Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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Hungry and Thirsty for God

John 4:3-42

 Jesus has to leave town.  He has been in Jerusalem and Judea, and now the Pharisees are starting to cause problems, and he decides it’s time to go back to Galilee.  Judea was the stronghold of the Pharisees; they were almost non-existent in Galilee.  

 To get there, he has to go through Samaria.  Well, technically, he didn’t have to go through Samaria, unless he was in a hurry.  In the first century, the land of Canaan had been divided into several different areas.  Judea was in the south, Galilee in the north, and Samaria in the middle.  Because of the feelings of Jews toward Samaritans, most of them would cross the Jordan River and go out of their way to avoid Samaria, unless they were in a hurry.  Maybe Jesus was in a hurry.  Or perhaps he had other motives for passing through Samaria….

 There was a long and ugly history between the Jews and Samaritans.  It went all the way back to the end of King Solomon’s reign, almost a thousand years earlier.  Solomon and his father David were from the tribe of Judah.  After his death, the 10 northern tribes rebelled against his son and formed their own kingdom.  David’s line continued in Judah.  The north was called Israel or Ephraim.  For the next three centuries, Judah and Israel had a very conflicted history, sometimes friends, sometimes enemies.  

 Then Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire.  They took most of the people of Israel and relocated them to Media.  And they moved other people into the region.  Some of the Israelites fled south into Judah.  But many of those left in the land began to mingle with these new people.  In the minds of the Jews, they lost their “racial purity” and became “contaminated” by Gentile blood.  They stopped being children of Abraham and became Samaritans.

 Let’s pause here for a moment.  The myth of racial purity is just that, a myth.  I’ll give you an example.  A few months ago, my father took one of those DNA tests that tells you where your ancestors came from.  My dad had always been told growing up that his ancestors were Welsh and British, with just a little Danish thrown in.  But his DNA test said that, more than anything, he was Irish.  And the next largest portion of his heritage was Scandinavian.  After that was German, and then there was a smattering of other bits:  British, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Russian, and just to keep things interesting,

Central Asian.  Think Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun.  So much for that good ol’ British heritage.  

 Racial purity is a myth.  None of us is pure anything, except human being.  But the fear of contamination is one of the roots of racism.  The truth is that we are united by something far more fundamental than our human differences, but we’ll get to that.  

 There was more to this enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans.  When the Jews returned from Babylon, the Samaritans opposed them as they tried to rebuild Jerusalem.  When the city was rebuilt, they refused to allow Samaritans to come to the Temple and offer sacrifices to God.  So the Samaritans built their own temple, on top of Mt. Gerizim.  Then things got really ugly.  After the Jews secured their freedom from the Greeks in the time of the Maccabees, the 2nd century BC, the Jewish general John Hyrcanus led his troops up to Samaria and destroyed the Samaritan Temple as “an affront to God.”  That sure didn’t help relations between them.

 Well, Jesus is on his way north and he comes to the village of Sychar, which was near the Old Testament town of Shechem.  This is where Jacob settled after he returned to the Promised Land.  This is where Joseph’s bones were buried.  It was right in between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, an important place in the Old Testament.  This was where the covenant was read when Israel entered the Promised Land after the Exodus.  It was the geographical center of the Holy Land.  

 The disciples go into town to buy food. I’m sure they loved that assignment.  And Jesus stayed near Jacob’s well.  A woman comes to the well, alone, for water at noon.  That was unusual.  Normally, women went to the well together, for safety, in the morning and the evening.  This suggests she is an outcast.

 Jesus asks her for a drink.  She is surprised because normally Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jewish men generally didn’t talk to women in public.  There is also a hint of ambiguity, perhaps even impropriety.  This is Jacob’s well.  Where did Jacob meet his wife Rachel?  At a well.  He asked her for a drink of water.  Perhaps she wonders what Jesus is hinting at.  

