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Samaritan Woman 2014

“It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water.”

For a few years I travelled each year, sometimes twice, to Bombay as it was then called. It was an awkward flight that arrived at 2.00 o’clock in the morning local time. I was collected by car and taken to my usual hotel near the airport where always being unable to sleep once the bright humid Indian dawn had broken, I would throw open the curtains to look at the view. From my upper storey I could see over the countryside. Collected around the busy hub of the airport were several shanty towns made from discarded corrugated sheeting, tarpaulins and other debris. From these at that time of day along the raised dykes were lines of women carrying water pots on their heads, sometimes with barely clad children by the hand walking to collect water for their day. I could watch them coming and going slowly and steadily. The pots were large, the water heavy and they were taking advantage of the early morning light and cool to do this absolutely essential task.

Samaria is a region in the hill country between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north, most often Jesus and his disciples would skirt the borders of this territory but on this occasion John tells us that “Jesus and his disciples had to go through Samaria.” The Jews and the Samaritans regarded each other with perfect hatred. The problem began some 700 years before Jesus’ time when the king of Assyria having conquered Samaria introduced colonists from other lands to his new domain. The Jews believed the Samaritans to be descendants of these incomers and so of mixed race. The Samaritans for their part claimed to be of true Jewish ancestry, also that their copy of the book of the law, the five books of Moses, was both older and more authoritative than that used by the Jews and finally that Mount Gerazim in their territory was a place of greater sanctity than Jerusalem. To emphasise that they built a temple atop the summit to rival that in Jerusalem. There was we might say no love lost.

So the readers of John’s Gospel would have been in no doubt that a Samaritan was an outsider. Worse yet this Samaritan was a woman, so further an outsider and now we see her coming in the heat of the day, alone, to draw water  marking her as an outsider even among her own people. No-one collects water in the hot noonday sun and that was as true in Bombay in the twentieth century as it was then.

As much as Nicodemus, last week, was an insider, a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council, as inside as you can get so this woman is on the very very edge; as much as Nicodemus came out of the darkness to see Jesus by night this woman came out of the day into the light.

It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water.

“Give me a drink” says Jesus and a conversation begins, very like the one with Nicodemus, where at first the two do not seem to be quite synchronised.

“How is it that you, a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

“Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep.”

But this outsider understood: “Sir give me this water” and Jesus reveals himself more by speaking to her of her husbands and her sin which no stranger could have known and that of course explains her isolation.

Excited, engaged, enthusiastic and now evangelistic the woman goes back to the city, leaving her water jar you notice, where she tells everyone she met what has happened. This city is the same one that the disciples return from, a Samaritan city where they did not harvest, they did not see the fruit or its ripeness. In demonstration of the point, based on the woman’s testimony the city comes to Jesus and invites him to stay.

It was about noon. A Samaritan woman saw the light of Jesus, the Messiah, she was not someone who was seen to be orthodox, accepted or virtuous but this one encounter was enough, it was a single moment that changed her life.

Be encouraged.


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