During the sermon today my attention was captured by something in one of the texts our Rabbi used to illustrate his point. He started in John 4 and I was reading the account of the Samaritan woman who came to Christ at the well. My eyes were opened to read the scripture in fullness.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan
woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with
10 Jesus answered her, “If
you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you
would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12
Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank
from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the
water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will
worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of
worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Do you see what I'm seeing here? This woman believed in God, the God of Jacob. This woman believed in the Messiah, foretold in scripture. This woman's people had worshipped God in the past. Her ancestors intermarried with the Jews. The Jews did exactly what the Torah told them not to do, intermarried with those who worshiped idols. Eventually these people were shunned by Jewish communities, treated as half breeds, neither one thing nor the other. They did not go to the temple in Jerusalem. And so her ancestors' religion had fallen away from her. She knew of the God of Jacob, but did not know God. Do you see what she says? "Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain..."
And do you see her shame? Just in case Christ hadn't noticed that he was in Samaria, she informed him that she was Samaritan. She knew how Jews felt about Samaritans. And when she answers him, "I have no husband," she knew the truth of who she was, how far she had strayed from the commandments, the laws of the land from which this man came, and likely from her own communities morals. Perhaps in her hurt she was bolder than she might have been. Perhaps her chin went up a little, defiant and daring at once, not respectful as she should have been, surely not submissive as a woman ought to have been...
She had been excluded. Because she did not go to Jerusalem she was told that her worship was useless...Who knows what her life might have been if she had not been excluded, if instead someone had instructed her in the faith? Perhaps she would not have gone from man to man. Perhaps she would not have been seeking a physical relationship to fill the spiritual void in her life. The second half of her sentence tells the story of her life: "but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem..." Excluded from God's grace not by God but by people. Denied the comfort and strength of faith by man.
Can I just say this? What happened to this woman happens to many. I was asked to leave the church I'd grown up in from a child onward because of a transgression against church doctrine. Our little church met twice a month and on the opposing weekends, my children and I attended a small country non-denominational church. My daughter wanted to be baptized. She didn't want to belong to one church or another because she loved them both, but she did want to proclaim her faith in Jesus Christ. The pastor of my childhood church was livid when he discovered that she didn't want to 'belong' to his church. He accused me of sinning against God in denying my child the 'one true' faith evidenced by our church doctrine. I was devastated when he told me I was to leave and return no more.
I was spiritually wounded and lacked the understanding and knowledge I now have. I wasn't saved at that point in my life and the damage done to me led me to sin in many ways I might not have if I'd had the foundation of the church under my feet. I believed my pastor at the time, that I had sinned irrevocably and was lost...Where was grace and mercy? I thought God had turned away from me and so I turned from God.
It was five long years of hurt and shame and sinning before I gave my life to Christ. I didn't come to Christ through a church. It was a simple humble moment of going down on my knees in my bedroom in my home and telling God that I accepted the sacrifice made for me, believed that Jesus Christ was His son, confessed that I was sinner and felt the need to surrender my life to Him. It was another 4 years before I would go voluntarily into a church once more.
What happened to me is not a rarity. It happens in churches all of the time. People get hurt. People are excluded because of how they look, or how they act, because they are lost and hurting and don't know God and need Him. People are excluded because someone in authority lacks understanding and fails to see the big issue. What was most important really? Where my daughter's membership rested or that she give her life to Christ? I know the answer now, but then...it damaged me, it hurt my children...I don't think for one moment that pastor meant to cause harm. And I will say now, praise God that he did what he did, because had he not, I might never have given my life to Christ! But oh the pain in those years in between! Oh the lack of understanding!
Exclusion...it's painful and hurtful for the individual. I understand this Samaritan woman's pain. She knew of God. She knew of the Christ Messiah who was to come. But she was living her life in a state of being excluded because of who she was. Reading the Bible we know how women were treated in that day and age. We know how women who lived in sin were treated as well. If not killed by stoning they were most certainly shunned by the community. A woman like this, a woman who had lain with a man to whom she was not married, a woman who had had many husbands before this man, would not be the first guest, nor the last, invited to a wedding or a feast dinner or to share a Shabat meal or even chatted with at the well, which was no doubt why she was alone when she met Christ...
Now she stood at the well, a woman shunned because of her birth as well as her nature, hearing from a stranger that the man she now lived with was not her husband and indeed she'd had five husbands. And yet she continued to speak to Him, seeking, needing to hear something she perhaps did not even know she needed to hear.
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Do you see what just happened? God, in Christ, came to the woman at the well. In her exclusion. In her shame. In her loneliness. He came to her where she was, not in the temple, not in the midst of her community, not on top of the mountain. He came to her in the only place she could be found. In her exclusion and hurt and shame.
The disciples found Jesus at the well. They saw him talking to this Samaritan, a woman of ill repute yet. They didn't say a word, but don't you just know their attitudes said it all? We are privy to their thoughts through scripture. Surely it showed upon their faces. Did she feel it again, the exclusion, the shunning, the shame?
And yet, scripture tells us that she believed Christ was who He said He was. That she ran to the village to tell others He had come and that many Samaritans were saved because of her belief. She dared to believe, despite a lifetime of exclusion. Because of her willingness to tell others in her village, despite their shunning of her, many were saved.
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you
said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really
is the Savior of the world.”
Because one woman, shunned, turned aside, hurting, shamed, came to the well and believed.
Where are you right now? Have you been excluded? Were you once a member of a church and found yourself reeling from real hurt and pain? Are you alone? Ashamed of what you've become? Have you been shunned and set apart? Have you been seeking something all your life, but never really known what?
Open your eyes...You are at the well, and He is waiting for YOU!