Food and Drink I
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A chance encounter at a well that wasn’t chance at all. An unlikely scenario. Talk of drink framed by talk of food. Misunderstanding and understanding. Boundary crossing, acceptance and the word of Life. God revealed. These are some of the things that are going on in the story that we heard this morning. These are some of the things that go on in our lives. Let us take a look at this story this morning and see what God may have to say to our hearts. Last week we read about Jesus and his followers attending a wedding up north in Galilee, and then returning to regular life in Capernaum. After than John writes on Jesus going up to Jerusalem at Passover and driving out those seeking to make profits from the sacrificial system that was in place there at the temple. He is asked by religious leaders for a sign to show how he can do such a thing. Jesus tells them to destroy the temple and he would raise it up in three days. They think he’s just talking about the actual temple and say “You’re crazy this temple took 46 years to build!” He’s talking about something else that would happen after three days. Something new is happening. The dwelling place of God on earth is and will be in the body of Christ. Jesus is then visited by a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. Jesus tells Nicodemus about something new. Jesus tells him that one sees the kingdom of God by being born from above, born of the Spirit. Not understanding, Nicodemus wonders asks “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” Jesus tells him about the Son of Man being lifted up so that anyone who believes in him may have eternal life, life that is from above, from God. Life reconciled and in communion with God. Later, when rumours about a possible rivalry between Jesus and John the Baptist arise, Jesus decides to head north and go home for a while. This is how chapter 4 starts. In v 4 we read “But he had to go through Samaria.” As you’ll see from the map he didn’t physically have to go through Samaria. There were three routes that could have been taken, the other two along the coast or along the Jordan River valley. Jewish travellers from Galilee to Jerusalem would often avoid Samaria from fear of being attacked.
We start the story with Jesus in an everyday situation. He’s at a well at noon. The story starts and ends with food – in the beginning we read that Jesus was alone because his disciples had gone into town looking for food. At the end of the story Jesus’ disciples return with food and Jesus tells them he has food that they do not know about. Food is not just food. In the middle of the story we have drink. Food and drink. It’s not just food and it’s not just drink. It’s not just a well. It’s not just a tired traveller, or even just a prophet.
“Give me a drink.” The first line of dialogue in the scene. Sometimes a drink is not just a drink. Jesus is asking something from the woman because it’s noon and he’s thirsty. We are also reminded that this relationship is not all about what we receive from God, it is also about what God requires from us. I talked two weeks ago about expectations – when are our expectations ours and when are they God’s? What does God require of us? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” is good! Jesus will talk about how he gives water “that will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” A spring of water within people that will represent life eternal. When we say eternal life we’re not just talking about the afterlife. Someone once asked of the afterlife “Where do we go?” I say it’s not just about where we go, it’s about where we are. Eternal life. Life from above. Life that is from God. Life that reflects the way God intended for us to live it. This is what God wants for us. Not because God is needs or this will slake God’s ego. Because this is how God made us and he longs to delight in his children. He longs for us to delight him. To surprise him. He entrusts us with his work. “Give me a drink,” Jesus says.
This woman is not in a good place that day at noon. While it’s conjecture, it’s thought that the reason she was coming to the well at noon was because she didn’t feel welcome coming to the well with the other women of the town in the cool of the morning or the end of the day. The fact that she’s living with a man who is not her husband meant she would have been considered something of an outcast. The fact that a rabbi is talking to her at all was surprising. The fact that a Jewish man was asking to share what she used to draw the water was shocking. Jews and Samaritans did not share things in common. Jews and Samaritans lived in segregation. In this story we see Jesus breaking down barriers. We see Jesus signifying that people are more important than the barriers and walls that we set up around ourselves.
What was the thing about Samaria? The kingdom of Israel had been divided hundreds of years earlier after the death of Solomon – into Judah and Northern Israel or Ephraim. Ephraim was invaded by the Assyrians and many of its people carried off into captivity in Assyria. The Assyrians populated the region with settlers who mixed with the Israelites who remained. They had their own religious writings and their own place of worship on Mount Gerezim. They had their own temple on Mount Gerezim until it was destroyed by a Jewish king around 150 years before Jesus sat down at this well. This was an adversarial relationship. At one point Samaritans came to the Jerusalem Temple and desecrated it by scattering human bones around. They did not like each other. So the question “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” is well put.
There’s an importance to this story happening at a well. New relationships are born at wells. Life changing things happen at wells in the Bible. Isaac met his wife Rebekah at a well. Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well. Here new life is happening at the well. Jesus is crossing boundaries. He’s breaking down walls. He’s destroying barriers. He’s sitting down. He’s taking the time to sit where people who are labelled such as he is (Jewish/rabbi) are not supposed to sit. Jesus is signifying that a time is coming, and is now here when labels and what they mean do not matter. Jesus is talking about a time when it’s not so much a matter of how you worship but who you worship. It’s not so much a matter of where you worship but that he is the new Temple – he is the new dwelling place of God on earth. God is not restricted by geography. God is not restricted by the buildings we make for the purpose of worship. Followers of Christ are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t just mean you shouldn’t smoke (though we should look after ourselves as best we can of course) – it means that we are mediators of God’s presence in the world as we go out from the places in which we gather together to worship. The time is coming and is now here when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. This is who God seeks and this is who God has taken steps to bring back to him because this is how God made us. If you are a follower of Christ your primary identity is Christ in you/you in Christ, a forgiven child of God who is filled with the same Spirit that filled Christ. That’s your label.
