Posts Tagged lowly

Outcasts and Samaritans

John 4: 9 – 10

Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

It is rare that I can read this passage without stopping to consider all that was going on here. Truly, it is difficult for us to appreciate how strange the setting is for this exchange. Clearly, the Samaritan woman was surprised that Jesus even condescended to speak to her.

Jesus cared little for the prejudices of the day. If you look at his own crew you will find women and tax collectors. It may be hard for some to appreciate this, but women were considered property, even in this, the land of the free, until just two generations ago. They were chattel, the property of a man, like a mule or a cow. They had no right to vote and had no say in their own governance. This was the very reason the colonists rebelled against colonial England, but the reasoning did not extend to women. For all that the former Africans were held in slavery and mistreated, their men ended up faring better under the voting act than did women. They became “Free men” but women, all women, were still considered property.

It may be quite hard for you to wrap your mind around the lowly existence of women because now we witness successful women in almost every walk of life. That is not the way of the past though and Jesus well knew that women were considered a sub-class of humans. To compound things, there was great dissension between Jews and Samaritans such that Jews didn’t even speak to Samaritans. Jews would usually detour around Samaritan towns so as to avoid contact with the disgraceful Samaritans.

Yet, here we find Jesus asking water of a Samaritan, and a woman to boot and even asking at a Samaritan well. There is nothing “right” in this scenario. He did everything a “good” Jew shouldn’t. The woman was stunned, as well she might be. “Why are you even speaking to me,” she questioned. “I am a woman and a Samaritan besides.” None of that mattered to Jesus. Remember too that Jesus told us that he did nothing apart from his Father. He only did those things he saw His Father do, said only those things his Father said. That necessarily means that this entire encounter was approved and ordained by God, the Father. God wanted an encounter with this woman. Yahweh arranged this meeting. At first glance it appears that Jesus was at the well seeking water but Jesus was there to offer water, living water. What is this living water? The exchange between this woman and Jesus is the Kingdom of God in a nutshell. Jesus came to earth to offer the healing, living water that is the Holy Spirit to all the lowly, oppressed, marginalized, ostracized and forlorn of the world. He came to give himself to those whom society wants to cast out. He is the meekest of all human beings, reaching out to those whom the world finds little value for. This woman was not a member of the right caste, group, economic strata, gender or even race. Still Jesus stopped and conversed with her. He offered himself to her though she was not privileged, did nothing to earn his attention and was not even of the chosen race. The Jews had reason to expect his graces but she had no standing to attain even the smallest blessing of the Father. Do you see how out of bounds this exchange was?

Jesus constantly aggravated the religious folks by fraternizing with people they considered beneath them, people they considered undeserving. They thought he should sup with them but he was hanging out with the riff-raff, those whose hearts were open to him and who needed the touch of the Lord. He knew the religious folks’ hearts were stone having, in their own minds, ascended to the status of worthiness. We now know, though sometimes fail to recall, that none of us is worthy. None of us are entitled to anything apart from Jesus’ grace and the kindness of the Father. We are all as lowly and useless as a Samaritan woman. Those who hold themselves above this standard, are the Pharisees of today. Jesus’ hand reaches out to us all, even the most lowly and it is in our acceptance of our own unworthiness that we find the grace which lifts us up to kinship with Jesus and heirs according to his promise. The great paradox of worthiness is that in my unworthiness, I became worthy. In my unrighteousness, I became the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing in myself made me in the least worthy of his kindness but like that poor Samaritan woman, we are all lifted up in the simple act of taking his hand. There is none worthy, no not even one, except in him and then we are shining jewels, the very luster of which is glimpsed in the Father’s eyes. Though none is worthy, all are welcome.

Whomever we wish to restrict or cast from our congregations are the very ones Jesus is associating with to this day, the ones he seeks. They may be like Zacchaeus whom Jesus called down from the tree to entertain Jesus and his friends. They may be like this Samaritan, seemingly with no rights to salvation or access to Jesus. We must understand that Jesus has come specifically for those people. Those who look amazingly like we did at one time. He is the God of the underdog, the downtrodden, the disfavored and unworthy. This story has great import for us because we risk becoming like the Pharisees if we fail to recognize Jesus’ heart, meaning that which is most important to him. He came to have dinner with the people we don’t want in our churches or in our homes. We must take care that we do not become hard hearted like the Pharisees of Jesus’ times or we may find that we, too, are on the outside looking in.