“Jesus came with a message that said the barriers between God and humanity were being broken down. Jesus came to break down barriers and this day he would smash through the barriers of race and prejudice, gender and tradition in his encounter with the Samaritan women at the well.”
This post continues in the theme of my last series of posts on Women in Leadership in the Church, by looking at how Jesus broke down barriers (rather than build them up), especially around gender and race. You can click here to read my last post which will also link to the other posts relating to it. This will help you see why this is so important to me and others.
“Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
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.)
9 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 Samaritans.[a])
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 eternal life.”
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.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
There is a lot that I could talk about from this story, and I encourage you to dig deeper in your devotion times and ask God to speak to you and show you the other things that we might learn from this passage. For this post I’m going to come at it from a different angle to perhaps what many might normally do.
A brief background for you. The Jewish people and the Samaritans had a long history of animosity towards each other.
Samaria was part of the Northern kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem was part of the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered the middle and upper classes throughout the other nations they had conquered.
They replaced the dispersed Israelites with people from other lands. The remaining Israelites intermarried with these people from other lands and Samaritans was the name attached to this now mixed race of people.
Even though initially there was a mixing of religions, by the time of Jesus most Samaritans were believing in the one God that the Jews believed in, but just not all the scriptures that the Jewish faith held to.
When it came time to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews refused to allow the Samaritans to take part in the rebuilding, creating further hostilities between them. The Samaritans erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, which was, however, destroyed by a Jewish king (130 B.C.). They then built another at Shechem.
The bitter hostilities between the Jews and Samaritans continued in Jesus day and the Jewish people aimed to have “no dealings with the Samaritans”. They wouldn’t even use the same utensils as a Samaritan in case they were tainted by the association. In this situation that Jesus now finds himself, a Jew with any sense of self-preservation wouldn’t be asking for a drink of water from a Samaritan because it would require using their bucket and cup, which would mean they would be tainted or defiled.
Because of this history, and because of the low view that the Jewish people had of Samaritans, most Jews, especially Rabbai’s, would have avoided travelling to or through Samaria.
Lots has been said about whether Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. Technically speaking there was another way for him to go. So, Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria from a physical point of view because He could have gone that different way – a way that was longer, but a way that would have avoided associating with the Samaritans.
So why then do the scriptures say that he “Had to” go that way?
I believe that one of the reasons he “had to go” through Samaria was because it was part of his bigger mission. He had to show his disciples that the Gospel was not just for the Jews, that the promised Kingdom of God was not just for the Jewish people, but for all who would come to him. The barriers that had been built up by religion and history were about to be blown away by the coming of the Kingdom of God!
If there was one way to get that message across then it was by going to the very heart of the place where several of these barriers were!
Jesus came with a message that said the barriers between God and humanity were being broken down. Jesus came to break down barriers and this day he would smash through the barriers of race and prejudice, gender and tradition in his encounter with the Samaritan women at the well.
Jesus entering into Samaria sees him breaking through the first barrier that presents itself in this story, the barrier of race and prejudice.
Through this action Jesus would show his disciples that God’s love was available to all, that HE was available to all. He was showing that God’s kingdom was not the exclusive right of one particular race!
Jesus made it plain that there is no place for prejudice in the kingdom of God. The Jewish people considered the Samaritans to be second class citizens, in fact they considered them to be defiled half-breeds who were tainted and not worthy of their time.
Jesus broke through this prejudice when he dared to enter Samaria and engage with the woman at the well.
Don’t underestimate how profound this would have been to Jesus’ disciples who would come back and find Jesus speaking to this woman at the well. They had grown up their entire lives believing that they were the chosen race and that God’s promises were for them as that chosen race. He was shattering prejudice and tradition that had been ingrained in them from their birth.
On this day Jesus also shattered the barrier of gender discrimination. In Jesus day women were not valued or honoured as they should have been. It is said that a Jewish man would say that he was “glad he had not been born a woman”. Some even went as far as saying it was foolish spending time teaching a woman anything from the scriptures as it would be wasted on them!
A rabbai was forbidden to speak with a woman in public – even his own wife or daughter. So, for Jesus to be speaking with this woman was considered a big no-no, simply because she was a woman. Add to that the fact that she was a Samaritan, AND that she had such a checkered past. Jesus was really pushing the boundaries of accepted tradition and norms of his day.
