Summary: Jesus crossed boundaries to encounter humanity in our deepest need.
March 15, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus had traveled a long distance for that drink of water. Why was Jesus even in Samaria? Jews went out of their way to avoid Samaritans, Samaria and all things related to them. Samaritans were deemed to be “half breeds.” They had corrupted the pure faith and worship of Israel. If Jews who lived in the northern region of Galilee wanted to travel to Jerusalem in the south, they did an end run around Samaria.
But here stands Jesus, leaning against Jacob’s well in Sychar. Not only was he in Samaria, he was deep in the heart of it! Jesus had parked himself next to the well while his disciples went into town to get lunch.
It was high noon when she arrived at the well. She approaches the well precisely at the time when, reliably, no one else will be there. It’s an avoidance technique. But no such luck today. Drat! A man is there, and he looks foreign, a Jew. Just ignore him! Go about your business, sister, and don’t make eye contact.
And then it happens. He asks her for a drink of water. She can’t believe her ears. This Jewish man is asking her for a drink of water! Their worlds are not supposed to intersect!
Jesus has crossed so many boundaries we can hardly count them. He’s deep in Samaritan territory. As a man, he has spoken to a strange woman he has no familial connection to. And he intends to take a ladle from her unkosher hand and drink water from a corrupted vessel. It’s all wrong, wrong, wrong!
Jesus’ presence in Samaria had broken the equilibrium. His request for water was simply off the charts. There were rules for maintaining good order. It kept separate peoples separate.
The story sends a harmonic tremor into our own country’s history. There was a time in our not too distant past when we ardently did our best to keep differing peoples separate. We had separate drinking fountains, separate schools, separate baseball leagues, separate restaurants, separate neighborhoods.
And then, during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, the long-established and unquestioned system of segregation was challenged. Active efforts were taken to cross the established boundaries. Non-violent protests were organized. Sit-ins at segregated lunch counters were planned. Busses were boycotted. Marchers crossed bridges.
In September 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas became desegregated. Nine outstanding and very courageous African American students were selected to attend the school which formerly had been exclusively for white students. It was a dangerous boundary to cross. The National Guard was called in to keep peace.
Our race relations are by no means healed, but we’ve made many advancements. However, if we don’t divide ourselves by race, we find other ways to divide ourselves. Nowadays, we’re most fractured politically. We’ve become divided by our party affiliation. We sort and categorize one another by blue and red. We’ve become polarized to the point that we wonder if civility is a virtue of bygone years.
Besides politics, we can find unlimited other ways of dividing ourselves into opposing camps: religious affiliation; nationality; men and women; straight and gay; Southern and Yankee; blue collar and white collar. Poet Robert Frost captured well our predilection for division in his famous poem “Mending Fences.” A stone fence stands between his property line and his neighbor’s land. The fence takes a beating during the winter and so every spring it’s in need of repair. Frost writes about the mending day:
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Good fences make good neighbors. But Jesus on this day has crossed the fence line and entered Samaria. And there, beside Jacob’s well, he meets her. She hands him a gourd filled with water, and the two of them set down to talk. They talk about Jacob’s well. They discuss the differences between the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritan temple in Shechem.