Giving Up Superiority

John 4: 5-42               NIV, 1652

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

10 Jesus answered her, “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.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”


  1. For the past several weeks we have been working with “Giving Up” for Lent. Each of these messages challenge us deeper that the typical Lenten “Giving Up” – ice cream, the internet, chocolate or something else.
  2. Giving up control and giving up expectations are much more difficult that giving up candy or soda or beer.
  3. We struggle with these ideas of giving up, don’t we?
  4. Today we now address another difficult “giving up” – giving up superiority. We ask ourselves, I do not have any superiority – I am older, or I am a Christian or I just go about my business. But I think that we may dismiss this to quickly – let’s see why in the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well that we can easily find our attitudes and views about other people that have shaped us over our lifetime.
  5. The ancient Jewish reader of this story understood the conflict and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans.
  6. What is it about Samaritans that Jews don’t like?  Well, it stems from Old Testament history.
    1. Samaritans believe that they have the true connection with God and that they are the original chosen ones.   
    1. Now we have to be careful with the history. A thousand years before Jesus the Jewish Kingdom was united.
    1. But about 1000 BC, after the second son of Solomon, the kingdom was divided — Israel and Judea. Samaria was the capital city of Israel and the capital of Judea was Jerusalem   
    1. Israel was the first to fall, conquered by Assyria.  And though the population was carted off into captivity, the Bible recalls that they never returned.  The Samarians never repented of their sinful ways.
    1. Judah, however, is carried off a couple hundred years later by Babylon in about 500 BC. During their time in captivity, the Jews, the people of Judah, repented of their wickedness and God sends Cyrus, King of Persia to free them from their bondage.  The Jews returned home to their lands.
  7. There are a couple pieces to this. 
    1. First, Jews and Samaritans were at war with each other almost constantly through the books of Kings.  But when you combine that with the fact that Judah returned and Israel didn’t, the Jews turned their bitter feelings toward Samaritans into superiority. 
    1. The Jews felt they alone were God’s people.  
    1. And they lorded it over the Samaritans. 
    1. Not much different from how the Pharisees treated other Jews, especially the “known sinners.”
  8. I need to lay some groundwork for us to see the depth of this story about the Samaritan woman and Jesus and especially how relevant it is to us today as we examine what it means to give up superiority.
  9. First of all, the two main characters in this story in the Gospel of John are Jesus and the Samaritan woman. 
    1. One is a man, the other a woman.
    1. One is a Jew and the other a Samaritan. 
    1. One is without sin and the other has a dubious reputation.
  10. Oh, how we love to feel superior to that woman. We’ve dismissed her for centuries. Her behavior, lewd and wanton, disgraceful, disgusting, disreputable, despicable. We dismiss her without getting to know her. She’s invisible.
  11. Clearly, from a worldly perspective and specifically from the Jewish cultural perspective of the ancient Middle East, Jesus is this woman’s superior. 
    1. He is a man in a male-dominated society.
    1. He is of pure Jew lineage as opposed to her mixed Samaritan heritage. 
  12. And Jesus wins hands down when it comes to moral integrity.   
  13. But rather than acting superior, Jesus does some interesting things that create an environment of mutuality – things that open the door for a heart to heart encounter on equal footing.
    1. Jesus meets the woman on her own turf – Samaritan soil – at a place she frequents on a daily basis. 
    1. Now because of the deep hatred between the two races, Samaria was a place most Jews avoided, but as is typical, we find Jesus going outside most peoples’ comfort zones. Jesus always goes outside the box.
  14. Jesus asks the woman to give him some water.
    1. Now remember this is a man who performs miracles. 
    1. In John’s Gospel he has just turned water in wine, but in this moment, he recognizes that he and the woman can help each other; He is thirsty, and the woman has a bucket, her soul is parched, and he can quench that kind of thirst. 
  15. Her reputation has left her isolated, that is why she comes to the well alone in the heat of the day instead of with the other women in the cool of the morning.
    1. She is a lonely outcast and her spirit is bone dry.
  16. Despite religious and cultural taboos between men and women and Jews and Samaritans, Jesus engages this woman in conversation – He obviously already knows everything about her, yet he listens as she speaks, and responds in such a manner that she knows she is both known and heard.
  17. Jesus tells her what he has to offer – living water – the kind of spiritual refreshment that satisfies her dry soul – a love that will fill her up and sustain her regardless of her past or present circumstances.
  18. Jesus didn’t let the culture around Him detract from His ministry. 
    1. Jesus wasn’t about to let the opinions of others harm the soul of people. 
    1. Jesus reached out to a woman who was hurting. 
    1. He reached out to a sinner to offer her the Gospel, the message of salvation that she, and her people, needed to hear.
  19. This isn’t the only time Jesus ever broke society’s norms for the sake of the Gospel. 
    1. Dining with tax collectors and prostitutes as we have seen in previous messages, didn’t sit well with the Pharisees.  But Jesus didn’t care. 
    1. He was building relationships as a means to share with them the message of salvation. 
    1. Jesus didn’t let the Pharisees and the teachers of the law lord their superiority over Him.
  20. God’s Word, and God’s message of salvation, are far more important and superior than any lines we draw in the sand, any distinctions about people that we make among us. God’s word is more important to all of us regardless of the divisions that we hold in our hearts.
  21. Before I continue, I would like to remind you about a poem that we read at Christmas Eve. It was written by Howard Thurman.

