The Samaritan and the Rabbi

Date: March 15, 2020/Speaker: Jon Hauerwas

The Samaritan and the Rabbi

John 4:5-26 and John 4:27-42

We are now adjusting to a new normal. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Quickly, cancellations and indefinite postponements piled up like dominoes affecting concert halls, music festivals, theme parks, and Broadway performances. In the world of sports, professional and college basketball competitions were shuttered. Major League Baseball, The Professional Golf Association, The National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, tennis, and auto racing each faced a similar reckoning.

State governments have now ordered that schools be closed in 18 states, including Ohio. Nationwide, store shelves have been stripped bare of eggs, bread, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. For the foreseeable future, marathons and parades will be placed on hold. Yes. As anxiety has surged, global markets have quaked. Stock markets have slumped. Technology, energy, and government conferences have been halted or gone online. Business has suffered. And, most tragically, some people have become terribly ill or have succumbed to the virus.

This pandemic has made us all more reflective. We are more aware of how often we take our health for granted, and of how rarely we pause to appreciate the freedoms that we enjoy to go and do as we please. While we are now understandably cautious about traveling and equally hesitant to be in physical contact with others, the changes around us seem utterly surreal. Because everyone is a potential carrier, we have begun to view our neighbors with suspicion. Or to steal a line from the biblical narrative, we are all concerned about becoming “unclean.”

In addition to avoiding large crowds, we’ve been encouraged to keep some distance between us. This concept is nothing new. It was often practiced in antiquity. This is why, in the story of the Good Samaritan, several esteemed leaders walked past the man who was beaten and left bloodied on the roadside. It wasn’t that they were callous. It wasn’t that they were bad people. For them, it was a rational decision. They didn’t want to stop long enough to be beaten or robbed themselves – a real possibility. Next, they didn’t want to be ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to fulfill their professional obligations. And, finally, they didn’t want to risk infection from any diseases that the injured man might be carrying.

In that narrative, it was a Samaritan who came along and showed compassion to the injured man by placing him on his animal, leading him to the inn, and paying for his expenses. The Samaritan modeled self-sacrificial love and taught us all what it means to love our neighbor.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus left Judea in the south and traveled north to his homeland in Galilee. In those days, “animosity between Samaritans and Jews [was] an ancient, open secret.” [1]

Therefore, it would have made all kinds of sense that he might avoid the most direct route, taking him through the epicenter of Samaritan country. But, as Andrew Nagy-Benson writes, “Jesus is not merely trying to make good time to Galilee. He is much more intent on revealing his divine nature and helping us see that something good can come out of Samaria.” [2]

And there, in Sychar, a setting “closely associated with God’s promise to Abram, with Jacab’s land, and with Joseph’s burial,” Jesus encounters a woman whose life is about to change forever. At a famous well, this Jewish Rabbi with no bucket speaks with a woman he has never met about something that he calls “living water.” [3]

In the course of their conversation, it becomes apparent that while the two have never met, Jesus seems to know everything about her. And it is this incredible exchange which becomes the source of the woman’s willingness to consider the possibility that Jesus might be the Messiah.

Much like the parable of the Good Samaritan, this passage is scandalous. Jesus would have been expected to avoid this woman. Or to put it in the language of a global pandemic, this is a woman with whom he should have been practicing social distancing. The disciples were astonished that even there, in Samaria, Jesus has some very purposeful ministry to attend to.

Friends, while I am not suggesting that we ought to go out into the world and hug our neighbors in the midst of a global pandemic, I do believe that the church has some very important work to do at a time when people are both isolated and anxious.

(The rest of this week’s sermon was offered without notes).

[1] Andrew Nagy-Benson, Connections, 72.

[2] Nagy-Benson, 74.

[3] Nagy-Benson, 72.

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