People Under Construction
Jan 7, 2014 1817
TEXT: John 4:5-42
My topic this morning is “People Under Construction.” I invite you to turn your attention to the word of God as found in John 4:5-42. I will not read the whole passage although that would be valuable. I will only read a couple of verses. Please look at vv. 39-42.
39Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And because of his words many more became believers.
42They 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.”
If there is one lesson that most of us are poor at learning it is that Christians are people under construction. Or maybe we just forget quickly when our egos are challenged.
Parents in all ages of time have recognized that children were people under construction. They scold. They punish. They spank their kids. They ground their teenagers. They put their toddlers on time-out. They threaten. Why? Do they do these things because they are just cranky and meddlesome? Sometimes. But most parents have this innate feeling that they are responsible for preparing these kids for a world outside their home. And that world will use its own punishment tactics to draw those kids into line. Parents like to get the first shot to give them a running start at life.
When men and woman get to a certain age we all expect them to be mature. Yet we all know that none of us ever comes to the place where we couldn’t mature a little more. We are people under construction in ways comparable to how children develop.
In today’s scriptural passage we see Jesus dealing with a woman who is a person under construction. I have no desire to spend a lot of time on what she needs to do to be more mature. Some of it is self-evident. The most glaring is that she has some serious problems in her personal relationships—she has had five husbands and the man she is living with is not her husband. She is shocked—not that she has had these problems, but that Jesus knows about them.
Monica Lewinski was once asked by the FBI to surrender her hatpin. Her response was, “If they know about the hatpin, they must know about the affair!” Shocking revelations! What Jesus knew about this Samaritan woman at the well was shocking to her.
The woman in this story was a Samaritan
In today’s story Jesus is in Samaria. Samaria was a section of Palestine between Judah to the south and Galilee to the north and to the west of the Jordan River. This geographical territory was occupied by a group of people called appropriately, the Samaritans. And the Samaritans were the descendents of a group of Hebrews who were left behind when the Babylonians invaded Palestine several hundred years before. The best of the Hebrews had been taken into captivity. The “Samaritans” were the group of people left behind and they had compromised themselves and their God with people of Canaan.
This compromise had involved some very unfaithful behavior. In order to survive these people had indulged in the worship of idols and a number of seriously extreme heathen practices—like human sacrifices, temple prostitution, and burying babies in the cornerstones of their houses. We don’t know to what extent these people participated in these practices—we only have record that this was going on at the time. But for the Jews these people were despicable. They were the backsliders, the outsiders, the sinners, if you will. And so they had apparently earned the reputation for being immoral and loose.
Upon their release from Babylonian captivity the Jews vowed to remain pure and returned to Jerusalem to rebuild it. They adopted a religious focus around the rebuilding of the temple and a delegation of these Samaritans came to Jerusalem asking to help with the building of the house of God. They wished to reform. They hoped to reestablish themselves as real Jews—people who apparently were faithful even though they had slipped away.
But they were spurned. If there was one things that the Jews felt they had learned from their captivity it was the dangers and the evils of slipping away from God into idolatry. They had learned that bad associates were bad influences and they wanted nothing more to do with people whom they considered to be less spiritual, even heretical. And so in their effort to stave off one sin they embraced another, namely exclusivism—self-righteousness and they turned the Samaritans away.
No, they would not be allowed to help build a new temple for God’s presence on earth—they were not good enough.
And so there was animosity, even hatred that built up over the years and decades between the Jews and the Samaritans. If a Jew were to travel from Judea to Galilee he would usually go east to Jericho, cross the Jordan River and travel to Galilee on the eastern bank just to avoid going through Samaria. And the Samaritans were glad. They wanted no more to do with the Jews than the Jews wanted to do with them.
The woman was not only a Samaritan, she was a woman
There were two things over which this woman had no control. She could not help that she was born a Samaritan. And she could not help that she was born a woman. But in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day those were insurmountable liabilities and she had nothing to do with either one.
To be born a woman in Jesus’ day was to be born into that half of humanity that was meant to serve men. Women were largely bargaining tools for men. They were traded like cattle but considered less important than cattle. Marriages were arranged and women usually had little to say about any of this. They were kept separate from the important things in life. They were to bear the children, hopefully male children, and while they had some rights those were nothing like the society we live in.
To make matters worse, the Samaritans were spurned by the Jews who sent them back to north. And the Samaritans did what seemed the most logical thing to do: they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim.
When Jesus invites this woman to get her husband so they can talk further, she reveals that she has no husband. No, Jesus says, you don’t. You have had five husbands and you are not marriage to the man you presently live with (v. 18).
At that point she attempts to engage him in theological discussion. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem” (vv. 19-20). When confronted with her personal problems she changes the subject and becomes religious.
