■ Erin Armstrong / Contributed
This Lent, those congregations that follow the traditional set of scripture readings will read one of my favorite stories. In John Chapter 4, Jesus leaves Judea to “go back to Galilee” (v. 3), but takes an unusual and inconvenient detour into Samaria…a place a Judean rabbi would not willingly go to. The ancient feud between Judea and Samaria, once a united kingdom, had devolved into strong uncrossable boundaries and hate for one another. Judeans and Samaritans did not interact with one another, and did not willingly go into one another’s territories.
And yet, here is Jesus, going into Samaria for no good reason. Crossing boundaries with no care for what the repercussions may be. And when he gets there, he finds himself alone and thirsty. So he asks a local woman for a drink from the well. Once again, Jesus crosses a cultural boundary by speaking to a woman. And it turns out this woman has a less than stellar reputation. With a number of past husbands, it’s clear that this woman is not a welcome element in the town—which is perhaps why she is at the well in the middle of the day, instead of the normal early morning hours. And yet, Jesus doesn’t seem to care that others have rejected her. He crosses the “proper” societal boundaries and speaks with her anyway.
And in this conversation is one of Jesus’ most in-depth theological conversations in the scriptural record, especially with someone who is not one of the 12 disciples. Jesus and this woman talk about water, prophets, Abraham, worship and the Holy Spirit. He reveals to her that he is the Messiah, one of the few people he reveals such truth to in explicit terms. And she then is the first to go and tell others about what she has seen and heard. This Samaritan, outcast woman is the first evangelist.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how radical this story of Jesus is, and indeed how radical Jesus is in general. He is always crossing boundaries. He’s always reaching out and offering love to those others have classified as unworthy and unlovable. He doesn’t let nationalism or religiosity or even so-called “morality” stop him from loving everyone he comes into contact with.
The challenge for those of us who claim the mantle of Christianity, who follow Jesus, the challenge this story presents is for us to also radically love others. What are the boundaries we need to cross as boldly as Jesus did? Who might be deemed as outcasts and unworthy by society? Who do we need to make sure hears the story of Jesus and the promise of God’s love from us, because they might not hear it anywhere else?
Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4: 14). There is something special about what Jesus offers; and we need to remember that Jesus doesn’t only offer it to people we like or who are like us. Jesus offers the refreshing waters of salvation to the whole of creation, and to all people. Who will you offer it to?
Pastor Erin Armstrong is the Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA). They are located at 191 S. Columbia Street and worship at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. every Sunday. Check out their website www.trinityhemet.org for more learning, worship and fellowship opportunities.