THE SAMARITAN WOMAN


Do Christians have the courage and self-awareness to dare ask the following questions? Do we honestly find everything we have been told about God lovable? Can we in our "heart of hearts" love a God who demands service, adoration, praise, obedience, and gratitude? Can we love a God who providentially chooses to protect some on earth and not others? Can we love a God who arbitrarily heals some people on earth and not others? Can we love a God who we have to beg or plead to for help. Can we love a God who requires his son to suffer and die on a cross to repay God or satisfy God's sense of justice? Can we truly love a God who has set up laws for us to obey and punishments for the violators. Be honest! We may fear and cower under such a God, but can we wholeheartedly love and embrace such a God?

Do Christians really love God. Or do they fear, respect, and admire God's power and authority, and therefore, bow down and defer to God because they see no other choice? Again I ask, in your "heart of hearts" do you find God completely lovable? Most Christians are probably afraid to ask themselves, let alone honestly answer this question. It seems almost blasphemous to even consider the question.

Dare we be honest with God, or anyone else for that matter, about how lovable we find the God we have been taught to believe in? The Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:4-42) had received religious teaching about God. But she had the courage, self-awareness, and honesty to admit to Jesus that she did not find this God lovable. This allowed Jesus to lead her to the truth about God's love and lovableness. Let us look at the Samaritan woman because her story is our story. Whether we know it or not, her struggle to arrive at the truth of God's love and lovableness is our struggle also.

At Jacob's well, Jesus offers the Samaritan woman "living water." This water "shall become a fountain inside her leaping up to provide eternal life." In the Samaritan woman's time, great leaders of Israel were often noted for the wells they dug for their followers (e.g. Jacob's well). In the arid parts of Israel water literally meant life to the people, and great leaders cared about the life of their followers. The woman accepts Jesus' offer. However, there is a problem.

Jesus says, "Go, call your husband, and then come back here." The prophet Hosea described a problem in the relationship between God and Israel in terms of a loving husband (God) and an unfaithful wife (Israel). Israel, the unfaithful wife, was running after false gods. There is a different problem in the relationship between the Samaritan woman (i.e. all the Samaritan people) and God, but the problem is again described in terms of a husband and wife relationship. We, like the Samaritan people, will bring to God's well of "living water" our understanding of God (our husband) and we can't fully drink in God's life of "living water" if we don't truly understand God.

The woman replies to Jesus, "I have no husband." She is saying, I don't really love God as I understand God to be, he is not my husband. Jesus replies, "you are right in saying you have no husband." Jesus is saying, your are right not to love God as you understand God to be. Jesus now tells her why she does not understand God, "you have had five (husbands), and the man you are living with now is not your husband."

The origin of the Samaritan people and their religion started from the five groups of people who were settled in the land of Samaria by Assyria after they deported the Israelites of the northern kingdom (2 K 17:5-6, 24-41). These five groups brought with them their worship and understanding of their gods (five husbands). By the time of Jesus, however, the Samaritan understanding of God was a mixture of their understanding of their gods and the God of Israel. This diluted and polluted understanding of God is the "man" the woman is now living with. The Samaritans had developed a distorted version of the Jewish religion. They misunderstood God. That's why Jesus later tells the woman, "you people worship what you do not understand."

Similar to the Samaritan people, Christians have had their understanding of God polluted and distorted to varying degrees. How has the Christian God often been portrayed? God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and impassive. God rewards and punishments. God's justice demands satisfaction for sin through the death of his son. In heaven God occupies the apex of a hierarchy of minions that praise, serve, and worship him. This is the God far too many Christians have been asked to love. Do you honestly find everything about this kind of God lovable?

In the story of the Samaritan woman, the woman sees that Jesus knows her heart and understands her struggle to love God as she understands God to be. Therefore, she says, "I can see you are a prophet." Like the Samaritan woman, we must allow Jesus to lead us to the truth about God.

Recognizing Jesus as a prophet of God, the woman asks Jesus about worship of God. The woman is confused about where true worship of God takes place. Jesus says the whole concept of temple worship is over. Authentic worship of God is not a matter of location, it is a matter of spirit and truth. Jesus is saying that authentic worship of God is a combination of understanding the truth about God (i.e. knowing what God is really like), and our personal attitude and action (i.e. spirit) in response to our true understanding of God.

In actuality, we only truly worship what we find worthy, what we reverence, admire, and treasure, or in other words, what we personally love. If we are ever going to truly worship God, we have to find God lovable. Jesus has told the Samaritan woman what she already knows in her heart, she can only truly worship a God that she finds lovable. And so it is with all of us, if we have achieved a honest level of self-awareness and the courage to admit it to ourselves. We can only truly worship a God we personally find lovable.

The usually unadmitted, unresolved, and unexamined universal fear of religious people is that if they don't find the God of this universe lovable then what are they to do? How can they admit it? What will God do to them? After all, aren't we all stuck with the God of this universe whether we like him or not.

The Samaritan woman's conversation with Jesus reveals her profound self-awareness of the universal human condition of having to find God lovable before we can truly worship him, and her courage to admit this to Jesus. This self-awareness, sincerity, and courage will allow Jesus to work in her life.

The woman now tells her Samaritan townspeople, "come and see someone who told me everything I ever did." In other words, she is saying, he saw into my heart and spoke to my heart, he knows where I have been and where I am at in my life with God. So she says to the townspeople, "Could this not be the Messiah?" The story then tells us that through Jesus' "spoken word" many Samaritans came to faith.

What was this "spoken word" of Jesus? What did the Samaritans come to believe in? Jesus knew the Samaritan woman's heart and knows our heart. Like the Samaritan woman, we have nothing to fear. All Jesus needs is our courage, sincerity, and openness to the truth. Then Jesus can work with us as he did with the Samaritan woman to reveal the truth about God. Only when we know the truth about God can we decide if we find God completely lovable. Only if we find the truth about God completely lovable will we be able to start fully worshiping God in spirit and truth.

Copyright 1999


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