Can This be the Saviour of the World?

Can This be the Saviour of the World?


Text: John 4


‘Can this be the Saviour of the World?’ So asks the Samaritan woman after confronting a stranger in the heat of the day at Jacob’s well in Samaria. ‘Can this be the Christ?’ she asks as she reviews an intense and transforming experience with one who at the beginning of their conversation she addresses as antagonist and then progressively as teacher, then as prophet, then, finally as Messiah, the one exposing the meaning and destiny of her life. For John, that woman’s question, and her experience, coincides with our own. He illuminates in this confrontation the ultimate unity of humankind resting in one whom we may finally call Christ.


So can this be the Christ? Who do we see at the well? Well, we see, first of all, the Galilean and the Samaritan. From John’s point of view, they represent not simply individuals, but ethnic siblings – Semites, both of them – for whom turf, tradition, and culture overlap, but for whom familiarity over the years has bred a virulent mutual contempt. In other words they, the Jews and Samaritans, did not like each other, considered each other to be heretical and not truly followers of God.


And yet what happens at this meeting? We see our Galilean operate as if no breach exists. We see our Galilean, Jesus, whom John understands to represent ‘embracing community.’ We see the Galilean treat the Samaritan neither with contempt nor with condescension, but with full recognition of deep and full humanity. ‘May I have a drink?’ he asks, with neither hostility nor superior bearing – ethnic and national lines treated as irrelevant!


Can you imagine what difference we might see if the uniting reality we see at Jacob’s well were operative in our churches, in our cities and towns? We live still with our equivalent of the Galilean-Samaritan division; we see it in struggles over our schools, we witness it in housing patterns, in our club memberships, even in our church membership. At the well of Jacob, we see Christ, evident as dynamic love embracing differing nations, drawing us into solidarity and communion.


But we see more than that. we see a Galilean man and a Samaritan woman. Watch carefully, for here again John interprets the Christ as the source of inclusive community. Remember? The disciples come to the well, they discover Jesus talking to a woman, they marvel at this exchange, and challenge neither the woman with the question, ‘What do you wish?’ nor Jesus with their curiosity  and surprise: ‘What do you want with her?’ Do you see what John is doing? Here, again, he dissolves contempt and inferiority. A woman in the surrounding culture counts for nothing. But John and the community from which he writes confess: man and woman in the domain of the inclusive Christ exist in their full humanity with and for one another. Traditions, cultures, social structures, ideologies providing deference to anyone because of gender collapse where the inclusiveness we call Christ permeates the life of the community.


And yes, can this be the Christ who, in John’s ancient imagery, takes the religious tradition of the Jew, whose religious home lies in Jerusalem and the Samaritan, whose religious home sits on the side of Mount Gerazim? Can this be the Christ who points beyond the parochialism, the orthodoxy of both Mount Gerazim and Jerusalem, toward a new loyalty described as worship in ‘spirit and in truth’?


Here our evangelist abolishes religion. He takes our isms, our religious rites, our institutions, our sacred terminology, our theologies, and pious words, and he walks right through them. and he exempts none of us. John sees, in the literal commitment of Jews to Jerusalem and of Samaritans to Mount Gerazim, the figurative commitments all of us make to certain places or special buildings that separate us from one another. John sees our routine religious practice as diversion from the investment the loving Christ invites us to make in a suffering, divided, splintered humanity. We’re free at last, announces the evangelist from those sectarian, parochial, and orthodox identities we seek in our insecurity – liberated finally to be instruments of justice, peace, and joy bound to recreative, inclusive love we call Christ.