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Welcome to the second installment of The Well – a series based on John 4 where Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well, had a very frank conversation with her about her sin, and left her feeling loved, accepted and excited to tell everyone about Him.
As a Christian, Black-British young woman, I am enthralled by studying the inner workings of people and groups. My bachelor’s degree in sociology was a natural fit as it allowed me to dedicate my studies to learning about everything that goes into making us who we are and causes us to behave the way we do.
The conversation around race and social justice has taken on new weight following the tragic events earlier this year with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And the response from the world is unlike anything seen in our lifetime: Black people’s pain is being heard and acted on, people of influence are condemning the senseless killing of Black people, and White people are addressing their privilege and expressing the desire to learn and be allies.
Talking about race and social justice is absolutely essential for all of us, and deeply personal. When I look at Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, I find their exchange heart-warming. Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman demonstrates that challenging and convicting conversations do not have to spiral into condemnation. Jesus is so much better at having truthful, grace-filled conversations than we are, but what a comfort that He left us examples of how to do it ourselves!
Jews and Samaritans were two people groups with a painful history. They didn’t get along at all and this was why the woman was shocked when Jesus asked her for a drink (John 4:7); not only was Jesus breaking cultural convention by talking to a woman, He was also going against generations of hostility and maltreatment.
Jews and Samaritans for all their differences worshipped the same God, but they worshipped Him at different places with the Jews claiming that their worship was the holiest.
In the 10th Century (around 930 BC), the tribe of Judah split from the rest of Israel to become their own kingdom, and the King of Israel bought the hill of Samaria and built a city there. However, the area was taken over by the Assyrians and most of the Jews were taken into exile with only a few remaining in the city of Samaria. The Samaritans that remained intermarried with non-Jews which led the Jews to condemn them. However, scholars think that Samaritans probably had as much pure Jewish blood as the Jews themselves. The Jews then went into exile for a second time (this time to Babylon), and when they returned the Samaritans welcomed them, but the Jews rejected them and did not let them help in the rebuilding of the temple even though they all worshipped the same God!
While completing my sociology degree, I was introduced to a concept called the Social Graces by John Burnham, which is used to show that many factors influence our sense of self and encourage us to think about how we perceive and differ from others, which in turn reflects how we interact with others. Considering our Social Graces helps us to consider our individual life experiences, and hopefully creates a safe space for shared learning and understanding.
Jews and Samaritans defined themselves by their Social Graces and were divided into ‘those who experienced exile’ and ‘those who had remained’ and separated by ‘those who had intermarried’ and ‘those who had not’.
Undoubtedly, the Samaritan woman was aware of the generational rejection of her people and had probably experienced it herself. She may even have been feeling apprehensive as she approached the well and saw Jesus sitting there, but it’s important to note that she didn’t walk away and neither did Jesus. We don’t know what the meeting meant to each of them and what feelings and memories it brought up, but if we apply it to our modern-day context I’m sure we can come up with a few ideas.
What strikes me about the telling of this story is that John writes that Jesus had to go through Samaria to get to Galilee. Why? I think the meaning behind the name Samaria and Galilee gives us an answer. In Hebrew, “Samaria” means watchtower and “Galilee” means revolving or rolling. In the book of Ezekiel and Isaiah, watchtowers are used as a metaphor for the prophets relaying God’s messages to the people and I believe that Jesus stopping in Samaria was a prophetic action against the ongoing culture that alienated His people from Him. To take it further, the woman at the well then becomes a watchtower herself by physically running into the town and sharing all that she’d seen and heard.
Jesus offered the woman two things: a seat at the table and a chance to be seen.
Jesus knew that this woman, who had pursued relationship after relationship, and was now an outcast by her own people, thirsted for what she would never be able to find on her own. He saw that the woman had a need that couldn’t be satisfied with anything other His Living Water which is eternal life. In revealing Himself as the Messiah and offering her eternal life, and then not preventing her from bringing other Samaritans to Him, Jesus was healing generational hurt and restoring their worship.
Suddenly Jews and Samaritans didn’t have to argue about whether they should worship in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim because “the time is coming – indeed it is here now – where true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, NLT).
However, that wasn’t enough for Jesus. He knew that it wasn’t enough for one person to acknowledge their privilege whilst the rest of the privileged lived in ignorant bliss. Jesus made sure that the disciples saw Him talking to the woman and He made sure that they were part of His fellowship and ministry with the Samaritans.
