The Long Way Home John 4:1-27
John’s Gospel has been described as more like a whirlpool than a path. While the other three gospels more or less follow a timeline, John’s Gospel feels more like swirling Holy Chaos. Sound familiar? Jesus is jumping around all over the place. And yet, like a whirlpool, John’s Gospel is always pulling us toward the Center, always drawing us closer and closer to God’s self-revealing in Jesus the Christ. Our text today says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” where the story unfolds. This was not the common route. In fact, it was forbidden for Jews to travel through Samaria. So why? Why did Jesus “have to go through Samaria”?
Jesus, as a Jew, was supposed to avoid all interaction with the impure Samaritans. Jews were expected to travel around and never through Samaria, even though going through Samaria to get to Galilee would save about a day’s travel. But we know speed and efficiency were not Jesus’ motivation. In fact, after this powerful exchange with the Samaritan Woman, John tells us that those who learned about Jesus through the woman’s testimony asked Jesus to stay and he lingered another 2 days. (John 4:40).
Jesus was choosing to go through “enemy territory”. The Samaritans were the bastard cousins of the Jewish faith. Their blood was considered impure. They were seen as a different and inferior race. They believed that Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem, was the proper place to worship God. Their Bible only included the 5 books of the Torah and, perhaps most importantly, they were not strict monotheists. They made room for some devotion to other Gods.
Sadly, the church has historically focused on the fact the Samaritan Woman had five husbands. Her infidelity has often captured our attention, not her profound vulnerability. Due to frequent death and the impossibility of a woman surviving without the economic support and protection of a man, multiple husbands were not uncommon. It is important to note that Jesus does not end their exchange with the words heard elsewhere in John, “Go and sin no more.” Everything that we know about the realities of a Samaritan woman in Jesus’ day suggests that she was hanging on to life by a thread. She bore the weight of economic, political and religious isolation.
This tender conversation between the Samaritan Woman and Jesus literally changes the landscape on which they, and we, live. Every imaginable social taboo is shattered. As the text reads, “Jews do not share with Samaritans”, or unaccompanied women, especially women with multiple husbands. This seemingly innocent interaction to us was actually heaven and earth-shattering. This is evident in the shock of the disciples upon their return. In this story, Jesus and the Samaritan woman rearrange our understanding of God and God’s reach.
Mother Teresa said that all of our problems in the world can be traced back to how “we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. On one level, this story is so simple. Jesus is hot and thirsty. The disciples have gone looking for food. He has no bucket with which to draw water. He asks the Samaritan Woman for help, for a drink. He treats her as a fellow human being with whom the commonwealth of God is to be shared. And, it’s worth noting, that she does the same with Jesus. She has many good reasons to reject Jesus for he, as a man and a Jew, represents all that has rejected her.
We, like Jesus, have to go through Samaria for we have unclaimed siblings there. There is no other way. We, like Jesus, must recognize kinship in the ones we are taught to distrust, to reject and dismiss. We don’t know if they ever resolved their different ideas about God and scripture. Apparently, that’s not what ultimately mattered.
Where is our Samaria? Maybe it’s here at Haywood Street. Maybe it’s at the Democratic or Republican Headquarters? Maybe it’s in our relationships with neighbors or family members? Maybe it’s at the Islamic Center of Asheville? Maybe it’s at our local jail or prisons? Maybe it’s in our trailer parks where so many of our Latino brothers and sisters reside? Samaria is wherever isolation weighs heavy.
Wherever it is, we have to go through Samaria, into “enemy territory”, and share both the well-water that quenches our Noonday thirst and the living well-water that satisfies our deepest desire to belong to each other and to God, which are apparently one in the same. There is no other way. There are no short-cuts. It’s definitely the long way home. It is the road less-traveled. We have to go through Samaria, but we will arrive at home, in the end and along the way.