May 31 2014
John 4:4-30, 40-42
‘Why are you telling her about Jesus? She’s has her own religion.’ People have sometimes said this when I have tried to discuss my beliefs with those of other faiths. Should Christians share their beliefs with people of other faiths? What would Jesus have said to someone of another religion? In the Gospel’s we mostly see him in discussion with Jews. But in modern times many of us live next to people of other religions. I think the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman gives us a good idea of what Jesus would say and do.
♦ Samaritans practiced a religion that is closely related to Judaism. They believed in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. They believed in worshipping on Mt Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem. They claimed to be descendants of Jacob through his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. They shared the land of Israel with the Jews much like Palestinians do today. They spoke Arabic and Hebrew. Jews would do business with them, but never go into their houses or eat with them. They regarded the cups and utensils of Samaritans to be unclean.
With this understanding the account of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is fascinating. The woman comes to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. It was unheard of for a Jew to do this because he would be using her unclean jar. She says ‘You are a Jew … how can you ask me for a drink?’ And he says ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Oh that is big. There is so much packed into that one sentence! Jesus was asking for a drink, but he knew she was the one who really needed a drink; but not a drink of natural water, but a drink of living water. The ‘gift of God’ is the Holy Spirit who is like living water that wells up within the believer. And the key to getting this gift is the Messiah or ‘who it is that asks.’ Jesus is the one who has the authority to give the Holy Spirit.
The woman then asks ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?’ The Samaritan’s had a special respect for Jacob as the one they descended from. The well he had provided was on their land and they were proud of it. But Jesus responds saying ‘Everyone who drinks this water (Jacob’s water) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.’ In short Jesus was saying, ‘Yes, I’m greater than Jacob because the water I give is everlasting.’
The woman then says ‘Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw.’ I don’t think she is actually serious at this point. She seems sceptical about this belief in living water and is kind of saying ‘Nice thought teacher, I wish it were true?’
Jesus knows she is just playing along so he says ‘Go, call your husband’ and she says, ‘I have no husband.’ Then he says ‘You are right … the fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.’
She is shocked that he knows this and says, ‘I can see that you are a prophet …’ Her perception of Jesus shifts from ‘You are a Jew’ to ‘You are a prophet.’ But this presents a problem because the prophet before her is not of her religion, he is Jewish. So she does what most in her situation would do, she starts comparing the beliefs of Jews and Samaritans saying ‘Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’ And she is expecting Jesus to say that the place to worship is definitely Jerusalem, but he doesn’t. Instead Jesus goes to the heart of what worship is all about and says ‘Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’
Jesus is saying it’s not about a city or a mountain, it’s about your heart. Worship must be by God’s Spirit and with a sincere heart. He also mentions that salvation is from the Jews, and the Samaritan woman knew that he was talking about the salvation of the Messiah for she responds saying, ‘I know that Messiah is coming … he will explain everything to us.’
Both Jews and Samaritan’s saw the prophecies of the Messiah in their Scriptures and were expecting him to be the King of kings, Prophet of prophets, and Priest of priests. In ancient times kings, prophets and priests were anointed for service. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘The Anointed One’ – he was to be the archetype of all who were anointed – or the most anointed of all who get anointed. The word Messiah appears in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. Both the New Testament and the Koran agree that the Messiah is Jesus. And even here at Jacob’s well in Samaria Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, ‘I who speak to you am he.’ At this point I would love to have seen the woman’s face. Few expected to see the Messiah in person.
Her perception of who Jesus was had now shifted from ‘You are a prophet’ to the possibility that he was the Messiah. Armed with this she went and called the Samaritans in her town saying ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.’ And she asked them ‘Could this be the Messiah?’ And they came and listened to Jesus for themselves, and many believed he was in fact the Messiah.
So back to our original question; ‘What would Jesus have said to someone of another religion?’ And we could add ‘How would he have reacted towards a person of another religion?’ I think we can see that firstly Jesus would have done what he could to remove the barriers that stop Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others being friends. If he did it so long ago with a Samaritan woman, he would do it again today. Secondly, Jesus would have cared about the Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim person’s personal predicaments. The fact that the person had different beliefs to him would not have reduced his concern for them. If he was concerned about a woman of a different religion who had been divorced by five husbands, he would be the same with people of other religions today. And if Jesus was confronted by a person of another religion on a controversial issue like ‘Where to worship’ or any of the other issues one could raise, he would simply side step the issue and speak about what was important. Jesus’ most important words to the Samaritan woman were ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Jesus knew that more than anything, even more than knowing where to worship, this woman needed living water. She needed the spiritual water that satisfies our thirst for God’s intimate presence. This living water is the Holy Spirit who comes to live within each person that receives the Messiah. The Holy Spirit gives believers that tangible experience of God that every human heart pants after.
Christians strive to be like Christ (Greek for ‘The Anointed One’), and he taught us to love our neighbour. One of the ways we can love neighbours of another religion is to introduce them to the Messiah so they may receive the living water he offers.
Do you know the Messiah? Would you like the gift of living water that he offers? The Messiah is alive and listening – ask him.
Other Illustrations used: Palestinian photo | Ice-cream for dry religion | Thirst for The Book | A footballer must re-channel his anger.
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