The following is a link to our reading today:
First let’s talk about the Samaritans. The Samaritans and the Jewish people are both descendants of the tribes of Israel. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. Jesus and his community are descendants of the Southern Kingdom of Israel. The Samaritans are descendants of the northern kingdom. Both groups in Jesus’ time claimed that they were the true Israel and both taught that it was wrong to have contact with the other. In other words, Jesus should not have been talking to a Samaritan.
We don’t know why the Samaritan woman at the well has had five husbands and why the person she is now living with is not her husband. When our modern ears hear the story we hear whispers of scandal—5 times divorced and now she is living with a man who she is not even married to? But the story really doesn’t give us enough information to make this assumption. There are many possible reasons why this woman was married five times and is now currently living with a man to whom she is not married. She may have been divorced, but not through her own fault. It was not unknown for a husband of that time to divorce his wife simply because she had not born him a child. She may have been widowed. Five times is a lot, but not unheard of, especially in a day and age when young girls were married to much older men.
In other words, we just don’t know why this woman was married five times and is now living with another man. What we do know is this. Jesus never refers to her actions as sinful. He never calls her to repent. He never offers her forgiveness. He certainly does this in other stories, but not in this one. So it is safe to say that whatever the woman’s situation, Jesus’ attention towards her is not about calling her out of a life of immorality to a life of morality. This is not a story about sin and forgiveness. But why does this even matter?
I think how you understand the woman and her situation matters, because it completely determines the meaning of this story. If you understand the story as being about sin and forgiveness you miss that what this story is about actually is being seen by God. It is actually a story about the struggles of life and knowing what it is to be seen by God in the midst of these struggles. It is a story of the transformation that happens when we know ourselves to be seen by God. It is a story of God’s love.
For me this is the essence of being a Christian, being seen and then seeing. It isn’t about converting others or having the correct beliefs and theology. It is about knowing that we are each a special and beloved child of God, coming to understand that every other human being is also a special and beloved child of God, and then going out into the world and seeing others with the same eyes that God sees us. It is about going out into the world and spreading this love beyond ourselves.
It is a wonderful vision isn’t it? Then why is it so hard to actually live into this vision? Why is it so hard to see ourselves as a beloved child of God, and why is it so hard to understand that every other human being is also a beloved child of God, and therefore entitled to be seen by us as God sees them?
As to the second question, well this one is even more challenging. There are certainly people for whom it is easy for us to see as God’s beloved—our family, our friends, those people who are like us. But what about those people in this world who make us feel uncomfortable? People who hold different opinions than us or who have different values than we have, people who look or act different than we do. We tend to want to divide the world into good and bad people, but very rarely can anyone be put completely into one camp or another—all of us are made up of a complex mix of good and bad. This story challenges us to think about the people we have difficulty “seeing” as God’s beloved. What people or group of people is it difficult for you to accept as being loved by God? The Samaritan woman was not seen as being loved by God by many people, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t. As followers of Christ we are called to see all human beings with the eyes of Christ. And when we truly “see” those that the world does not “see” we pass on the love of God.
Do you know that you are “seen” by God? For you are. Do you understand that those you have trouble “seeing” are “seen by God? For they are. Allow yourself to be seen by God, allow yourself to be loved by God, and then go into that world and see those that the world does not see. Love those that the world does not love.