Once again Jesus shatters the barrier that would have excluded this woman. The kingdom of God was for her too! The grace and love of God was for her too! When those around him were putting up barriers for why this woman shouldn’t be included, shouldn’t be talked to, shouldn’t be given the time of day, Jesus was breaking down those barriers and by doing so the barriers that were in her heart were broken down and she was able to encounter God in such a profound way that it led to her calling others to come and encounter God too!
Jesus looked past those things that others would use to disqualify her and instead saw the value she had as a person who the father loved! He offered her acceptance, he offered her worth, he showed she was valued by God, he returned her humanity and dignity.
A further barrier that I believe that Jesus shattered that day is the barrier that had been built up by traditions, rules and values that the Jewish people had created. Traditions and values that seemed to be godly, or spiritual. These things that had become so ingrained in their way of life that they seemed to be part of their culture and faith.
These traditions, rules and values had become barriers and stumbling blocks for people to encounter God. They even took precedence over, or became more important, than what their faith taught them. But because they had become associated with their religious life they could no longer distinguish between what was actually part of their God-given faith and what was man-made attachment to it.
If questioned on why they held these traditions and rules I am sure they would have said “we’ve always done it this way” or “that’s not how we do things around here.” “That’s what a person who wants to be a Jew has to do.”
Here we have Jesus coming up against some of these traditions – “we don’t go through, or to, Samaria.” “We don’t talk to women in public.” “We don’t associate with women of her type.” “Samaritans are unclean and second class.”
These were all things that Jesus grew up knowing, hearing, witnessing, and I am sure that the rabbai’s had some very convincing arguments for these traditions and rules and beliefs, but it doesn’t mean they were right. Jesus showed that however noble they may seem, they were not part of God’s kingdom. They were man-made barriers to people entering into the kingdom. Jesus declared by his actions that day that those barriers needed to be removed or reassessed in the light of the new kingdom that was being established.
Many of the traditions that the Jewish people had, prevented people from being able to engage with God, his word, and his people. They had become so set in the way things had to be done that they felt threatened by anything that was done differently.
Someone worshiped on another mountain! “That’s not right they’d say.” Well in fact, it wasn’t wrong, it was just that it is different. But they felt threatened by it because it is not the way they are used to doing things, it wasn’t done exactly how they prescribed it to be.
For the Samaritans (and the Jews), where and how they worshipped had become a point of contention and an issue of whether one was right and the other wrong. The Samaritan women asks Jesus who is right about where to worship. Who is doing it the “right way?”
Jesus explains that it is nothing to do with the physical location of the person, but instead it was to do with the spiritual condition of the heart. It’s not about religion (rules, certain places to worship, certain rituals to follow), it is about a relationship with the living God. That relationship is made possible because of Jesus Christ. As we grow closer to God, we know and learn what he wants for our lives and he begins to shape and mould us more and more into his image.
As our faith grows, those things in our lives that need work, those attitudes we have that are wrong, the Lord begins to work on those with us and transform us into the men and women of God that he desires us to be.
Jesus was saying that it’s not about where we meet for worship, what time we meet, how many meet, what style of worship, it’s about our heart, and our relationship with him!
We might look at this story and think “how strange that they are arguing about which mountain to worship on.”
But it makes me wonder, what are the things that we hold so dear to us that we may “argue” about, that we may have as a barrier to people being able to connect with God?
Sunday, 10:30am in a “church”.
Is Sunday morning a barrier to people being able to grow and develop their relationship with God? Is the venue a barrier? How do we remove these barriers?
We live in a world that is spiritually hungry and thirsty and that is looking for somewhere to have that satisfied. We know that Jesus is the answer, that he and he alone is the one that will satisfy their thirst and hunger, because he is the one who provides the living water. So, our solution is to get them to come along on a Sunday morning.
However, Sunday morning is increasingly becoming a time that doesn’t work for people for a variety of reasons. So, do we let that become a barrier? Do we build up rules about how church HAS to be on a Sunday? Do we look down on people who, for whatever reason, can’t make a Sunday morning work for them? Or do we look for ways to make it possible for these people to engage with God?
