Lent 3A Two Days in Samaria John 4:5-42.
All Saints Episcopal Church, Memphis March 12, 2023
More and more, the best word to describe our life in community is “polarized.” Every night on the news, we see Red and Blue states. Many churches are still divided into groups with little understanding of sexuality and biblical authority issues. Immigration, gun control, violence, and social responsibility of states vs. national government continue to divide our country. The rights of illegal immigrants and Muslims fill weekly newscasts. Incidentally, if you think Muslims are a minority group in our country, think again. There are more Muslims in this country than Episcopalians. Family life and friendships also have an increasing number of elephants in the room, protected by the fence that says, “Don’t go there.” The list of topics we dare not/ or simply do not discuss grows/ as the reality of community is shrinking.
This morning’s gospel includes an often-overlooked passage of great significance for us who live in this polarized world. The text is not only a model for Christian behavior./ It constitutes marching orders for us who take seriously the idea of seeing and following Jesus, as our presiding bishop constantly challenges us to do. The passage is: “So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them,/ and he stayed there two days.” /
It is important to remember the relationship in Jesus’ time between the Jews in Samaria, the part of Palestine between Judea and Galilee, and the rest of the country. We can only understand this passage if we recall what Jews and Samaritans think about each other. Some 700 years before Jesus’ day, Northern Jewish Samaria falls to the Assyrians. The Southern Jewish Kingdom is not conquered until later. The Southerners teach their children that the northern Samaritans left behind or those who migrate there intermarry with the Assyrians and are, therefore, religiously impure. Later in the sixth century BC the southern kingdom is now taken into captivity to Babylon. When the southern Jews return from Babylon in 538 BC to their homeland, they continue to look down on the Samaritan Jews in the northern kingdom as unclean. Soon both southern Judean Jewish and northern Samaritan religious leaders teach it is wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither is to enter each other’s territories or speak to one other.
Today’s Gospel begins with: “Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar (sI ker).” The gospel ends by telling us that Jesus stays for two days. There is a gap, an unimaginable interlude, in the story. Jesus ventures across this gap and stays for two days. What does this begin to tell us about following Jesus?
A popular question today is: What would Jesus do? Looking at these two days in Samaria, the question is, “What did Jesus do?” No one knows because it is not in the text, but we can surmise by remembering how he interacts with the unnamed Samaritan woman that noonday at the well. Jesus does not attack the woman or judge her. Jesus never calls the woman a sinner because she has had five husbands and now lives with a man not her husband. In her culture, divorce is rarely the woman’s option. Five men pass this woman around. One takes her and gives her a divorce; another takes her and divorces her, and again and again, it happens. She does not choose to take five husbands and another man. She is passed around like an entree at the dinner table./ Jesus allows the Samaritan woman to see who she is by telling her who he is. In fact, the woman is the first person in John’s gospel to whom Jesus reveals himself as the Christ! Jesus crosses all boundaries, breaks all rules, and drops all disguise, speaking to this woman like someone he has known all her life. He empowers her to become an evangelist, to go back to face people she thought she could never encounter again, speaking to them as boldly as he speaks to her. /
Today we hear that conversation, the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and anyone else in the Bible!///
A conversation occurs between people when certain elements are in place: First, people must recognize they may have differing backgrounds, traditions, different families, different values, and come from diverse parts of the world. Second, people must find common ground to begin a conversation (grandchildren, weather, sports). Third, people in dialogue must be open to the possibility that the exchange may change either or both.
So many times, we say, “Oh, we had a great conversation,” when what we really mean is that the other person sat there for thirty minutes listening to us talk. Jesus, on the other hand, begins by listening because Jesus is good at loving people, and listening is one of the best ways to love. But, unfortunately, listening has become a rare art. We cannot completely listen to what our neighbor says if we are preoccupied with our own appearance/ or focusing on how we will impress them/ or deciding what we will say when our neighbor stops talking/ or debating whether what is said is accurate or relevant or agreeable.
Listening/ is an active act of love/ when we concentrate on what our neighbor says,/ becoming accessible and vulnerable to what they tell us. Jesus does this, and after listening, he speaks in ways that prove he has heard what was said.// That is why the Samaritans hear what Jesus says and why many believe./
Notice that Jesus’ two-day visit does not fix the Samaritan problem. He does not convince them of the Southern Jewish ways. Our faith does not call us to be right nearly as often as it calls us to be righteous;// not so much to have the right idea as to do the next right thing. We are to be faithful, not necessarily successful./ Going to Samaria for two days of listening and talking is the right thing to do, no matter the outcome.//
What does that begin to tell us about following Jesus?
So, let us wonder together: Where is our Samaria?/ Is it here in Memphis? Where is the wide gap and the chasm deep in our lives? Is Samaria that incomprehensible political position, red or blue? That view of sexuality and biblical authority so offensive? That race-tinted view that makes our world look so different from the world of another? That history or memory that leaves us struggling in a life of fear? That place where demons of addiction or anxiety pounce on us? That person we cannot forgive? Or is our Samaria that living room full of elephants with manicured barriers for conversation?// Samaria is every one of these and a thousand more.
And dare we wonder what it would mean to invite and follow Jesus into our Samaria?/ Frank Wade1 says going to Samaria, “is not like a propaganda flight where we drop leaflets from a thousand feet. Not a local raid where we count success by simply touching the enemy. Not as a safari where we view Samaritans in their natural habitat. Not a photo op where we pose. Instead, in our Samaria, Jesus calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful, more interested in being righteous than right, loving by listening /and then speaking as if we have heard what was said.” ///
Jesus went to Samaria and stayed there for two days. What does that tell us about following Jesus?
Frank Wade, “Two Days in Samaria,” St. Alban’s Parish, Washington, DC, February 27, 2005.
Fred Craddock, “Talking Religion Defensively,” Cherry Log Sermons, pp. 48-53.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Reflections on the Lectionary,” Christian Century, February 12, 2008, p. 19.
Joanna Seibert https://www.joannaseibert.com/