(Please read John 4:4-42 before continuing.)
To modern readers...our text this morning is a great story of how a woman comes to faith in Christ. We see our Lord’s divine power to win souls for God. What is often missed...is the controversial aspect of what Jesus was doing. You see...Jesus did something that was shocking and appalling. He asked for a drink of water and had a conversation with a Samaritan woman. It had the markings of scandal written all over it.
Jesus’ disciples would have been freaking out. For those who may not know the history, Samaritans were descendants of the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom who had intermarried with non-Jews. They valued and followed only the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Bible) and denied the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple. They had their own place of worship on Mount (Ger’ uh zim) Gerizim. They worshipped the same God as the Jews in Jerusalem and held some of the same beliefs...but they had different history, traditions and experience. The friction between the two peoples began when the exiles returned from Babylon in the fifth century BCE. It was so bad...Jewish law said contact with a Samaritan resulted in ritual contamination.
The Jews at that time were about protecting boundaries. Their law and customs were meant to keep them religiously and racially pure. The Jewish Jesus humbled himself before a female untouchable and in doing so...he crossed a huge social and religious boundary. It was a radical act of tolerance, acceptance and love. In this story...Jesus challenged those who follow him to re-imagine how their lives and religion should look. Jesus not only imagined a world without social and religious boundaries...he lived and operated in that reality. It was challenging and exciting at the same time.
How does Jesus challenge your expectations? Most of us have been hearing and reading about Jesus all our lives. It is easy then, to begin to feel comfortable...to feel as though Jesus fits us like a well-worn pair of bedroom slippers. Many would confess they know Jesus well. But then we have times like this virus outbreak. For some, the expectations of Christ they’ve carried around might seem to fall short--limited as they are by their version of history, tradition, or experience.
The testimony of scripture reveals Jesus as one who challenges and surprises. Over and over we see him crossing boundaries...healing the incurable, consorting with sinners, touching the untouchable and challenging the status quo. So it surprises me when so many people try to put Jesus in a box...limiting him. Overheard while shopping, a man said, “What will Jesus do about this virus? Love it away?” He definitely had Jesus in a box, for he limited the power of the Messiah. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus offered her living water--and her boundaries for the Messiah were shattered.
One reason Jesus humbled himself socially and religiously is so that we might grow beyond our limits as Christians. He challenges us to love beyond the boundaries of doctrine, interpretation, and traditions...to relate to those who are radically different. Are we open enough to let the radical Jesus change us--even after years of keeping him in a box? This outbreak is the time to examine our lives...to question how much we look like Jesus. He loved beyond boundaries. This is a very good time to be asking, “Do we?”