"The Exception as a Rule"
Scripture: Psalms 147:1-5; John 4:10-14
Pastor Tom Millner
SpiritSong Worship Center
May 9, 2010
In our scripture from Psalm 147 we read "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit." Keep this Old Testament teaching in mind as we discover more about the limitless understanding and power of love that God demonstrates.
In 1974 I was reading a book by the author Keith Miller titled "The Becomers." He told the story about Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. Something he wrote jumped out of the pages at me. He said, in effect, that Jesus met the woman at the well where she was for who she was, as she was. Then he said something that had profound impact on my life and on the lives of a few others. He said; "If God accepts you as you are, where you are for who you are, how dare you not accept yourself." I paused and prayed; "God, help me to understand and accept in myself that which you love and accept in me." The tears began to flow as I began for the first time to wrap my thoughts around the implications of what had just happened. I cried "anything but that, Lord," and then accepted that His grace was sufficient to see me through. I prayed that He would lead me to understand the significance of being His creation, just as He had made me.
The story of the woman at the well is a powerful one. You see, because Jesus was a good Jew and abided by the Law. By the rules this should not have happened. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews and looked down upon by those of pure Jewish descent. Israel was overtaken in 720 BC by the Assyrians and the majority of the Jews were taken into captivity. Those who remained in the homeland mingled with and ultimately married the "pagans" who lived near by. They kept much of their Jewish roots, however, and even built a temple for worship at Mt. Gerizim, the place believed to be the location where Abraham offered Isaac. When the Jews returned from captivity, they considered the Samaritans to be "half-breeds," unworthy of the inclusion in the nation of Israel – simply because of who they were! A good Jew would not even associate with them, be near them, and much less have a conversation with them. Not only were they despised for their actions, they were despised for their very being! Jesus' encounter was the exception to the rule, but as we've seen time and again in scripture, Jesus' exception is the rule of love!
In Luke 10 we're told the story of the "Good Samaritan" who seeing a Jew lying on the side of the road, who was bleeding from an assault, went to the man's rescue. The Samaritan bound the Jew's wounds, took him to a local hotel and even paid for the stay while the man recuperated. To the Jew, blood was unclean. Touch it or any part of a garment having touched it and you yourself were contaminated and would have to go through a period of seven days of purification to be reinstated into your family or be allowed into the temple for worship. You can see why Jews were just walking by and not giving a hand to the poor guy. Jews, when seeing a Samaritan coming their way along the road, would cross to the other side opposite the Samaritan to avoid and potential contact and thus contamination with the "unclean." Jesus told this story and challenged the "rule" of thumb, pointing out that the exceptional thing that the Samaritan did was the rule of love. The establishment's rules were hurting each other and not honoring God. Now back to the well.
The woman came to the well at noonday. It wasn't the time to be there. Most people came in the morning, before the hot sun was scorching the earth. She came at that time for a reason; the other women of the town would have probably ostracized her since she was divorced several times and currently living with a man who was not her husband. She was not the norm, not a part of the crowd; not one of the "in crowd." Furthermore, to have a Jew and a Rabbi no less, speak to you at this hot desolate place must have seemed out of character and perhaps even a little suspicious to her. Maybe she thought this man was coming on to her? To add to the confusion, Jesus asks her for a drink – A Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, asking for assistance – an exception to the rule! By the rules, there was something exceptional about this man and this encounter. Jesus lets her know that if she only realized who He was, she would be asking Him for a drink of "living water." She responds in essence something like this; "So what are you going to give me water with when you don't have anything to draw it with? This is the same well as Jacob and his clan drank from – are you some greater man than our ancestors?" Jesus then tells her about the water He gives as being that which quenches one's thirst so much that it becomes a living spring for eternal life. Being the practical minded babe she was, she asked Jesus to give her this water then so she wouldn't have to be coming back to THIS well over and over. Sister's not getting it! Jesus breaks the barrier – "Go call your husband and come back." Opps – Sister's on the spot and responds she doesn't have a husband. Jesus then lets her know that He already knows she's had five husbands and is currently living with a man who isn't her husband. Suddenly, He's no ordinary man. She's no fool! She baits Jesus with the age old question about where the proper place of worship is – Jerusalem or Gerizim. Jesus' response is that you worship where you worship and the Jews worship where they worship, but what God is looking for is not a place but rather a state of being – spirit and truth! Then Jesus reveals to her who He truly is. Because of her testimony, many more Samaritans believed.
So, what's the point here? What can we learn from this exchange?
- Jesus meets us where we are! He's not looking for the perfect Christian or the perfect person – He's interested in the REAL one! He doesn't care about our past and what we've done or not done – he cares about touching our hearts in a way that changes our perception of us in His presence forever! If God accepts us where we are, as we are, for whom we are, how dare we not accept ourselves? The rule book of the demanding denominations would have us think that we're unacceptable as we are. Jesus' rule is the exception; He embraces us just as we are.
- Jesus' love opens new doors of understanding! Tradition would have us think that the prejudices of the past are the rules that last. The radical love of Jesus demonstrates that loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul and loving our neighbor as we would our self is an abrupt departure from how the world behaves. Andrew Marin, in his book "Love is an Orientation" states that the right wing fundamentalists give the GLBT community three choices; Change, be celibate, or go to hell. Jesus meets us with a different understanding: He meets us at the well of living water as the unique creations He has made us. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3: 28 that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, (GLBT-LMNOP…AEIOU) for you are ALL one in Christ Jesus." He further states in chapter five of Galatians (5:6) "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumscision (or the other petty things you may concern yourselves with) has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
- When we meet Jesus, everything else seems so unimportant! The woman came to the well out of need for water and out of routine that avoided facing disgrace. What she found was the unlikely presence of a Savior that got her real before Him and loved her to a place of overflowing desire to tell everyone else about Him. Tradition said she couldn't talk with or be near the Jew. The love of God said her tradition was not important – The LOVE of the universe accepted her as she was where she was and suddenly everything that she and others thought to be so significant about her melted away.