“Keeping Score”

John 4:5-30 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – March 19, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

4-6 To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

 10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

 11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”

 13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

 15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”

16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.

“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”

 19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”

 21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

 23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

 25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

 27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

 28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.

One of my earliest memories of watching the World Series with my dad was having him explain to me how to keep score … you know … some of you do it, too. (I know Amy does!) Drawing the little diagrams … numbering the players …. The pitcher is #1, catcher is 2, 1st baseman is 3, etc.

And then later, because we had box seats for the Oneonta Yankees farm team, he’d do it in real time at Damascke Field.

We all keep score in different ways.

Some of them we alluded to in our Emerging Wisdom part of the service: Somebody hurts us … or maybe somebody HELPS us … we remember it and want to even things up. We don’t ever want to be LESS than someone else.

Sometimes we do it consciously … often not.

“What’d you get on that test?”

“Gee, I wonder how much Dudley takes home in his paycheck.”

Comparing ourselves with others.

 

And sometimes, some of us hold onto that for YEARS.

“No. I can’t let my guard down with so-and-so because 30 years ago, she really hurt me deeply.”

We keep score.

I think it’s human nature … it’s another way that we all “sin and fall short of the glory of God.” But God finds a way to get AROUND all the scorekeeping. Right? Jesus shows us a DIFFERENT way to love and care about and trust each other.

How do we KNOW that?

Because of stories like today.

 

When I read today’s scripture, I hear it in three parts … but even before we get to those, let’s talk about the Samaritans and the Jews.

We hear a LOT about the Samaritans in the Bible – especially through the teachings of Jesus – like the parable of the Good Samaritan – but what do we actually KNOW about this group of people? Who WERE they anyway, and why was it such a big deal when a Samaritan helped a man on the road … OR this woman and Jesus were talking at the well?

OK … here goes …

“Samaritans believed in Samaritanism, a religion closely related to, but not the same as, Judaism. Most of the differences have to do with which one was God’s Holy Mountain. Where was the CENTER of their religion?

The Samaritans believed that theirs was “the true religion of the ancient Israelites from BEFORE the Babylonian captivity. [They believed that THEIR version was accurate because it] was preserved by those who REMAINED in the Israel, and who never lived in exile. They believed that Judaism was ALTERED by those who were carted away and then returned from the Babylonian Captivity.”[i]

Think about that for a minute: arguments over which form of belief is the TRUE religion. My gosh … how far have we NOT come in 5,000 years?  All because people were keeping score of who was more accurate … more AUTHENTIC … than the others.

And those differences – the origin of their faith … where the holy mountain was … whose scripture was the REAL scripture … those differences led these two people to HATE each other and to have as little to do with each other as possible.

Both groups DEMONIZED the other … the Jews hated the Samaritans and didn’t trust them and the Samaritans hated the Jews and didn’t trust THEM.

So here was Jesus.

He’d sent his followers on their way into town to get some lunch and he goes to the well. This was JACOB’s well … the well where Jacob himself had drawn water for his sheep. Both Samaritans and Jews recognized Jacob as one of their patriarchs. So this was NEUTRAL TERRITORY.

And it’s there that Jesus sits down for a minute, and this WOMAN comes along with her jar to fill with water.

 

Here’s this Jewish MAN …  And who comes along? Not just a SAMARITAN … he finds himself there with a Samaritan WOMAN.

Men and women didn’t just sit and chat with each other …. Especially if they didn’t KNOW each other. Oh, there might be pleasantries … but THIS guy … obviously without a bucket or a pail or even a CUP … HE speaks to her and ASKS her for something. “Would you give me a drink of water?”

Scripture says that The Samaritan woman [was] taken aback. Well, yeah. Wouldn’t YOU be? I mean … talk about keeping SCORE … she HAD to be weighing in her mind the GENERATIONS of hatred and enmity between her people and the Jewish people this guy represented.

PLUS … she’s probably feeling a little vulnerable … she’s out here away from town … nobody ELSE around and this strange MAN is asking her for help.

And in fact, her first response is:  “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

I think that’s kind of the first part of this story – these two people from really different cultures meet up.

THEN comes this next part.

Jesus answers her with one of his typically cryptic responses that would’ve really ticked me off because it was so “out there.” She wants to know why he would ask her for a drink and he COULD’VE just said, “Because I’m thirsty. I’ve walked a long way,” or whatever. But he DOESN’T.

HE says, ““If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking ME for a drink, and I would give you fresh, LIVING water.”

Whoa. Okay. Let’s just stop there for a minute.

Now, I know most people breeze right past this to get the living waters part that’s going to come next. But really. Don’t you just want to SMACK him?

Put yourself in HER position … and this guy says something that REEKS of privilege … which, of course he has because he’s a MAN in that culture, but also he’s been brought up to think that HIS brand of Judaism is better than HERS … and he lays it on her and plays the GOD card … “If you knew the generosity of GOD and who I am …”

Sometime I want to SAY that to someone when they’re questioning ME. Don’t you? “IF you knew the generosity of God and who *I* am, you wouldn’t DARE to ask that question of me.”

But it’s Jesus … so we tend to overlook that because we forget that he was human, too … And sometimes annoying, I think.