John writes that the disciples were shocked to find Jesus talking to the woman, but they never challenged Him about it and He never explained Himself.
It’s not easy to unlearn the unwritten rules of culture that many take as truth, and for many of us, instead of being told, we have to be shown what the truth really is. Reconciliation can only happen through compassion, and compassion can only happen through experience. Justice is not something we can hold at arm’s length.
Over the last few years, social media has allowed the public to become both judge and juror when someone does something they perceive as wrong. As society has become more progressive, we have become more focused on justice and equal rights and those who threaten that are “cancelled”.
Pastor Michael Miller says that justice within itself is justice and doesn’t need to be described, and in allowing justice to be defined by an adjective we are welcoming a political spirit that doesn’t want to be right or wrong, just as long as it wins. To me, that’s the issue with Cancel Culture; by simply wanting to win, Cancel Culture denies those who have done wrong the opportunity to begin the journey of learning to do right. By vilifying and condemning people we push them so far away that there is almost no way to come back, and so they make hasty apologies to pacify the masses but don’t do the work to actually change. And as a public, we are tired of empty apologies and broken promises, but we haven’t learned that Cancel Culture is part of the sickness, not the cure.
Friends, the time is coming – and indeed is here – where true worshippers of God will worship together in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and to do that we must follow Jesus into the hard places. We can’t walk around Samaria nor avoid it entirely, we have to go through it. But we don’t go through it alone and we are not sent where Perfection Himself has not already gone. So humble yourself under the mighty power of God so that He can restore, support and strengthen you, and place you on a firm foundation (1 Peter 5:6;10, NLT). Amen.
I want to leave us with three things to be reminded of in the midst of a world divided.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
The Lord is a God of abundant grace and forgiveness, and because He has grace with us, we can have grace with ourselves and with others. Grace overpowers all feelings of shame, guilt, disappointment or rage, and is the framework for how we live. Because of grace the fear of getting something wrong no longer stops us from trying in the first place. Grace is the protector of Christlike fellowship and defends the body from division. It reminds us that we are one body made up of different parts, where no part is more valued than another, and the more vulnerable parts are cared for by the stronger parts.
“Christ has set us free! This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don’t ever become slaves of the Law again.” – Galatians 5:1 CEV
We are children of God not children of the world, therefore we need to untangle ourselves from worldly discourses, attitudes and approaches. The Spirit lives within us and bears fruit that evidences love, joy, peace, patience/forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And because of the fruit, we can enter into worldly debates and disagree with one another without bearing the worldly fruit of hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division and envy (Galatians 5:20-21 NLT). Holding on to our freedom is not easy, which is why Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to be our friend and advocate so that in times of trouble He can fill us up and encourage us to honour Christ’s sacrifice in the way we live.
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught […] the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self […] to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:20-24
In Ephesians 5 (NLT), Paul exhorts us to bear Christ’s glory, live in His light and pursue righteousness. This is made possible by saying “yes” to Jesus and receiving His Spirit so that we can begin to think, act and love like Him. “What Would Jesus Do?” is no longer a slogan on a wristband but is instead a personal challenge and the benchmark of our lives. Truth is embracing your role as a servant, humbling yourself before God and deferring to His Spirit. Truth says that we are not wise compared to God, no, we are mere children in need of constant direction and guidance, and so we look to Him as Teacher, asking Him to show us how to live.
Before Jesus went to the cross He told His disciples that those who believe in Him will do even greater things than He did on earth (John 14:12-14), but He didn’t say that things would be easier.
If Jesus had to experience pain and fatigue to bring about reconciliation, then so do we.
If Jesus had to motivate Himself to keep walking though He was tired, so do we.
If Jesus was willing to confront the Jewish male privilege that He benefited from, then so do we.
If Jesus was willing to be uncomfortable, then we need to be willing too.
What would it look like for YOU to apply these thoughts to your life today?
Rhesa has always loved words; she was never one of those kids who wanted to be in the great outdoors but could always be found curled up with a book. As she got older, she started writing poetry and songs, and fell in love with words and the God who formed them. Rhesa is passionate about the Word of God and how it leads us into deeper revelation of Jesus. Her prayer is that as daughters of God, we would use the Word as a weapon against the lies of the Enemy, use it as a mirror to see His beauty nestled deep within us, and come into the authority and inheritance that is ours through Christ Jesus
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