Lesson 8 - The Hospitality of Living Water
Compassion is one of the chief virtues of God’s people.
Background: when we look at the Samaritan woman story there are several background issues with which we must deal if we are to be honest about the story and what it says to us.
1. Jesus and the Gospel of John: the gospel of John was the last of the Gospels and was written at a time when the Christians (at least those who had followed John) had been expelled from the synagogues. This expulsion, and the rejection of Jesus as messiah, had set Jews and Christians against one another. Therefore the Gospel of John has an anti-Jewish bias. In fact the Gospel of John forms the basis of much of the Christian anti-Semitism in the world. Our morning’s story is therefore set in the context of Jesus leaving an area because the Pharisees were beginning to move against him because they did not understand who he was. Remember that we have just had the encounter between Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, who cannot understand who Jesus is or what he is doing. Thus Jesus is turning from Jews to Gentiles as recipients of salvation. In addition, there are two critical additional factors in the Gospel of John which need to be examined.
a. Conversations with Jesus: almost all conversations between Jesus and others are cryptic and misunderstood. Jesus is speaking one level (mystic spiritual) and his hearers are listening on another (concrete reality). Thus in our passage he is speaking of himself as living water and the woman wants actual living water that gives eternal life in the here and now.
b. Belief: in the Gospel of John the end result of every miracle (sign) or conversation is to have people profess Jesus as messiah. Nothing else matters.
2. Jews and the Samaritans: The Samaritans and the Jews had been at odds with one another for more than 700 years. Their difference were about more than where people worshipped (though this was a major point of contention. Jews believed you worship in Jerusalem and Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim). Jews refused to believe that Samaritans were part of the Jewish people and the Samaritans thought that they were of Jewish descent and in fact truer believers than the Jews. Their fight began during the period when Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel (721 BCE) and sent most of the Jewish people into exile and replaced them with other people. Those other people mixed with the people who remained and took on the Jewish faith. Matters were made worse when the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon (540 BCE – 440 BCE) and made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans. The end result however was that they each hated the other. Jesus even walking through Samaritan territory would have alienated any Jew reading the story.
The Samaritan Woman Story: We need to note a couple of things about the story.
The Marginalized woman: This is one of the most common interpretations of the story; that the woman comes to the well in the middle of the day because she has been shamed. This is not necessarily true. There is no mention of this in the story. It has been however taken as common currency by almost all current writers. What we have to remember is that this woman is an example of the worst kind of person Jesus could have met with (from a Jewish perspective) without her having been marginalized. She is a Samaritan, a woman, someone married multiple times, someone now living with a man who is not her husband, and perhaps above all, a woman who does not know
her place. We see this when she gives Jesus all sorts of grief over his presence and his beliefs. I would also argue against the marginalized woman theory because when she returns to her village people listen to her.
2. The woman as one who initially rejects Jesus: The role this woman plays in the story is one who at first rejects Jesus and then finds faith in him. This is in contrast to the Jews who refuse to believe…or even the disciples who just don’t get it. In addition as the author of the study points out she is also the first one to go and tell others about Jesus; which again points a finger at the Jews, including the disciples, who don’t get it and will not tell anyone about Jesus.
Living Water: Jesus is a master at using whatever is around him as a way of talking about who he is and what he has come to do.
1. Jesus has compassion: Jesus breaks all of the rules in order to help the Samaritan woman know about the eternal life which Jesus has come to offer. As we have seen this has Jesus stepping outside of the usual Jewish expectation that salvation is for the Jews and Jews alone. Instead Jesus is offering salvation to those who would be considered “the enemy.” He is also willing to engage in a barbed conversation with the woman, refusing to be put off by her initial rejection. This is true compassion that Jesus sticks with her long enough for her to come to believe.
2. Sharing the Living Water: the woman shows compassion on others when she shares the living water. She does not want to keep this good news to herself but instead goes to the people in the village and offers her observations about Jesus. In the end her words do not convince them, but they are enough to encourage the people to go and “see” for themselves. Jesus has compassion on them by offering them living water as well.
God’s Compassion: Compassion is one of the attributes of God. In Psalm 103:13 we read that, “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” In Psalm 106:45 we read, “For their sake God remembered his covenant, and shoed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” Compassion is at the heart of the entire book of Hosea which describes God’s continual compassion on God’s people even when they went off with other gods. Jesus regularly has compassion on children and adults alike. Any time he sees people in need he has compassion.
Compassion as a gift: Paul tells us that compassion is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8). Thus it is a necessary part of the body of Christ such that a church without compassion is less than it ought to be.
1. On whom or for whom do you have compassion?
2. If compassion means both care for and action toward, to whom have you shown compassion?
3. Who do see in the world around you that is in need of your/our compassion?