John 4: 5-42
I was at Uni yesterday teaching evolution, it’s only for 1st years so the level is quite low. To open the lab I asked the kids to do a brain storm on the board, dividing the board in half. On one side they were to write all the reasons they could think of as to why one shouldn’t learn about evolution, and on the other side all the reasons one should.
On the negative, most said it was boring or there were too many facts, but they all had long positive lists, which included finding out more about who we are, where we have come from, and how we are to go forward. Some also included the idea that evolution gives us a window of how related we are to one another and to all of creation.
However, all my groups said that one reason not to learn evolution was because it clashed with faith. Or as one smarty pants put it, God says no!
Although I was expecting this, it still comes as a shock. They all think you can’t believe in evolution and God, as though the two are mutually exclusive.
I always like to address this idea subtly, and explain that while there are some people of faith, all faiths, who believe the bible literally and therefore might find evolution tricky, the vast majority of people see their scriptures as story, myth, poetry, prose and some history woven together into a message about what it is to be human and where and how we find the divine.. And they wouldn’t have a problem with the idea that we come from a line of monkeys or are even related to broccoli.
We didn’t discuss it further but it’s crazy how that idea persists.
In some ways it’s about knowing. They, as 17 yr olds, generally think the only way of knowing is through science. Give me the facts and I will understand the world. But there is another way of knowing, what Rob Bell called mythos, about what lies beneath the facts, that lies in our experiences and our awareness at a very deep level. It cannot be measured other than our outward reality, of how we live and interact with people.
I think this is what the reading today from John is all about. And because we see in Jesus the God of our experience, we understand it through his eyes, his life, his teachings. He leads us on the path of knowing.
Today we have the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jacobs well. This, while following the same theme as the Nicodemus story we heard last week, operates from a completely different perspective. Rather than a pious well off Jew, who could not get this head around the spirit of God being present in all, and giving life to all, regardless of whether you believed in his miracles or followed the Torah law, the facts of his day, we have a Samaritan women, despised by the Jews. A woman who had very little power or position in society, and was probably also a sinner and outcast, considering her marital status. So Jesus speaks to a Samaritan, a woman and a Jew. Already very countercultural and probably quite dangerous.
What is the message? Jesus quickly moves from his request for well water to his offer of living water. As with the born again statement from last week, the phrase has both earthly and heavenly connotations. Jesus is offering the spirit of life, the living water of God, that is more true than the well water, or a spring to quench the woman’s thirst. Rather this is a spring that leads to love and compassion, justice and peace. It is as essential as water, leading us to a life that can be rich and full of meaning, or as Nev would say, to fullness of life. A truth hidden behind his words.
But there is more to the story, that also speaks to us about how we should live with one another. Another hidden layer.
The Samaritan woman, thinks firstly that Jesus is a prophet, and then maybe the Messiah. Either way she bears witness to what he has said, which is itself shocking. Why would the town people take the word of this outcast woman about a Jewish man they had never met? The power of the woman’s faith alone, contrasting with Nicodemus’s official authority is amazing.
So the story today is also a story of inclusion. From Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman, God’s love is not simply for the Jews from whom the story begins but for the entire world. Gods spirit is in all and for all people, not just the rich and well off, not just the educated and elite, but all people. Black white, rich or poor, male or female.
And not just for those who are righteous, or think they are righteous. We are human and make mistakes, but the divine presence does not leave on a whim and return when we get things right. God is on the journey with us. Life is messy and the God of the universe is right there with us.
As Jack Spong says, “Jesus is a barrier breaker. Before him falls the human division first between Jew and Samaritan then between women and men and thirdly between sinner and saint. A vision of the realm of God begins to come into view”.
So whether you believe the story really happened or not, or whether the well is really “the well” found in Israel, doesn’t matter. For this is the essence of who Jesus was to the writer of John. Radical, inclusive, loving and compassionate. Jesus represented, reflects, embodies God in these characteristics, these qualities.
As Paul Tillich puts it, “the particularity of Jesus life and message points to the universality of God’s love and presence”. Every person is a God carrier, a tabernacle of the holy spirit.
So Jesus points us to a grander vision of life, for us and everyone and for all of creation, one that everyone can experience.
This is the truth of this story. A truth of his story. A truth as powerful as anything science can dish up.