Life Changing Encounters

What has been the most interesting life changing encounter you have had? In today’s lectionary gospel reading from John chapters 4 and 5 we have the famous story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus. We are familiar with the story. Jesus is in Judea and is headed to Galilee. The shortest route to get to his destination would be to go through Samaria. Long-held religious and ethnic division between Samaritans and Jews undergirded entrenched enmity between the two and because of this, it was often the case that Jews would resort to going the long way round to get to Judea or Galilee rather than go through Samaria. Jesus chooses to go via Samaria. Let us pause for a moment to consider the enormity of his decision to take a detour. What will people think and say or even do to him? Note the episode of Jesus cleansing the temple has taken place earlier in John 2:14-20. In Mark 11:18 and Luke 19:47 following the temple cleansing episode states “the religious leaders” and “leaders of the people” were out to find a way to kill him. So a background to the scene at the well in John’s gospel would be that Jesus is not popular with some and he has a price on his head.

So, Jesus finally arrives at the water well in the Samaritan city of Sychar. He is thirsty and hungry. It is there, at the well, carrying out what may have been for her an everyday chore that the unnamed Samaritan woman encounters Jesus sitting on the well resting his tired and dirty feet. Jesus asks her for a drink of water and in shock, the woman responds: “How is it, that you, a Jew, ask of me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).The NRSV text has in brackets (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans). To cut a long story short, the encounter has a transforming effect on the woman and she returns immediately back to “the city” to tell “the people” of her amazing encounter with Jesus. It was such that verse 39 states clearly: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony”. Wait. There’s more. They go on to invite Jesus to stay with them. And he does. For two days. Just think about it. Two days of living with the enemy of your people! Does Jesus feel unsafe?

I wonder what was running through Jesus’ mind during the two days he stayed with them. Did he immerse himself and experience their culture, custom and food? Did he listen to their stories and see the effects of their marginalisation as a consequence of the religious intolerance and racism?

Many have pointed to the transformation the woman and her Samaritan community had experienced as a result of their encounter with Jesus. I would like to add another perspective and ask the questions – To what extent was Jesus transformed by his encounters with the woman and the Samaritan community? To what extent could these encounters have contributed to the way Jesus would carry out his ministry?

Friends, I want to conclude with a challenge. This week, I challenge you to intentionally seek to meet someone whom you normally would not be inclined to go out of your way to encounter. It could be some person in our congregation of HXUC who comes from another culture or it could be someone from, say, the Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist communities. It could be someone with mental illness, a single parent or someone suffering grief following the death of a spouse. Whoever you seek to meet be open to how the encounter could be transforming for you both as you seek to minister the love of God.

That’s what Jesus was doing on the day he chose to take a detour.

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