(Below is the text largely as preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York.)
Our New Testament reading is the familiar story of the Samaritan woman by the well. It is meant to be a shocking story. The twelve disciples were certainly surprised. Now you might have been somewhat surprised by it the first or second time that you heard it but I would imagine that it was less surprising every time after that. But I think that I can still shock you with this story by pointing out a couple details from the context that you may never have tied together before. I never tied these things together until someone pointed them out to me. First, do remember how the Gospel of John begins? Yes, “In the beginning.” Do you remember any other book of the Bible that begins that way? Yes, Genesis. So think about the story of Genesis. Then in John 3, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “bridegroom.” Now if you have a bridegroom then you need what? Yes, a bride. There are a couple stories in Genesis where someone goes to find a bride. In fact, the longest story in Genesis is the one where Abraham’s servant went looking for a bride for Isaac. Let me read you a few verses of that story:
The next time someone went looking for a bride was Jacob:
So Abraham’s servant went looking for a bride for Isaac and found Rebekah at a well in a foreign country. Isaac and Rebekah’s son Jacob found his bride Rachel at a well in a foreign country at noon. Now if we are thinking Genesis and Jesus Christ is the bridegroom then we should expect Jesus to find His bride at a well in a foreign country. Since he comes to Jacob’s well we might even expect Jesus to find His bride at noon. And given how remarkable both Rebekah and Rachel were for their beauty and purity we might expect to find that God the Father would choose an absolutely spectacular bride for His beloved Son. And then we read this:
- Surprisingly the bride of Christ is a mix of Jews and Gentiles.
- To say that many Jewish people would have been shocked by the idea that the bride of the Jewish Messiah was a Samaritan would be an understatement. To the Jewish people there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.” The Samaritans also traced their lineage to Jacob, thus when she was speaking with Jesus she said, “our Father Jacob.” But the Samaritans had begun their own religion sacrificing on a mountain that God had not chosen and they had intermarried with people from other lands who had been forced to move there. The Samaritan woman was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, which is worse than just being a Gentile. Thus normally Jewish people would take the long way around rather than pass through Samaria where they might (God forbid!) encounter a Samaritan. But verse four says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” Jesus had to pass through Samaria because Jesus had a divine appointment to meet His bride at a well in a foreign country. The woman God had chosen for Jesus was part Jewish and part Gentile.
- It was just as scandalous to many Jewish people that the church included Jews and Gentiles. I take it that you know that Jesus did not marry a woman during this life despite the popular fictions that have been circulating for centuries now. The true story is more scandalous than the fiction that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. The New Testament teaches that the bride of Christ is His church. Therefore, this Samaritan woman by the well is a type of the church. Just as she was part Jewish and part Gentile, so too the church would include Jews and Gentiles. Much of the New Testament is dealing with the implications of this truth – that the Gentiles did not need to become Jews in order to be saved and numbered among the people of God. And so the church today consists of Jews and Gentiles, people from every nation under heaven, people of every race and ethnicity including many who do not know which box to check on a census, both those who have grown up in the church as well as those who came to faith as adults, and people who belong to many different denominations even including many who belong to our own. This is Christ’s surprising bride.
- Furthermore, the bride of Christ is a sinner who becomes a virgin.
- As if it were not enough that the woman at the well was a Samaritan she also had been married five times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. It is pretty clear that Jesus was saying that she had been married and divorced five times. (Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus calls this adultery in Matthew’s Gospel. But He doesn’t have to tell her that – she was well aware of her sin and shame and could see that He knew the whole story.) Then when man number six came into the picture she dropped the pretense and did not even bother to marry the guy: they just lived in sin. She was not remarkable for her purity, she was defiled by sin and full of shame. This is why she was there at noon during the heat of the day. Women normally went to the well in the cool of evening, that’s when Abraham’s servant found Rebekah. But the Samaritan woman was too ashamed to go to the well in the cool of evening so she went at noon. Then she met man number seven, the perfect man, Jesus. And when she ran back into town she was a virgin engaged to marry Him. Her shame even became her testimony – she said, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
- As scandalous as this story is to religious people, this is our story. We were not remarkable for our purity when we met Jesus. Like the tax collectors and prostitutes who flocked to Jesus, we each personally knew that we were defiled by sin and knew that we were full of shame. But after meeting Jesus our shame became our testimony, and we began to invite others to come and see a man who knows our every sin and yet loves us anyway.
- Perhaps the most surprising thing about the bride of Christ isn’t that she is a convert from a foreign country nor that she was a sinner but that Jesus loves her even though she is unlovely.
- Although the Samaritan woman was not stunningly beautiful like Rachel but rather unlovely like Leah, Jesus loves her. Laban had to trick Jacob into marrying Leah. Jacob didn’t love her. He loved the beautiful Rachel. And here is this Samaritan woman who has gone from one man to the next looking for acceptance and love in much the same way that Leah gave birth to son after son wondering when Jacob might pay attention to her and love her. Here is this Samaritan woman who has an ugly sunburn going to get water at noon everyday and no doubt with everything she has faced whatever beauty she may have had has faded away. And she asked Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Indeed, Jesus is greater than Jacob because He loves the unlovely and can make us beautiful.
- Today we can find the church rather unattractive because of our remaining sin but surprisingly Jesus loves us. No one is tricking Jesus into marrying us. Jesus loves the unlovely and He took our sin to the cross and He is healing our sunburn so that we will be stunningly beautiful on the day of the wedding. Let that be our testimony! Hallelujah!