 “If you knew the gift of God, you would ask me for a drink of living water.”  Normally, living water meant “running water,” which, of course, is preferable to well water.  Running water tastes better than the stagnant water at the bottom of a well.  Some rabbis used the phrase “living water” to refer to God’s Word.  But Jesus is

referring to the Holy Spirit.  One of the things we see over and over in John’s Gospel is how Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit is greater than ritual waters.  

 “You don’t have a rope or bucket,” she replies.  Normally, when people traveled they would carry a leather bucket on a rope for getting water out of wells.  Jesus doesn’t have one.  How can he give her water?  “Are you greater than our father Jacob?”  She is challenging the Jewish perspective on Samaritans.  Jews would say the Samaritans are not children of Jacob, not part of the covenant people, and of course, the Samaritans thought they were.  

 “If you drink this water, you will thirst again.  The water I give takes away thirst and gives eternal life.”  

 “Okay, give me that water, so I won’t have to keep coming back here.”  Maybe she is slow to catch on that Jesus is not talking about just plain water.  Or perhaps she is laughing as she says this.  “Okay, crazy man, give me your magical water.”  

 “Go get your husband.”  “I have no husband.”  Now things are really ambiguous, because the phrase “I have no husband” could also mean, “I am available.”  

 “You’re right.  You’ve had five husbands, and now you’re living with another man to whom you are not married.”  This is, no doubt, why she is here alone.  She has a reputation.  She is a home-wrecker.  

 But I think Jesus has diagnosed the real issue in her life.  She is thirsty.  She is unsatisfied.  And she is trying to fill that thirst with sexual relationships.  And it’s not working.  The truth is that she is thirsty for God.  But maybe she doesn’t really know that.  Many people don’t.  The truth is all people are thirsty for God.  We all want something real, something substantial, something reliable.  Many of the sins and addictions in our lives are simply ways in which we are trying to satisfy our thirst.  But we are made by God and we are made for God.  Nothing else will satisfy.

 “You must be a prophet.  Where can I go to be made right with God?  Jerusalem?  Gerizim?”  She’s changing the subject, isn’t she?  But it’s also part of her culture.  We don’t have this same sense, but in the ancient Near East world, there was a lot of importance attached to sacred places.  In reality, the way to become right with God is standing right in front of her.

 “You Samaritans know little.”  It might sound like Jesus is insulting her, but one of the differences between the Jews and Samaritans is that the Samaritans only held onto the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  They were missing a lot of information.  They didn’t know much about the Messiah.

 “The time is coming when true worshippers will worship in Spirit and truth.  The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.”  The coming of Jesus means that there are no more privileged people or privileged places.  All people can come to God through him and be restored to a right relationship.

 “When Messiah comes, he’ll explain it,” she says.  “I am he,” Jesus says.

 The disciples return and the woman leaves.  When she does, she leaves her water jar behind.  Obviously, she’s planning to return.  But more than that, it shows she has found this living water of Jesus.  

 The disciples want Jesus to eat, but he says, “I have food.”  Just like the woman, they still think he is speaking of literal food.  But Jesus is talking about doing God’s will as his food.  Again, it’s that same image.  People are hungry and thirsty for God.  Nothing else will satisfy except knowing God and doing his will.  

 The woman returns to Sychar and she tells them about Jesus.  They must see something different in her because they are intrigued by her testimony.  They come and meet Jesus for themselves.  They invite him to stay with them.  And Jesus does.  He stays in this Samaritan village for two days.  I’m sure the disciples were thrilled, again!  At the end of this time, the people say, “We believe not just because she told us about him, but because we have seen and heard him for ourselves.”  That is the model of evangelism that we see over and over in John’s Gospel.  Introduce people to Jesus, tell them what he has done for you, and leave the rest in Jesus’ hands.  

 Jesus reminds us, “The fields are ripe with harvest.”  All people are hungry and thirsty for God.  They might not even know it, but they are.  Human beings are made by God and made for God.  They are searching for something real and reliable.  And God alone can satisfy that thirst.  

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