A Gospel for Samaritans
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A Gospel for Samaritans
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH
AND THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART
BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT,
O LORD, MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER.
It is easy to emphasize our differences. Last Monday night I led a Bible study at Christus House. We are talking about the parables of Jesus from Matthew 13, but we soon got off on a tangent. Of all things we started discussing predestination—single predestination like Lutherans believe, double predestination like the Calvinists, free will like the Methodists. The discussion became pretty heated—did God decide to damn certain people even before he created them? Is it up to us to decide to become a Christian? Can we fall away from faith?
Well, the discussion went on much longer than the planned study. What I walked away with, though, was a feeling of unease. The Luther-Calvin arguments or the Calvin-Wesley arguments, even those of St. Augustine-Pelagius are fun for theologians to rehash, but what about college students who just want to have a simple Bible study? What about those who are not sure whether or not they believe in God at all or wonder if Christ is really their Savior? Sometimes we so emphasize what divides us that we forget about the unity we have in Jesus Christ. We are one in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Jesus loves the Catholics and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Methodists. God so loved the whole cosmos, that God sent the Son so that everyone who believes in Him shall have eternal life. God does not condemn the world but wants to save the world.
As human beings we are also one in our sin. No one is righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Sin unifies us all. We can not condemn a brother of sister because, like the crowd about to stone the woman caught in adultery, none of us are without sin and can cast the first stone. Martin Luther noted:
“God has called our life a temptation
and ordained that we should be afflicted in body, possessions, honor
and suffer unrighteousness.
And why does God suffer us to be tempted by sin?”
The answer is that “we may learn to know God and ourselves.” To know ourselves means to understand that we can do nothing but sin and evil. To know God is to know that God’s grace is mightier than any creature. And thus we learn both to despise ourselves and to laud and praise the grace of God”. The very first step in understanding God, in understanding Christ, is to acknowledge that we are sinners. Christ has come to show us what we really are—sinful people who need the grace and forgiveness of God.
We need Jesus the Redeemer.
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Our Gospel today is the long story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well. The encounter is unusual—a man would not strike up a conversation with a woman; a Jew would not speak to a Samaritan. He even asked her for a drink and John adds a parenthetical remark in his text to explain that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” But Jesus talked to her and revealed to her what she truly was. Jesus asked her if she would bring her husband and she replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The Samaritan woman is taken aback; we can imagine how surprised she must have been. “Sir, you are a prophet.” Well, Jesus is more than someone who can read her mind or tell her life story. Jesus is a prophet who speaks God’s Word and more than a prophet.
Like the Samaritan woman we all have our closet skeletons. One night this week I was listening to a panel talking about the George W. Bush tapes that were made secretly while he was Texas governor and just starting his bid for the presidency. One of the commentators said he was glad that no one had taped his private conversations and actually thought Bush came off quite well in the tapes. I don’t know about that but I am convinced that we all of us have had our less desirable moments and said things that we later regretted. I know I have. And why should we be surprised when our politicians are revealed as men and women with feet of clay?Few among us are paragons of virtue. We may deceive ourselves and even others but if we are truly honest we recognize how far short we fall of God’s intention or even our best selves’ intentions. The Samaritan woman believed she had all the water she needed from Jacob’s well but in the encounter with Jesus she heard about living water, the water gushing up to eternal life and she knew she needed this water.
God does not leave us in our sin but gives us Jesus. We too are offered water that will quench our thirst—faith that will still our longing and restless hearts. When we believe in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we have life and salvation. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We are one with each other not only in our sin but also in our forgiveness through Christ. St. Clement of Rome , writing in the first century after Christ, noted,
“We also, who have been called in Christ Jesus through his will
are not justified through ourselves
or through our own holiness of heart,
but through faith.
It is through faith that Almighty God has justified all humanity
that has been from the beginning of time.”
We are one in faith. I may disagree with the Calvinists on whether Jesus died only for some, the elect, or whether he died for all people. I may disagree with the Methodists who believe that they can of their own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ rather than believe only because God has granted faith and grace as a gift. I may disagree with Baptists on the amount of water in baptism and with the Roman Catholics on the power and primacy of the pope. I certainly disagree with Martin Luther when he wrote the treatise “On the Jews and their lies.” What is most important is not what divides us—the different forms of liturgy, different styles of music, church organization, even dare I say it, the fine points of doctrine. What is most important is what unifies us as Christians. We are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday sixteen people from Central Lutheran Church went up to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Salem. Their purpose was to experience two services in that congregation, one a contemporary service and one “blended.” I think some folks really enjoyed the worship there and others had reservations. We all have our different tastes.
In Jesus’ time, the Jews and Samaritans did not recognize the other. The region of Samaria had been settled by non-Jews who over the years accepted some parts of the Jewish religion but not others. They accepted the books of Moses but not the prophets. They sacrificed to God on Mount Gerizim which towers over Shechem/Sychar where Jesus met the woman at the well, rather than sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed that a Messiah would come but did not from the line of King David. The Jews despised the Samaritans. They believed they were really idol worshipers in disguise. The Jews held that all Samaritans were unclean and must be avoided.
It was good news for the Samaritan woman that the day was coming when the differences with the Jews would not be so important. True worship would not take place on Mt. Gerizim or in the Temple but rather in spirit and truth. True worship centers around Jesus Christ and not in rituals or traditions or their lack. It does not matter to God if we worship in silence like the Quakers or in a solemn high mass. Formality or informality, long or short, contemporary or traditional—these are human things and do not matter. If we kneel for communion or stand up—it does not really matter. If we sprinkle our babies with water or dunk the adults in the lake—it does not really matter. If we are accompanied with a baroque organ or with a house band—it does not really matter.
We see in our text what does matter. The woman said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ).When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Jesus words are living water; Jesus is the water of life. Those who drink have everlasting life. He promises to sinful human beings—all human beings—that in Him their sins are forgiven. In Him we have life and salvation. We are one in our salvation through Christ.Amen.
Copyright 2005, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.