Now the Work of Christmas Begins

  1. When the song of the angels is stilled,
    1. when the star in the sky is gone,
    1. when the kings and princes are home,
    1. when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
    1. the work of Christmas begins:
    1. to find the lost,
    1. to heal the broken,
    1. to feed the hungry,
    1. to release the prisoner,
    1. to rebuild the nations,
    1. to bring peace among the people,
    1. to make music in the heart.
  2. Pause
  3. Here is a contemporary story to reflect about the example that Jesus was showing us in the story of the woman at the well.   
  4. The girl was thirsty, and the water was right in front of her. So, she walked up to the water fountain, stood on her tiptoes, and started to take a drink.
    1. It would have been a normal, everyday occurrence, but for the sign that read “Whites Only.”
  5. No sooner had the water crossed her lips than the young girl, Olive Thurman, felt a hand grab her shoulder. It was her father, the great African American scholar, philosopher and theologian, Howard Thurman.
    1. Howard Thurman and his wife had taken their two daughters on a vacation.
    1. From their home in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Thurman was Dean of the Chapel at Howard University, they had traveled throughout the Southern United States.
    1. And now Dr. Thurman was experiencing the pain of explaining to his daughters just as his parents had to him years earlier, that in the South, in the 1930s, young black girls couldn’t just disregard the signs – not at the drinking fountain or bathroom, not at the swimming pool, not at the rest stop playground where the swing-set was for the white children who were traveling with their families.
    1. Do you remember the “whites only” signs? I do!
  6. Thurman told this story throughout his life and described each time the heartbreak he felt in this moment with his thirsty little girl, tears forming in her eyes at this realization. And he cried right along with her and her sister, at the tragedy of having to be the one to teach them to see the way of the world, and of seeing the moment when his daughter first saw and consciously understood the signs that separated the somebodies from the nobodies.
  7. We feel the distance of decades from such a time. But for those young girls and their father, it was a formative experience, as they learned how signs and systems, constructed over time, can separate us, and sort us into categories: somebody/nobody, superior/inferior, inside/outside, those who can drink from the fountain and those who can’t.
  8. We have similar issues of separation or elitism today:
    1. Rich people bribing Ivy League colleges to admit their children who could not achieve the admission on their own accord.
    1. We see the separation between races growing even more distant and Islamophobia is prevalent in many places.
    1. Separation and superiority is still vey much a fact of life in American society and American Christianity.
  9. Maybe you’ve been a person who has felt limited or restricted.
    1. Maybe you’ve been kept from the water in some way.
    1. Or maybe at times in your life you’ve been the one keeping others from drinking deeply, from drawing what they need.
  10. It’s been our way throughout human history – at wells no less than water fountains.
  11. Jesus had a unique talent for ignoring the signs and stepping over the barriers. He almost seemed to enjoy it.
    1. So, in our passage today, one sign reads “Samaria,” and the Gospel of John says that Jesus “had to go there.”
    1. Had to? He was on his way from Judea back to Galilee, which would lead most people to take a left and follow the Jordan River, a steady downhill much of the way until you reach the city of Jerusalem.
    1.  Or you could take a right, as many others did, walking along the coastline of the Sea on a scenic route that ends in the hill country. “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” It’s quite a way to say it, since he didn’t “have to” at all, and most people like him didn’t. Jesus must have wanted to go that way.
  12. The woman at the well is entirely known by Jesus. And this experience of being fully known enables her to know him fully.
  13. She even asks him where God is to be found, “On this mount or another?” To which Jesus replies, “I am.” It’s the first time he says this to anyone. He hasn’t even told the disciples but here he is, telling this Samaritan woman, “I am the very presence of God,” when according to every sign, signal, and construction he shouldn’t be there to begin with.
  14. Sometimes this happens still.
    1. The divides between us fall.
    1. The barriers between who we are and who God calls us to be are suddenly removed.
  15. It happened those years ago to the daughters of Dr. Howard Thurman, standing there next to a sign that rendered them less than, when their father took them up in his arms and said, “Listen, you little girls are really somebody. You are so important and valuable to God that it takes the governor and lieutenant governor and the whole state police force to keep you little girls from that water.”
  16. It happened for a Samaritan woman one day long ago. Jesus told her who she was, what God saw in her. And the promise comes across the centuries to each of us this morning.
    1. “Come and See,” the Samaritan woman shouts to all of us, as she did to her village.
    1. She finds she has a voice she hasn’t used in a while, and so this one among the first to hear in the Gospel of John becomes the first to tell, echoing the Gospel’s core invitation: Come and See.
  17. John says that, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony.”
    1. But then something even more remarkable happens.
    1. They start acting on that belief.
    1. The Samaritans invited Jesus and his friends to stay with them.
    1. And they do, for two days. Jews and Samaritans are eating and drinking together, cooking together, sharing the labor, carrying water, swapping stories, watching children play, and lying down under the same roof at the end of the day. 700 years of signs and markers, conventions and constructions, transcended by Jesus and this woman at a well.
  18. It seems Jesus had to go through Samaria, after all, because that’s where he found all of them. And that’s where he finds us still.
  19. We, as a people, we as Americans, are brittle, and dry, and sometimes divided, separate, with so much holding us apart. We need this water – need to drink deeply and learn again the truth of who we are.
    1. You may wonder as the Samaritan Woman did where this water is to be found?
    1. But remember that it finds you, as it found this woman. When it does, don’t hesitate. Walk right up to it, past anything that would hinder, disregarding any structure that would halt, because God in Christ has never had any regard for our barriers. Not the one who descended to us, emptying himself, even unto death on a cross.
  20. From that cross on that final day, it was right around noon, Jesus says once more, “I thirst.” He was giving up every vestige of status and superiority, so that all of us gathered round might never thirst again.
  21. Thanks be to God.