Anyway, he introduces the whole “living water” thing and she’s still staying pretty LITERAL … “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are YOU going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob?

And then, of course, he doesn’t give a straight ahead answer. HE says: “Everyone who drinks THIS water will get thirsty again and again [but] Anyone who drinks the LIVING water will never thirst—not ever.

Well, the Samaritan woman wants this water that HE describes.

She’s probably thirsty on SO many levels … she can’t even COUNT them anymore. She can’t possibly keep score of all the things that her life challenges her with … being a woman in that time … the harshness of her life … the day-to-day drudgery of walking to the well and back (maybe multiple times a day) … She WANTS this living water that will refresh her on all those levels.

So Jesus says to her:“Go call your husband and then come back.”

First off: WHY? Why does she have to get her HUSBAND? She’s not GOOD enough? He has to talk man-to-man with this guy?

But then secondly, she says she doesn’t HAVE a husband.

Well THAT would have been humiliating or at least vulnerable-making for a woman in that culture. RIGHT? If your husband died, then his BROTHER or your grown SON had to take you on … by LAW!

There’s ANOTHER thing she’s enduring in this conversation with this privileged Jewish man. And as if that’s not ENOUGH … Jesus says, “You’re RIGHT. You DON’T have a husband. You’ve had FIVE!  And the man you’re living with NOW isn’t your husband.”

Oh. My. GOSH!  How much is this woman to take? Right?  If she’s keeping SCORE … she has already been insulted more times than she deserves, no matter HOW fascinating she finds this guy to talk with.

And then he keeps GOING. He insults her background … what she believes … where she worships.

But THEN he turns the whole thing around, saying: 23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people [that God] is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly THEMSELVES before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

This woman has been … totally … simply … HONESTLY … herself before Jesus.

After all this that she’s put up with from this guy – this Jesus person – she FINALLY is hearing something positive from him. And she says,  “I don’t know about that, [but] I DO know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

And that’s when Jesus says to her: 26 “I am he. You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

So, that ends the second part of the story.

First, he shows us, meets this woman … they both recognize all the differences between them … it’s like they’re reciting the list of offenses … BOTH of their people (the Jews and the Samaritans) have been keeping track of the wrongs of the other for a long time.

Second, he acts in a way that she was probably USED to. He treats her pretty much like any other non-Samaritan man would’ve treated her, I’m guessing … continuing to spar with her a little bit. But then it TURNS and he tells her that he IS the Messiah she has been looking for.

And then we have the THIRD part of the story.

The disciples come back from getting lunch and we read: They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

Wait.

What?

What DID their faces show?

Disdain?  Anger?  Contempt?

Upset with him for speaking with a SAMARITAN?

For speaking with a WOMAN?

We don’t know … maybe they thought she was a prostitute or something.

Whatever it was, the woman knew those looks only too well and she left.

But here’s the thing.  She went back to her village. Right? The village where she was KNOWN. I mean, she’d had five husbands and was now living with a man who wasn’t even her husband. They were living in SIN!

You and I know that EVERYBODY knew her in that village.

We ALL know THOSE kinds of people by sight and reputation even if we don’t really know them.

We KNOW them because we keep SCORE of how WE would never do those things. We have that internal JUDGE-thing going on inside of us … how lucky or more blessed or smarter or …. Whatever it is … fill in the blanks for what it is that makes us BETTER than someone else.

That’s how they all KNEW her.

And she had to KNOW that that’s how they all felt.

And yet she was SO MOVED by her experience with this man at the well and with his story about EVERYONE being welcomed by God if they would just be THEMSELVES … that she was BRAVE enough to talk to the townspeople – her neighbors who thought so poorly of her – she DARED to tell them about this guy … to make herself vulnerable enough to be honest with them.

And they went out to see for themselves.

They went out to see for themselves.

That’s where the story ends.

We don’t know what happened next.

Did they LISTEN to Jesus?

Did they FOLLOW him?

Did they run him out of town because he was a Jew?

We don’t know.

 

The thing is that his PRESENCE and what he SAID to her were SO powerful that it allowed to her FORGET ABOUT THE SCORE.

SHE knew about the generations of hatred.

She KNEW what her people thought about the Jews.

Heck. She knew what her people thought about HER.

But still she went back to them and TOLD them what she’d experienced.

And there must have been something DIFFERENT about her … there must have been something ABOUT her … her eyes … her energy … her aura … SOMETHING that caused them to BELIEVE her and to go check it out ANYWAY.

It’s like the whole history of keeping score of all the wrongs that had been done to them didn’t MATTER anymore. It’s like I said at the beginning: God finds a way to get AROUND all the scorekeeping. Right? JESUS shows us a different way to love and care about and trust each other.

Brothers and sisters … it’s time for us to let go of our internal score-keeping, too. Time for us to be like the woman and let ourselves be vulnerable by sharing our faith. Time for us to be like the townspeople and be willing to hear a different message from someone we may have known a long time. Time for us to be like Jesus and tell everyone that the Living Water is right in front of them. All they have to do is BELIEVE and drink deeply

It’s time for ALL of us to drink from the living waters that heal … that preserve … and that give us life everlasting.

May God help us to do that today … and in the days ahead.

Amen.

[i] Fried, Lisbeth S. (2014). Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-410-6.

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