Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Midweek Grace - John 4:31-38

I suppose most weddings and wedding announcements are joyous occasions. Part of the joy is the prospect of two people committing to walking through life together. Marriage however not only joins two people, but two families. While this usually goes off without too much trouble there are those times when things get shall we say a bit dicey. This can occur when Jamaal brings Megan home or Vanessa brings Brad home. (sorry for the stereotypes) Depending on the families in question the impending nuptials can be the beginning of a joyful adventure into the unfamiliar or a suspicious and guarded trip through a social minefield. One wonders if the elephant in the room concerns the unspoken yet very real feeling of ‘they’re apart of the family now’?! For that’s what marriage does. It brings new folks into your family through the joining of two individuals. And let’s face it there are some folks we just don’t want to relate to or be related to. It’s bad enough we have relatives we’re not thrilled with, but to have now accept ‘those’ people is a bit much.

I wonder if that’s how Jesus’ closest followers felt after returning from the market to find him speaking to a SAMARITAN woman. The incident recorded in John 4 is not only one of the best examples of cross-cultural evangelism, but brings out one of the main themes in the gospel which is that God is seeking worshipers from every ethnicity. To put it another way Jesus Christ intentionally carried out the Father’s will to enlarge the family. The story begins interestingly enough with John stressing our Lord’s humanity, wisdom and mission all in a few short verses. Jesus was fully human and fully Jewish. He had Jewish features, Jewish parents, a Jewish heritage and even a Jewish Galilean accent. Yet our Lord did not allow His ethnicity to remain a barrier to His mission. He was not about to withhold the gracious gift of life, the blessed privilege of worship nor the covenantal bond of family from the Samaritan woman he was about to meet.

Jesus’ approach to this woman immediately brings us face to face with the sinfulness and silliness of racism and ethnic exclusion. Simply by asking her for a cup of water our Lord overturns centuries of Jewish racism and supposed superiority. At that time every Jew and Samaritan would have known that Jews consider Samaritans and other gentiles to be morally corrupt and impure and would therefore avoid anything approaching intimate contact with them such as drinking from the same cup or using the same eating utensils.
The woman’s response to Jesus thus makes perfect sense in light of the social customs of the time. Jesus straightforwardly and leaving know doubt exposes and explodes the myths that surround all notions of supposed racial superiority. Firstly, of all the Jewish myth (and by extension any other groups) of racial supremacy is left wanting because no group or person in and of themselves can secure the one thing that really satisfies us, namely a vital, vibrant worshiping relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Lord offers this gift to people of all ethnicities. No ethnic group is excluded simply on the basis of their ethnicity. Thirdly, the invitation to ‘drink living water’ is an invitation to enjoy an intimate, eternal, life-giving and sustaining worshiping relationship with the living God. Thus if God has invited me to be close to Him, if He has summoned me into His eternal presence, if He is delighted in calling me to be a member of the family forever then it’s just sinfully ridiculous to refuse fellowship with others on the basis of ethnicity.

While much more can be said about this encounter (for instance the fact that Jesus would intentionally target and invite an outcast of outcasts into the family) I’d like to focus on our Lord’s mission. Once the disciples return the Lord turns from teaching this dear sister about the God of Israel to further instruct them about the will and ways of the God of the whole world. Jesus reminds them that His mission was to do the Father’s will and accomplish that work. What is that will and what was that work? The passage goes onto relate how the Lord explained to His followers that the will of God is to include people from all ethnicities into a worshiping relationship with the Father and by extension into the family of God. This will happen because Jesus was going to die for their sins, call them to Himself and then include all into one worshiping family. It’s as if our Lord was saying ‘look brothers, like it or not the Samaritans are now part of the family’. Those who trusted in Christ are just as accepted and just as beloved as any Jewish person who trusts in Christ.

Do you still struggle with the truth that the Lord has brought people from all ethnicities into the family? Perhaps in your mind you say ‘but of course not, I know that God loves everybody and that people from any group can be saved‘. True enough, but what happens when they start coming to ‘your’ church? Have you fallen into the mindset that ‘your’ culture’s church is a haven and refuge from ’them’ whoever ‘they’ happen to be?
In the end will we follow the example of our Lord who gladly welcomed the outcast, the stranger and those who were ‘different’ into His family or will we react like some who sit at the wedding reception, look across the room and wonder ‘what in the world was on the Lord’s mind when He invited ‘them’ into the family‘?

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


FellowElder said...

I appreciated this reflection... from the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"-styled intro to the meditations on Christ's work and our mission. There's a lot going on in that passage that, like all Scripture, is tremendously profound.

One thing that struck me is how Christ calls this woman to himself without fudging theological truth. He corrects her mistaken notions of worship and God, even as He crosses the ethnic and religious bounds. I was struck by how often the response is to go into the theological bunker and "protect" the truth rather than come out and engage. We do a lot of isolationism in the name of "protecting the truth," when perhaps the best way of protecting the truth is proclaiming it to all.

Good meditation, brother. I'm grateful for you and the Lord's work in/through you.

Grace, peace and love,

Jim Pemberton said...

I heard a sermon on this recently by Dr. Ed Yarbrough who observed that the disciples would have had to have passed the woman on her way to the well as they went into town. Did they say nothing to her? Indeed, they were amazed to find that Christ had spoken with her upon her arrival at the well. Lesson to the disciples - the gospel is also for people we aren't comfortable speaking with. Christ would have for us brothers and sisters we might have trouble associating with. We should learn to expand our cultural comfort zones within the boundaries of truth for our unity in the Kingdom of Heaven.