At our Saturday Sidewalk Church Service, I am preaching from John 4 this morning, specifically the Women at the Well story. But, even before we get there, the Apostle John tells us:
“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:1-4).
Jesus’ reputation had spread, forcing conflicts with temple authorities. His arch-enemies, the Pharisees, had heard Jesus was “making and baptizing more disciples than John” (that rabble-rouser). So what did Jesus do?
Now we should understand, first, geography is important in the Gospels—so we need to pay attention. And, second, this morning I’ll preach this at the Saturday Sidewalk Church Service to the unchurched and the outsider, evangelistically (for sure). But to my direct point here, thirdly, this text—this story—is for the churched and calls us to be evangelistic and to be missional as church.
Back to Jesus: He makes matters worse by passing through Samaria. Pharisees thought Samaria unclean, filled with half-breeds, those unclean Samaritans. The righteous Jew, in traveling this way, always went around Samaria. Not through Samaria. Yet, John is careful to let us know that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” Had to, folks.
The juxtaposing of the Samaritan woman at the well tells us why Jesus had to go through Samaria: He had to put himself in the proximity of the outcaste, the marginalized, the unclean, for not only did this Samaritan woman discover the Messiah, she proclaimed Him among her own and they, too, found him.
It amazes me that we, as Christian, remain at the center of our faith, discipleship, and service to Jesus. Not Jesus at the center, me. For the most part, as individuals (and sadly as churches), we are not missional in how we live, how we make decisions, or how we plan our immediate and long term future.. How do I know this: first, because we do not feel the “had to pass through Samaria.” We do not intentionally set ourselves to be in proximity to the outcaste, the marginal, the Samaritans of our times. And, second, we proudly sing modern choruses that continually put us at the center, that is, you and me are the special ones of God’s affection—after we have become Christians. Yet, this is not how the gospel works.
And, my goodness—that's not what God's love, His "reckless" love compels, should compel, us to do once we have discovered that love.
Most modern, hip, and theologically shallow (I will add) “Christian music” affirms how special you and me are—sure—but do very little in calling us to be on mission. One such song that comes to mind, “Reckless Love.”
Every time I sing or hear this song . . . I change the words and sing it the way it should be sung by Christians to nonChristians, the unchurched, the Samaritan.
Sure, it’s a nice song. And, of course, we bath in this as Christians. But, unlike the gospel, this song does not call us to be missional, to place ourselves in proximity to the outcaste, the marginal, the Samaritan. The song does not call us to intentionally go through (i.e., the “had to pass through”) Samaria. How do I know this? Because the rest of the song is still about you and me at the center of God’s love and affection. You can read it yourself. But I have changed the song here some to make a point.
If the Apostle John were to have written a song about the Samaritan trip and that Samaritan women so that the church would know its mission (as does John 4)--and the Samaritan would know what Christ's love looks like--he would have written it this way:
I am specific who the “you” is here, of course, the Hill where I live and pastor. Yet, this is how the reckless love of God is discovered by others, especially the least ones amongst us, the Samaritan of our day. Written this way—sung this way—would call the Christian to “have to pass through Samaria” so that he or she would put themselves in a place to happen upon a Samaritan women (as it were); and thus, the whole town will discover Messiah Jesus.
What’s your Samaritan story? Do you even have one?
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.