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March 23, 2014 - John 4.1-15

“Dragging Me Through Samaria”

John 4:1-15

March 23, 2014

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John”2—although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 

4But he had to go through Samaria.5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

They have a saying in Florida: “Last one out of Miami, bring the flag.”  Now it’s a crude remark, saying that Miami is being given up to the glut of internationals that are finding refuge there – as if that is somehow un-American.  But what has happened there is interesting.  Even though Miami is in the south and in the Bible belt, it is only 5% say they are born again.  That means 95% aren’t.  If you have ever walked the streets of Miami, you know exactly what I am talking about.  It’s like a foreign culture to most of us.  Drugs are obvious.  Homeless people by the thousands.  Criminals.  Drunks.  Prostitutes.  Gangs.  Concrete monsters (the projects.) It’s the kind of place that makes you roll up your windows and lock your doors.  It is exactly the kind of place that you want to stay away from, which might explain why all the Christians seemed to have moved to Orlando. 

 

But you don’t have to see this part of Miami if you visit there.  Those folks mostly live in Overtown, which is actually under the Interstate Expressway.  They did this thing when they put the Interstate through downtown Miami – they built it 3 stories up. 

 

The Expressway never comes down into Overtown unless you intentionally take the exit ramp.  You can just drive by and never be bothered by the folks that hang around the “concrete monsters.” Truly, Overtown is exactly the kind of place that good church people usually avoid.

 

There have always been places that “Good church people” just didn’t go.  Our text today seems like an ordinary text.  Well, it seems that way, but it’s really not.  The thing about the text is that it involves a place that good church people just didn’t go.  Jesus and his disciples are going from Judea back to Galilee, like they have done a zillion times, right?  Verse 3 says that they left Judea and headed back to Galilee.  Verse 4 says Jesus had to go through Samaria.  Stop.  There it is.  He had to go through Samaria.  But the thing is, he didn’t have to, except he had to - because he’s Jesus.  Let me explain.

 

If you look on a map, you’ll see that Galilee is north of Judea and that Samaria is in between.  So he had to go through Samaria, right?  Wrong-o.  Jews did not go through Samaria.  Never.  Remember that Jews and Samaritans did not like each other.  Some Jews hated the Samaritans, but on the other hand some Jews hated the Samaritans.  They considered the Samaritans to be half breeds, dirty, pagan, unclean.  Jews did not go through Samaria.  To get from Judea to Galilee, you went East across the Jordan river, went north until you reached Minot, then headed northwest until you reached Nazareth.  Jews did not go through Samaria.  Except that the text says that Jesus just had to go through Samaria. 

 

Well, that got the disciples worried enough.  Here they were, dragging themselves through Samaria, and Jesus says, “Hey.  Here’s a village.  Let’s get some food.  You guys go find some and I’ll wait here.”  I bet they stood there slack-jawed.  “Samaritan food?” they all said.  “No way Jesus.  I’d sooner eat my sandals.  Remember the old rabbinic saying?  ‘Better to eat the flesh of swine than Samaritan bread.’  No sirree Bob.”  That’s what they were saying – on the inside.  On the outside they said, “Ok…be right back.”

 

Now, when they got back…it got even worse.  Here is Jesus and he is talking to a woman.  Hey, it’s bad enough that she’s a Samaritan, but did she have to be a woman, too?  Jesus!  What will people think?  This is worse than running into your preacher at the liquor store! 

 

Samaritan is bad enough, but a woman is even worse.  There is an old rabbinic saying, “Better to bury the Torah than to trust it to the hands of a woman.”  Women weren’t people - they were property.  It was beneath a man, much more so for a Rabbi, to even speak to a woman.  And here Jesus is talking to her, like she’s a real person.  Lord, what will the neighbors think?  But wait!  It gets worse.  She’s a Samaritan, she’s a woman, and she’s a bad woman.  She’s a woman with a bad reputation that she earned.  Three strikes. 

 

Well, if Jesus will go through Samaria, even make a point to go into Samaria, I suppose he will talk to anybody. 

 

It’s no accident Jesus is at the well at this time.  This is the time she will be here, this thirsty Samaritan woman.  She is a bad woman by her community’s standards, but she is thirstier than she knows.  She not only wants a drink, she is spiritually parched, dying of her thirst and Jesus is about to change her life forever.

 

She is about to discover the best friend she will ever have, someone who loves her like no one ever has, someone who can save her from all her loneliness, all her mistakes, all her past.  Who isn’t thirsty for that?  Who among us isn’t thirsty for our Savior?

 

Did you notice that she comes alone?  No one does that. Did you notice that she comes in the heat of the day to get water?  No one does that, either.  The women of the town – every town in that time and place - come during the cool of the day, at dawn and at dusk.  They stand and they talk and they gossip.  It’s the water cooler.  Ah.  They gossip.  Who do you think they gossip about?  Well, you don’t gossip about someone who is there.  They gossip about her.  She has a…reputation.  She can’t some when the others do.  It’s too humiliating.

