“The Way Jesus Was”

John 4:5-26

The Third Sunday in Lent

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” She said to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Every three years, the lectionary places those words in our path, and, every time they roll back around, they take me back to the J.C. Penney’s department store on Hillcrest Avenue in Macon, Georgia.  I was about seven years old, so it must have been about 1962.  I had wandered away from my mother, and found myself standing in front of two water fountains, one marked “White,” the other, “Colored”; two options, from which, for reasons I can no longer recall, I chose the one marked “Colored.”  But, then, much to my surprise, as I leaned in for a drink, I felt my shirt collar being pulled backward, followed by a stern reprimand which sounded a lot like that moment in today’s gospel lesson, when the Samaritan woman reminded Jesus that Jews do not drink after Samaritans.

Two moments; one, at a well in John, the other, at a store in Georgia; both about water, and, both about xenophobia; fear of the other; fear of whomever does not look or sound or seem like me and mine.

The xenophobia in this morning’s gospel lesson was the fear which separated Jews and Samaritans from one another; a story of prejudice and  division which went all the way back to the separation of the Hebrew people into two kingdoms; the northern kingdom, called Israel, and the southern kingdom, called Judah; both of which were eventually defeated and carried into captivity; Judah in 589 B.C. by the Babylonians, and Israel, by the Assyrians, in 722 B.C.

When the Assyrians conquered Israel, they took some, but not all, of the people of Israel into exile; leaving most of the Israelites behind, after which the Assyrians brought in people from other places they had conquered; resettling them in the area of Samaria, which was a city in Israel.  So, now, Samaria becomes home, not only to the Israelites the Assyrians left behind after defeating the northern kingdom, but also to all of these new people of various backgrounds, who have been transplanted into Samaria by the Assyrians; which eventually led to a convergence of races and religions which many of the people of Judah looked upon with disdain; talking about their Samaritan neighbors as inferior, and treating them as outcasts.

All of which helps explain why, when Jesus, in today’s gospel lesson, asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, the Samaritan woman reminded Jesus that for a Jew to ask a Samaritan for a drink is something that is just not done.

Which, of course, is why Jesus did it.  We have read enough of the four gospels to know that when Jesus crossed that long-standing racial and religious divide between Jews and Samaritans by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink from her cup, he was just being exactly who he was.

We sometimes ask, in various circumstances and situations, “What would Jesus do?” as though we don’t have a clue.  But, if the four gospels are a trustworthy record of the words and works of Jesus, more often than not we know what Jesus would do, in our world, because we know what Jesus did do, in his.

If the four gospels are a trustworthy record of the words and works of Jesus, Jesus lived a life of love and welcome which kept him constantly reaching beyond the assumed and accepted barriers and boundaries of his time and culture; getting up every day to sit down with and stand up for whomever was most voiceless, powerless, marginalized, ostracized, demonized, dehumanized, left out, hated, hurting, and alone; a life that was never more fully embodied than in that moment in today’s gospel lesson when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

That is the way Jesus was, which means that, if we are following Jesus, that is the way we will be.

There’s a reason why the deepest Christians we have ever known have the widest embrace we have ever seen; because that’s the way Jesus was, and the closer a person gets to Jesus the more a person becomes like Jesus, who lived as he died and died as he lived, arms out as wide as the world.