What’s more important to us? Sunday being the day people have to come and worship and pray together? Or is the opportunity for them to have a relationship with the Father more important?
Do we frown on someone who can’t make Sunday morning, or do we offer them another way to gather and worship with believers and encourage them in their faith? This would mean looking at other ways, days, places for people to gather together and have “Church”.
Do we unintentionally condemn people who can’t make a Sunday because we hold so fast to this having to be the day of gathered worship? Or do we recognize that God is not interested in the day we gather, but that we take time, whatever day it is, to stop and honour him together? God is more interested in the heart than the day.
Another example – when someone new comes into church and is wearing a hat, or eating food, or has a drink in their hand, or says a few swear words when talking to us because they are so nervous? Do we celebrate that they are coming to gather with us and worship? Or do we go and tell them that “we don’t wear hats in church or have food and drink in the auditorium.” “We don’t speak like that here?
I remember very clearly an incident where a youth came to a church I was attending (which was awesome to see!) and they were wearing a hat. Someone came up to me and said, “someone should tell them that they need to take their hat off in church.” My reply was, “I am just happy that they are here.”
We can allow religion, our own set of rules, values and westernised worldview that we attach to our faith – mistakenly thinking that somehow are “interpretation” or “understanding” is the “correct view”, get in the way of people developing a relationship with Jesus. We can allow man-made rules and traditions to become a stumbling block to people entering the kingdom. We expect them to fit in to our way of doing things.
This is not usually something we are even conscious that we are doing, so I am not condemning. I just want us to be able to take an honest look at ourselves and ask if we are making barriers for people that perhaps we have never realized we are doing. Things that we think are part of our faith when in fact they are just values or rules that we have grown up with that we have attached to our faith and can no longer distinguish between our cultural/family values/worldview and our faith because they are so intertwined.
Without realising it our traditions and additional rules can become a major barrier to fulfilling the very mission to which Jesus has called us. Jesus warned the religious leaders of the day of the burden that they were putting on the people to follow all their traditions and rules. He told them that they were shutting people off from the Kingdom because they were so worried about their traditions (see Matthew 15 & 23).
Jesus shows us a different way. God wants to engage with all people, and allow them to experience and enter the Kingdom of heaven. He wants a living relationship with people, not religious followers. He does want our traditions. He doesn’t want us arguing about the style of worship. He is not wanting people to be bound by location or time. For him it’s about the heart of the worshiper and the connection we have with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
In this passage it is clear that this Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus would forever change her life. Not only that, but it also impacted the community in which she lived. Jesus broke down the barriers that stopped this woman, and her community from being able to encounter God. Barriers that left them feeling excluded, second-class and unworthy. This doesn’t mean Jesus condoned all that she, and the villagers had done or were doing – Just like he doesn’t condone all we do or have done when we encounter him. But Jesus met her at the point of her need in her life at that moment. He looked beyond her past (and even her present) and saw her as the Father saw her. Without judgment, without being harsh or speaking unkind words to her, he opened up the doors for her to engage with him and experience the Kingdom of God. He opened a door rather than building a barrier.
In this encounter Jesus was making known to the Samaritans, and to his disciples that the gospel is for everyone. Jesus SHATTERS the walls of exclusion, showing that the Kingdom of God, and all that it offers (Grace, forgiveness, love etc.) is for EVERYONE!
I love this quote I read the other day which says, “Jesus came to REACH those that religion REJECTS.”
This is what I see when I read this passage. Jesus reaching out to a woman that religion had rejected. A woman that religion had created a whole lot of barriers for her to try and overcome. A woman that religion excluded on so many levels.
Jesus removed those barriers. He showed her love and grace and the dignity of engaging in spiritual conversation. This allowed the kingdom of God to come in and through it not only was her life changed and impacted, but so was that of her community.
So, here is my challenge, can we honestly engage with God and ask –
Are we putting up barriers that are preventing people from entering the kingdom of God, and from fully participating in it?
Are we being like Jesus and breaking them down so that people can encounter Him, experience his Kingdom, and have their lives totally and utterly transformed by the love and grace of God?
The name of this blog is K?rerorero, which means: to talk, discuss, converse, chat. So, I would be honoured to have you join me in the journey and in the conversation! Feel free to comment below and share your story, your journey, your thoughts, and together lets K?rerorero.