THREE STRIKES AGAINST JESUS
Romans 5: 1-11, Psalm 95, John 4:1-42
We don”t quite understand why the disciples were so shocked to find their master with a Samaritan woman by Jacob”s well, as it is described in the today”s Gospel. John said that the disciples were so astonished when they found who was with Jesus. They were too embarrassed to ask a question. Jesus must have had a knack of doing things wrong. He angered, annoyed, astonished, and disgusted many people. This is why the leadership of society, and even the public who used to follow him, demanded his death after only a few years in his ministry. And this episode in Samaria epitomizes Jesus” ministry that drove him to the death on the cross. It must have been pretty shocking incident. As far as I could gather, Jesus made three big mistakes.
The first mistake was that he spoke to an unaccompanied woman in public. She was a stranger, too. That was a very serious breach of etiquette. According to the custom of the time, no man is permitted to speak to an unaccompanied woman in public, unless she was his daughter or wife. This still is the case in many cultures even today. Worse still, Jesus asked for a drink of water. You can do it only in an intimate relationship. You don”t do that even today, unless you know the person well. According to the custom of the time, you might be permitted to ask a stranger for water. But you must bring your own container. Jesus had none. The woman said, "But sir, you don”t even have a bucket." She would have had to offer it to him with her own bucket. This could happen only between intimate friends or between family members. If you ask for a cup of water without your own cup, your are asking for relationship. And they had never met before. So you know how an outrageous act that was.
So the woman was surprised. But she did not run away, because she was a woman of experience with men. Anyhow, she was a Samaritan woman. That was the second strike against Jesus. It was a serious breach of Jewish customs. Samaritans had been despised and loathed by the Jews for nearly one thousand years. People even took long detour to avoid travelling through Samaria. Samaritans were an artificially created nation. King of Assyria defeated Kingdom of Israel in 900 B.C., drove the people out of Samaria, and like deportation of criminals to Australia, forced massive immigration from five different nations. They eventually intermarried and became a nation of mixed blood people. The king of Assyria did this out of spite to humiliate the Jews.
The Jews considered the Samaritans to be not only bastards but also pagans who desecrated the Hebrew religion. Samaritans brought in a Jewish priest to learn about the religion of the land they inherited. But they ended up mixing the Hebrew religion with their own and created a hybrid religion. So Jewish people at the time of Jesus despised and deeply hated the Samaritans for a religious reason, also. Jesus not only spoke to an unaccompanied stranger woman, but also to a Samaritan woman. A disgusting thing to do.
Thirdly, this Samaritan woman was a person of ill repute. She had five husbands, and currently was living with a man but not married to him. Jesus did not hesitate to be friends with women of ill repute, even with prostitutes. They were eager to learn the truth about God and spiritual life. He did not discriminate people who followed him. That was bad enough for his reputation. But this woman was a Samaritan. He had gone too far. I would be reluctant to be seen in a company of certain kind of people, especially discussing an intimate subject like history of sexual relationships.
What is interesting is the fact that nobody asked whether her misfortunes in her married life were because of her failings or were they due to circumstances beyond her control. But it was assumed that her many failed marriages indicated that she was not a good woman. Isn”t it possible that she was simply unlucky? She might have been widowed a few times. And yet, she was ostracised in society. She had to come to the well in the heat of the day – noon. Noone wants to go outside in the middle of the day in the Middle East, when the Sun is too hot. Temperature could be more than 100 degree F. Besides, it was a common custom in many cultures for women to socialize and to exchange useful information as well as gossips at the well or by the river. It was a good time for women. Why would this Samaritan woman come to the well at noon, when nobody was around? There must have been some serious reasons why she had to avoid more comfortable part of the day and pleasant company of friends. It was all because of her unfortunate marital past, which might not have been her fault at all.
It is the same with the status of the Samaritans. The origin of the Samaritan nation might have been a shameful event for the Jews. But that was not the fault of the Samaritans. Samaritans did not cause such an abnormal beginning. They did not even exist when such disgrace was forced upon the nation of Israel. The Samaritans were also the victims.
We have an appalling tendency to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators. We blame the poor and say it is their fault that they are poor. We blame the victim of sexual violence and say she must have been insolent. It is like beating your baby for not stop crying at night, only to discover that the child was in a terrible pain because of a broken bone. Jesus could see injustice in such treatment of victims. He did not hesitate to have a conversation with a Samaritan divorced woman. Jesus saw that she happened to be a person of profound spiritual insight. Jesus did not discriminate in the choice of his followers and friends. He did not see the labels on people, but saw spiritual quality in them.
You see, what Jesus said in the beginning of their conversation was enigmatic, if not totally puzzling. He spoke about living water. He said that it would make people never to thirst again. The woman was sceptical. She was not convinced until Jesus switched the subject of conversation to her personal life. He guessed about her failed married life. Then she immediately realized that this man was not teasing her or making a pass at her. It is to her great credit that she recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the one who would bring salvation. It showed that she was a person of some spiritual depth. Also it is, of course, due to Jesus” extraordinary spiritual capacity to recognize that, beyond a appalling reputation in society, this Samaritan woman had a inner gift of understanding in the spiritual matters.
For Jesus Christ, the labels on people had no meaning. A woman, a pagan, a half breed, a loose woman, all these were just the labels, some of which might have been false. Even the religious questions, such as whether to worship God in the Samaritan mountains or in the temple in Jerusalem, whether you kneel or stand to pray, or you are Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslims, Jews, or United Church; those are questions about labels and often are meaningless distinctions as far as God is concerned. He spoke about worshipping God in truth and spirit. He was not interested in discussing the difference between Jewish religion and Samaritan beliefs. He was only interested in salvation of all people.
This is why Jesus was a very disturbing element for those people, for whom religious differences, national distinctions, and social statuses were more important than God. This is why the ministry of Jesus had three strikes against him, in this story of Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Because some people are more concerned about keeping out other people, in order to preserve the purity of institutions. In the same token, we can say that the suffering and death of our Lord are the signs of his integrity and of his uncompromising love. He did not allow superficial labelling interfere with the matter concerning salvation of people. Jesus loves, and is ready to die again and again for us because he does not stop loving.