water and converses with the woman there, a question seems to lurk in the back of everyone's mind, including the disciples. A question that goes a little like like this, "Jesus, are you crazy or something? Why on earth are you talking to a Samaritan woman?"
Here's why the disciples and others would be so surprised by Jesus' conversation with that woman. First of all, the obvious: Jesus was a man, and the Samaritan was a woman. And back in Jesus' time, men just didn't talk to women; especially not by themselves, and especially not women with whom they were unacquainted. It simply wasn't done for all sorts of different reasons. On top of that, this woman, it seems, was particularly bad because of her widely known marital indiscretions. Then, to add insult to injury (at least as far as society was concerned), Jesus was a Jewish man and this woman was not just any woman, but a Samaritan one! You see, the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was extremely frigid. That's because the Samaritans didn't think the Jews were real Jews, and here's why. When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, some of them managed to stay in the Land of Israel. When the exiled Israelites eventually returned after their time of oppression, it was believed by those who had remained in Israel that the exiles brought with them a now tainted version of worship. So the Samaritans, as they came to be known, felt that they were the only true Israelites, and that the Jews had it all wrong. The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was so bad by the time Jesus came along that Jewish people wouldn't even walk through Samaria. They would plan their travels from place to place such that they would detour around Samaria and vice-versa.
So, when Jesus not only treks through Samaria, but pauses for a casual conversation with this "very bad" Samaritan woman, he's tackling head-on some of the greatest prejudices of the day. He confronts the tragedy of racial prejudice, since the Jews would have nothing to do with the Samaritans. At the same time, he also takes on some gender issues. As I mentioned, it is not considered proper for a man to publicly speak to a woman, and to engage her in a philosophical conversation was unheard of. Still, with Jesus, there is grace. The woman has been married five times and the man she is now living with is not her husband. As she stands alone at that well in the middle of the day, an unusual time for anyone to be drawing water, it is clear that she is an outcast rejected by her community. Yet, Jesus is not judgmental. Jesus breaks all of the "rules," all of society's expectations, as he talks to this woman. And that is the message I want us to take home with us today. Jesus' conversation with the woman from Samaria illustrates radical inclusivity. Jesus cared more about the person that the cultural mores that should have prevented him from having such a conversation. So should we!