 

So that’s the life she has.  So, if you listen closely to the scripture, you can hear in her voice the pain, the ache of her hope that she has not dared to hope: “Sir, give me this water that will never let me thirst again (so I’ll never have to come here again).”  Ever felt like that?  Have you ever felt like hope isn’t something you could afford?  Ever spend your mornings thirsty while everyone else was at the well?  Ever get tired of being so thirsty all the time?  Wouldn’t you love to never be thirsty again? 

 

Samaria is like that.  It is full of people that have made a royal mess of their lives.  And the thing about Samaria is that it has never gone away.  We still have Samaria today; but it just has other names today.  Samaria is a spiritual desert, and the people there are dying of thirst.  In Miami they call it Overtown.  In LA they call it Compton.  The Serbians call it Bosnia.  Israel calls it Palestinian occupied territory.  Maybe it’s that part of a big city that you don’t drive through, or the subdivision you will not let your children go trick-or-treating in.  It’s dangerous to be in Samaria, and frankly, the people there are not the kind of people we church people let ourselves be seen with. 

 

The thing is today, Samaria is everywhere.  As I said, in Miami, it’s called Overtown. It really is dangerous in there.  Look at these statistics for Overtown in Miami:

  • 55% of the residents of Overtown live in poverty

  • the median household income is $11, 314

  • there are only 41 businesses

  • the vacant space under the elevated expressways has become a wasteland

  • 32% of the community's population lives in either public housing or government subsidized housing

  • the homeownership rate is 3% compared to the national average of 60%

  • Crime is rampant; drug use is uncontrolled; has become one of the only places where registered sex offenders can live in Miami.

On Sunday mornings, if you follow one of the homeless Samaritans, you’ll end up in the basement of the offices for Touching Miami with Love in Downtown Miami – Overtown.  About 200 homeless fill the basement.  They sing and they listen to a preacher.  Some don’t.  But they all get a full meal – usually baked chicken or pot roast with all the trimmings.  They gather in the parking lot under this huge tent and eat and drink their fill, provided by the volunteers and the Touching Miami with Love ministry run by missionaries Jason and Angel Pittman.  They feed and share the love of Christ with hundreds every week.  It is not an unusual occurrence to hear one of those guests come up to Jason, and ask him something like this: “Hey…tell me about that living water you were talking about, the kind that keeps me from ever being thirsty, or that mansion with lots of rooms, so I’ll never be homeless again.” 

 

I am glad that the Pittmans are there in Samaria, because I just don’t want to have to deal with the problems of a bunch of Samaritans.  I have enough of my own problems.  I just want to come to church and just love the Lord, you know? I just want to be in the presence of Jesus.  You know that sweet feeling we get: “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.”  It just makes you warm on the inside, doesn’t it?  I’m a Christian and my hope is in Jesus, and if those Samaritans want to get their lives on track, well, our doors are open.  Going to Samaria is just, just, well, we have enough trouble getting along with our own people to throw them into the mix.  There simply is no logic in going to Samaria.  I can think of a whole LOT of reasons to never set foot in Samaria.  There is just no good reason for you to go there.  Not a single good reason…well, maybe one good reason.  Yeah, there is one good reason for you to go into Samaria, but just one…

 

…That’s if you want to be with Jesus.[1]

 

Now the disciples didn’t like Samaria, but they had probably never actually been there.  Kind of like the way lots of Americans don’t like France.  They followed Jesus and ended up somewhere they had never been.  I bet they found out that Samaritan bread tasted fine, and that they made a few Samaritan friends.  Jesus takes them to place they would not have gone if they were not following.  They might have even caught Jesus singing to the Samaritans, “you are my own.”  If we are going to be real followers of Jesus, he is going to take us places we have never been, and I mean that in the broadest sense.  If we follow Jesus, we are going to meet people that aren’t “socially acceptable.”  Our lives will never be the same, and we will never look at the world the same way.  Not only does Jesus go to Samaria, he stays there for quite a while.  He gets to know them.  He becomes important to them. 

 

It’s easy to get thirsty when you live in a desert.  And folks, we do.  We live in a world where someone is trying to corner the spiritual thirst market with an energy drink endorsed by Deepak Chopra.  Droves of people are looking to find something to quench their spiritual thirst now that Oprah is off the air.  Are you thirsty?  Need a drink?  Of course, I am speaking metaphorically.  I am talking about spiritual water.  When is the last time you had a good, refreshing drink of living water from Jesus?  Have you ever drunk this water before?  Now is your chance.

 

[1] Lowry, Gene; The Drink in Best Sermons 3.