What a beautiful example of a person in construction. But you know what you do when you drive through a construction zone—you better slow down or your ticket is doubled. Perhaps you put on a hard hat. Yet an amazing number of people are killed every year in construction zones. Drivers just run right over them. I hope that is not a picture of this church—people in the construction zone just being run over. Because that’s what the church is: the construction zone.
Here is a human being in construction—so low that she has no control even over her own maturing and development.
A Samaritan, a woman. One with whom no Jew would even engage in meaningful conversation. One who no man would even take seriously. Surely a person no Jewish man would treat as an equal or as a person with much in the way of significant opinion. This person has two strikes against her: she is a Samaritan and she is a woman.
But that’s not all
Here is a person who is a Samaritan. Here is a person who is a woman. But here is a person who is divorced five times. And to top it all off, here is a person who is living with a man who is not her husband. Why would anyone spend time with such a hopeless case unless perhaps one was getting paid to do so? This is not a person you would have preach in your church, hold an office, maybe not even vote into membership. After all the church has a reputation to uphold. She would be an extreme embarrassment and she couldn’t hold her homes together how could she have anything to say to the congregation?
So here is Jesus, a man, a Jew, a Rabbi—obviously a righteous man. And the truth of his behavior is startling. He is violating culture in favor of a person.
You learn a person’s religion, a person’s God, a person’s creed, by what that person does in the construction zone. Jesus taught that the way we treat people indicates reveals the walk we have with God. If we are serious about God: in a construction zone do we speed up and run over the people or do we slow down and put on a hard hat. Unless we slow down we will never grasp the all important truth that we are the ones under construction!
As you listen to Christian preachers or watch Christians you begin to notice that for many (maybe most?) Christians the most important value in life is to be right. We do the right things. We say the right things. And if we don’t say the right things or if we don’t do the right things we deserve to be shunned and shut out. And those who say the right things and do the right things deserve to be put on pedestals. They should be the role models. Furthermore, you might be a little extra special if you can point out the wrong in others. If you can put distance between yourself and those who do the wrong things and say the wrong things.
Here is a Samaritan woman who not only did the wrong things, and said the wrong things but she was the wrong thing—wrong class, wrong gender, bad relationships, and now an immoral whore.
And Jesus seemed not to care about any of this—because she’d had nothing to say about any of it. Jesus did not go on the campaign trail for her. He did something infinitely better: he engaged her in conversation. He spoke to her with dignity and shared truth, revealing to her insights hidden in her own closet without condemnation. He revealed to her that he was there to seek and save not condemn and damn. And he did it in a way that stimulated her own sense of worth—her dignity and importance.
Jesus revealed to her that she was a person in construction and that that was okay—essentially treating her with the understanding that life is not static and that we learn every day something about ourselves and the world God created.
Knowing that she was okay there was only one response that in all dignity she could make:continue to seek the process that he had begun in her. He was actually giving herpermission to be in construction!
I want you to notice what happened to this woman’s perception of herself as a Samaritan and as a woman—divorced and immoral—when she accepted Jesus’ perspective of her. She ran back to the city and started telling everyone she saw: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
There was no longer anything hidden. Shock of all shock—she was after all a human being. And what a freedom that brought! To accept that God knows us inside and out; that God accepts us the way we are and begins at his own speed to build a beautiful temple in us to the glory of his purpose on this earth. In the construction area he slows down and puts on his hard hat.
To be freed from the closet where we hide all the unseemly things about ourselves—theskeletons we are afraid to show because we know others will think less of us. The snakes in the closet—the monsters and dragons in the closet. We slam the door and hope nobody sees them. For this woman the skeletons of five divorces were in the closet. She certainly didn’t want Jesus to know that. She wouldn’t want us to know that—we would condemn her. We have our theories about that don’t we—the innocent party, the guilty party. We shun the guilty party and we treat the innocent party with pity or second-class citizenship. After all, these people couldn’t keep their marriage together.
She was a Samaritan. She was a woman. She was a divorced woman. She was having an illicit relationship with a man. And she was busy discussing theology! Whoa! Is this a person in construction? But she knows one thing: good theology can really keep that door locked!
But alas! Jesus has the key to the closet and knows how to open it. Your theology will never keep Jesus out of your closet. And that is your salvation.
If you hide your cancer from your doctor you will die by your cancer. If he discovers it he might be able to do something about it.
She couldn’t help that she was a woman. She couldn’t help that she was a Samaritan. She couldn’t even help that she had five divorces. Divorced people can’t help it. Only non-divorced people think that divorced people can help it. There were a lot of things this woman couldn’t help. But she could be helped by someone who simply considered her “in construction,” “in process,” “in remaking,” “in rebuilding.”
I commend to you this morning, the one who accepts you with your closet and all that you are hiding in it. Allow him to bring you to the place where you accept others with their closets, and rejoice as you see the changes being made in their lives as well as yours.