I’ve never been a fan of labels. Labels are hard to look past I think. I read an article recently talking about how Evangelicals in the US are going to have to split along “Progressive” and “Conservative” lines. The article talked about where each movement came from –Calvinist for conservative versus radical reformation or pietist origins for progressives. It talked about what makes each side angry – abortion, gay marriage, racism, sexism, gay marriage. It talked about the things that the two sides fight each other over – protecting religious freedom, preventing discrimination, support of Israel. The article concluded with the belief that a split between the two sides was needed. I read it and asked myself some questions. Why is it that we get angry when someone disagrees with us? What is it that we hold in common? What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? What does it mean that those that we perceive to be on the other side are indwelt with the same spirit that is in Christ – the same spirit that is in me? Labels prevent us from seeing the other. From wanting to get to know the other. I thought of Pastor Joe whose church has been supporting us in Lawrence Height for five years. Who drove up with his family for the induction service we had here last November. Should I be angry because his church doesn’t believe in female pastors? Should he be angry with me? Should we hold each other in disdain or contempt over this?
This unnamed woman of Samaria has been held in contempt. Jesus doesn’t look on her as a label. He looks on her as someone who was created for the Spirit of the living God to inhabit. Living water. Jesus looks on her as someone who is able to spread this news to a whole other people group, starting with her village. Starting with where she lives. What does Jesus expect of us who are indwelt by the same Spirit? What does Jesus expect of us where we live? What will Jesus enable in us where we live if we say “Sir give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…” When the Samaritan woman asked this question of course, she thought that Jesus was still talking about water. That’s fine, we don’t get it sometimes. It’s not just her. Jesus then gets to the personal heart of the matter for this woman. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” This leads into talk about her personal situation. “Go call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Sexuality immorality is not very well spelled out here, apart from this woman’s current relationship. If we’re talking about the sanctity of marriage she may be a five-time widow after all. The story doesn’t dwell on this and I think that is right and good, because Jesus doesn’t dwell on it. He doesn’t judge her. He doesn’t condemn her. He doesn’t look askance at her. He’s in effect telling her that she was made for better things. There is a person in whom to find life eternal, life from above, life abundant. She’s been looking maybe in the wrong places. Many of us know what that’s like. It’s led to ostracism. They said it would lead to happiness and it hasn’t. I’m not saying that this woman was going around having a lot of casual sex. This story made me think though of our identity and what God intends for us versus what we intend for ourselves. You hear the message a lot that casual sex is harmless, it’s good, it’s fun. We talk about the Biblical idea and ideal for sex as the most intimate expression of communion and love within marriage. Maybe we think this is anachronistic or wonder how such talk would fly in this day and age. I don’t know though. Maybe we’re doing ourselves and our children a disservice by not talking about it like this. The world says it’s fun and everyone’s doing it and you have the right to feel good and freedom is found in being able to do what you want right? One thing really struck me during the Jian Ghomeshi trial. One piece of testimony by one of the women. She and Ghomeshi were at a bar with a friend of his. “At the bar Ghomeshi introduced her to a writer, who may have worked for The New York Times, she can’t remember. The friend asked how long the two of them had been dating. Ghomeshi said “we’re not seeing each other, we’re just… vulgarity for having sex,” she says. This made her feel ‘small.’ ‘It wasn’t true,’ she says.”
It made her feel small. It wasn’t true. I’m sure the Samaritan woman felt small. It wasn’t about condemning her or justifying her by saying “How could you?” or “Well she needed a way to survive” or any commentary at all. It was about there being something better for her. Decision time. Jesus is getting closer to her heart. She throws up a smoke grenade – “You worship in Jerusalem – we worship on Mount Gerizim.” You Baptists believe this. Catholics do it this way. My mom was United I think. I used to go to church until I was hurt terribly. I can’t stand the guitar. I can’t stand the organ.
“I know the Messiah is coming… When he comes he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” I am in Greek. I am. I am he. The one who is speaking to you. Who are you? I am. Believe it or not.
At this point the disciples came back. They must have known something was going on because they didn’t say to her “What do you want?” or to him “Why are you speaking with her?” The woman runs to her village while the disciples get to more pressing matters – lunch. Jesus tells them “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” We’ll talk about that next week too. I could have called it Food and Drink II! Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you. What’s that all about?? Stay tuned next week!
The woman has gone to tell her village some truth – “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” There’s some hyperbole here – Jesus didn’t tell her everything she’d ever done. She’s excited to have met him though and speaks of a deep deep truth. Jesus knows everything she has ever done and loves her. Jesus knows everything I have ever done and loves me. Jesus knows everything you have ever done and loves you. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?
Can he? Yes he can. The one who has made it possible for his followers to worship in Spirit and in Truth. The one who has made it possible for his followers to be filled to gushing with the living water of His Spirit. The one whose truth is redeeming love – reconciling restoring love that crosses boundaries and enables the same reconciling restoring healing love in us. He cannot be the Messiah can he? Come and see! This is the Christ friends that we follow.