Summary: Woman at the Well - Worship

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Because we switched computer systems, I helped put together the bulletin. So I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found a typo or blooper. Periodically a list of church bulletin bloopers circulates around the internet. In the, “you’ve probably heard this before” category here are a few.

Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Memorial Church in Racine. Come tonight and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.

Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.

The sermon this morning: ’Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ’Searching for Jesus."

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to conflict.

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

Thursday night will be a potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.

This is one of those sermons that could turn into a history lesson, but I don’t think that we can understand what is going on here without some background on who the Samaritans were and what the cultural issues of the first century were. The story really begins back when David was King, about a thousand years before the time of Jesus.

There is a disclaimer that I need to offer. Most of the history in the Old Testament is written from the point of view of the tribe of Judah. If there ever were histories from a Samaritan perspective, they are lost to us.

Prior to the monarchy, the nation of Israel was an affiliation of 12 tribes. These tribes formed a fairly loose confederation, but conflict with the Philistines caused them to seek a unified government, first under Saul and later under David. During David’s time, Israelites worshiped and offered sacrifices at local family shrines. David was successful militarily. One of his conquests was the city of Salem (which means “peace”). David renamed that city Jerusalem (which means “peace of God”) and he moved his capital there. David’s son, Solomon built both a palace and a Temple in that city. The Temple at Jerusalem quickly became the center of Jewish worship.

With the death of Solomon, the nation split in two with the northern ten tribes separating from the southern tribes. This split was religious as well as political. In the south, there was a central religious hierarchy centered around the teaching of the Law of Moses and worship at the Temple. Eventually, in Judah, it became illegal to offer sacrifices anywhere other than the Temple.

The people of the north went a different direction. They accepted the Torah as their central scripture, but they focused more on the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and on the ritual of sacrifice than on the law. Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes was especially revered. Sacrifices were offered at sacred sites throughout the country, but Mt.Gerazim, Jacob’s place of worship, was considered one of the most holy. With less structure, the people of the north were much more likely to include elements from other religions of the region into their practice. At times, the God of Jacob became just one of several deities who were worshipped. Like the south, the north believed in a coming Messiah, but they thought of him as a human leader after the model of Moses.

About 200 years after the split, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians and many of the residents were taken away in captivity. Foreigners moved into the region. The population became a mix of those who had escaped captivity and deportation, foreigners who had relocated to the region, and retuning captives.

Those in the south saw the Samaritans as half-breeds, not just racially, but religiously as well. One supposes that the Samaritans must have had a low opinion of the Jews, and especially of the Temple as well.

Why does John tell us this story when none of the other Gospels do? Are the other Gospels reluctant to tell a story that puts Samaritans in a positive light? Matthew and Mark, both of whom are Jewish, fail to mention any interaction between Jesus and Samaritans. Luke, the only gentile author in the New Testament, mentions Samaritans three times, and each time puts them in a positive light. John has this account of a Samaritan woman. His only other mention of the word is when the Pharisees use it as a term of derision directed against Jesus.

Jesus clearly did not suffer from the racial bias of his culture. Jesus was also not subject to the same gender bias as his culture. It was unthinkable for any observant Jew, especially a Rabbi, to have a conversation with a woman. It was even considered inappropriate for a man to have a public conversation with his own wife. (If only that were the case today.)

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