St. John 4.5-42
“Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee, but it was necessary to go through Samaria.” Well . . . if it was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria to get to Galilee from Judea, it was certainly not a geographical necessity. To go through Samaria to get to Galilee from Judea would be a little bit like driving from Denver to New Orleans by way of Idaho. So the necessity John highlights has nothing to do with short cuts or direct routing. Nor were there any great tourist attractions there that it was necessary for Jesus and the disciples to see. What’s more, Jewish people – and remember Jesus and his companions were Jewish and not Roman Catholic as some of my college students once tried to convince me – Jewish people really hadn’t much use for the Samaritans or their ways of worshipping God – and Jewish people certainly didn’t want to contaminate themselves by coming into contact with Samaritans or even by getting any of the dust of their land on the soles of their sandals. Human necessity would dictate that the good religious people who believed God dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem would make every effort to avoid Samaria. So how could it be necessary for Jesus to go there of all places?
But it was. Necessary. Necessary for Jesus to be found in the company of this ungodly tribe and in the company too of a Samaritan woman. And necessary for Jesus to go against the grain and not only speak with a woman (which nice religious men did not do, unless the woman was a relative) – but it is necessary as well to speak to this particular woman – one who has had a succession of husbands and who lives now with a man who is not her husband . . . perhaps the husband of another? And it is necessary that this little conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman happen at noon – wheb the light at its fullest – just as light at its fullest will shine down upon another thing that is needful – necessarily at noon – and a Friday noon, a Friday that is necessarily called “good.”
It is necessary as well on both these noons too for Jesus to say that he thirsts – and though he himself thirsts, necessary that living water, water unlike any other water, will come from him – for it is necessary to hear that it is from the side of a thirsty, tortured God that life-giving blood and water will flow. Necessary too that the disciples are nowhere to be found on this Samaritan noon – this to foreshadow that they’ll scatter on another noon – and it is necessary that all people recognize from this absence and others that God chooses dim-witted cowards to be his companions.
Back to the well. “But is it necessary,” wonders this unclean woman, “is it necessary to be in the Temple in Jerusalem in order to be in the presence of God?” “The time is coming,” answers Jesus, “and is already here, when God will be present whenever and wherever the wind, the spirit, is speaking the truth about God.” “Well, I do hear,” says this thoroughly ungodly woman, “that Messiah is coming – the one who will proclaim the truth about God.” And so it is necessary now that Jesus say it: “The Great God, I AM, is speaking to you.” And then the disciples reappear. Astonished. Dumb-founded. Speechless. I wonder if they wonder, “Is this shameless conversation with this outsider, outcast, thoroughly unclean woman really necessary?”
And Jesus, without their asking him answers, “Oh yes, necessary, more necessary than the food you’re always worrying about. You want food? Here’s food for you. The seed was sown back in the desert – when your ancestors were proving themselves to be a thoroughly untrusting, kvetching, back-biting lot – whom any self-respecting god would strike dead on account of their ungodly behavior. But instead, from a stone – struck in the side, water, the water of life, gushed forth. And now is the right time; this is the time when that grain sown long ago among an ungodly bunch by a gracious God is reaching its full growth. And when the harvest is fully reaped, then you will eat of that bread which truly gives life.”
And it will be necessary too that Jesus and the disciples will leave Samaria, and upon entering Galilee they will meet up with another one of the ungodly – this time with a royal official – necessary that the royal official’s son be on the verge of death – the son of an ungodly man, and though a child, therefore ungodly too – necessary that an ungodly child be healed – and it is necessary that this happen somewhere between the hours of noon and three.
It will be necessary as well that Jesus go to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – the one where the pagans dwell, the region near to a city named after the imposter god, Caesar, the Emperor – and a city made holy to the enemy. It will be necessary there in that pagan place to be surrounded by the hungry, necessary there that Jesus take a bit of bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to the hungry – necessary that this become extra-ordinary bread – infinite and present and without limit – bread broken to endure unto eternity.
And it will be necessary as well, just as Jesus said to Nicodemus, that the Son of Humanity be lifted high – at noon – among the most ungodly – at a place where the godly people would not go – necessary there that a cursed tree, an instrument of torture and death become the visible throne of the Word Who Was in the Beginning, the Word who was with God, the Word who was God, and without Whom not one thing came into being.
But why all of this – so necessary? Necessary in order that you know that God sent the Son of God, God from God, true God from true God, into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through that One. Saved – from every notion of a wrathful god created in the image of wrathful humanity; that the world be saved from a national, ethnic god; that the world be saved from a god who loves only the good; saved from a god of vengeance; saved from an unfeeling god; saved from a self-absorbed, manipulative god; saved from a god made pliable by a magic word or a magic book; saved from a god who operates according to human rules. The throne of the cross is necessary that you know the God of Life loves the ungodly and wills to be found in all the last places anyone would ever, ever expect God to be found.
And that you have life, the life of the ages, it is necessary, says Jesus, that we be born again – but that will not happen until we die to our old notions of a god whose glory is power and might for the right and the righteous – it is necessary that our old notions of a god die as we stand in the brightest light of the noon-day sun at the foot of the cross – it is necessary there for us to be birthed anew in the blood and the water issuing forth from the body broken.
And being born anew, you, dear people, are born in the image of that One who reigns from the cross – as a people for the ungodly – sent to heal, to feed, to care-for other in your everyday lives – without counting the cost, expecting nothing in return – except possibly the scorn of those to whom your hospitality is extended. It’s called The Way of the Cross. And into this way of daily death and into new life daily; and from life into death of this world’s body and then on into the life of the ages you have been, are being, and shall be reborn. You, washed with Christ and fed by Christ, you – all of you – have eternal life, the life of the ages, and you do, you really do, each day, walk the way of the cross with Christ – whether you or anyone else can see it or know it or not. It is who you are, and it is necessarily so.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.