3rd Sunday of Lent (A) Febraury 24, 2008
Overcoming the Barriers (John 4:5-42)

The sun’s rays poured down on the thirteen men walking in unfamiliar territory. The journey from northern Galilee to Judea in the south would take the men six days unless they passed through Samaria.  The shortcut would slice their route in half, but good Jews didn’t go through Samaria, no matter how long it took them.

The feud between the Jews and Samaritans dated back 720 years, to when the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Samaria and conquered and enslaved the people of Samaria. The Assyrians brought other people from Babylon, Cutha, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kgs. 17:24) and placed them there to live. The Samaritan Jews did the unthinkable – they inter-married and lost their racial purity. Samaritans lost their right to be called Jews and the Samaritans were looked down upon as inferior people.

Later in 450 B.C., in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, their task was to repair and rebuild the Temple. The Samaritans sent a delegation to help with the repairs in this important sacred task. The delegation was told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Since they had lost their Jewish heritage, they were told they had no right to share in the rebuilding project of the house of the God of the pure Jews!  

The Samaritans smarted from this repulse and in turn hated the Jerusalem Jews from that day forward. A rival temple was erected on Mount Gerizim in the center of the Samaritan territory to which the Samaritan woman refers.[1] The quarrel was still in progress when Jesus took His disciples through the Samaritan territory.

Needing food and water, Jesus sent his men into the city for food. Meanwhile, He sat at the well of Jacob anticipating an encounter that would change a woman’s life forever!

The entire encounter recorded in the scripture can be summarized with the idea that Jesus will meet any obstacle and shatter it through his loving power.

I. Jesus shatters the barrier of prejudice (v. 5-9).

Women were considered second class citizens in a male-dominated culture in Israel. A strict conservative Rabbi would not even speak to a woman on the street. Barclay says there were some Pharisees who were called, “The bruised and bleeding Pharisees,” because they shut their eyes when they saw a woman on the street and so would walk into walls and houses! Speaking to a woman in public could bring disaster to any Rabbi and possibly end his career.

Jesus breaks rules in this encounter on a hot day in Samaria about a half mile from the village of Sychar, where the well of Jacob was located.

Jesus breaks the barrier of racial and gender prejudice by not only looking at a woman, but at a Samaritan woman. He even carries on a conversation with her. We discover that she is a woman with a “bad” reputation. By coming to the well a half mile from the village, it indicates that she is a moral outcast that even the women in the village will not allow to come to the community well. She had been married several times and the man whom she lived with at the moment was not even her husband.

The lesson we learn from this part of the encounter is that everyone deserves to talk with Jesus. All of us have been sinners in need of unloading ourselves to the Savior who has come to open our hearts.

II. Jesus shatters the barrier of the temporary (v. 10-15).

The well of Jacob percolated beneath the earth. A well can dry up or become stagnant. But Jesus offers her a spring of water that is much cooler and more refreshing. Jesus in essence offers her more than a temporary well of water. He offers her a drink from the spring that never runs dry or stagnates.

The Psalmist wrote, “With Thee is the fountain of life” (Psa. 36:9), and Jesus was telling this woman that He was the fountain of life. He could satisfy her heart’s longings and need of forgiveness. Jesus alone could quench her thirst for spiritual life. He does the same for us! This is not a temporary fix, but a permanent satisfaction.

III. Jesus shatters the barrier of the false (v. 15-26).

She becomes entangled with what many of us today are knotted with – where and how we worship rather than whom we worship.

False worship is more interested in selecting what is important to the worshipper rather than the God of worship. We have become tangled in the netting of music style, personality of the preacher, loudness, spontaneity versus quietness, rather than allowing each method to point us to the Savior! Jesus came to break the barrier of false worship and bring us to true worship by seeing him face-to-face. God is not confined to objects, places or things, but the worship of God is a spiritual experience.

What is more important to you – where and how you worship or whom you worship?

IV. Jesus shatters the barrier of the will and gives us opportunity for spiritual satisfaction (v. 27-38).

The scene shifts momentarily from the woman to the disciples. The woman left to tell the village people about her incredible encounter with Jesus. The disciples pick up where she left off – misunderstanding Jesus. He speaks to the soul of the disciples and they misunderstand thinking of the body – the need for food instead. They don’t grasp what he is talking about when he says to them that to be spiritually satisfied is to receive God’s will for your life.

Living in the will of God brings opportunity for spiritual satisfaction. This satisfaction brings peace, wholeness, happiness and power.

V. Jesus shatters the barrier of sin and gives salvation (v. 39-42).

The Samaritan woman told everyone who would listen what Jesus had done in her life. She related how she believed he was the Messiah. Her testimony led many to believe in him. They wanted their sins forgiven, for they were tired of living defeated lives. After listening to him for two more days, others in the village came to understand that Jesus came to rescue them from sin. He came to bring salvation to them and they accepted his offer of salvation!

Jesus wants to extend that same offer of forgiveness, love and salvation to you today. Will you accept it as did these Samaritans? (Derl G. Keefer)

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Commentary Volume 1 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), 139-142.

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