From time to time, we all find ourselves in places and with people that make us uneasy and feel like we are out of place. As Jesus ministered to the people, He encountered many who felt this way, and those that did have social belonging, Jesus challenged. In John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had full standing within the community, and Jesus makes him question his previous understandings and put Nicodemus unease. Therefore, someone that had always belonged suddenly had to question their belonging.
How many of us have walked into a room and questioned whether we belonged in that place? We might feel as if the people all know each other, or they all dress differently than us, or we might not have the qualifications to be present in this group. Churches and other organizations must muster feelings of belonging to help retain people. However, the belonging must be authentic, just as Jesus shows to people throughout the Gospels.
The transition to John 4 shows Jesus traveling into Samaria, where the observant Jews would not want to speak with any locals because history has dictated the separation of these two related peoples. We allow history and propaganda to be a rationale for separating and breaking down the idea that we or others belong. If we hold tight to Jesus, we belong; if we hold tight to Jesus, we will recognize that others also belong, no matter their background.
Jesus opens belonging to a Samaritan woman and all of us as He speaks to her at Jacob’s well. Jesus opens the door to mercy to this woman and shares freedom from our sin and everlasting life.
So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.John 4:5-42 (ESV)
Many of us come from backgrounds that don’t fit perfectly into the image of an ideal Christian. There are things we have said or done that, in the eyes of God, would preclude us from joining the Kingdom of God. We are sinners and do not deserve any of the blessings of God. Our sin should prevent us from the glory of God, and standing next to Jesus in even our best behavior, we would look as if we do not belong, and thus because of our sin, we deserve death. Due to our sin, we identify with the woman in Samaria. Her sin and her nationality would have kept her away from Jesus. She did not belong, and we do not belong.
In Jesus’ exhausted state, He offers the woman mercy and grace. He approaches the woman and speaks with her in His first act of mercy. She was astonished and shocked because for years, she had been treated as subhuman due to the place she was born and then her sinful lifestyle, but Jesus addressed her humanity. The woman did not know how to respond, but Jesus reveals His divinity to her regardless of societal position. Similarly, Jesus showed us grace and mercy by coming to save us while we were still caught in the trappings of sin. The woman doesn’t immediately understand Jesus’ requests or statements, but Jesus doesn’t retract the benefit due to her misunderstanding. He offers her mercy and invites her into the Kingdom. Mercy opens the door to the Kingdom of God to us.
Just as the door to the Kingdom of God was opened to us through the mercy of Jesus, we need to be merciful with the people that surround us, even those that have harmed us in the past. We are not called to be gatekeepers but rather to help people find their way to the mercy seat of God. Jesus reminds the disciples that they have a task even in their lack of understanding. They are called to bring people before God, sharing with the world the Gospel message. A harvest is waiting, even though they did not plant the crops. God calls His people to answer the message by sharing merciful Grace with everyone, even those that have rejected them. We are both the harvest and the harvesters, and God desires to use us to spread the Gospel to all. Mercy is the invitation, and we must be willing to share mercy indiscriminately.
Jesus providing a merciful offering of grace to the people of Samaria led to a transformation in the community. People that were once shut off from access to God in Jerusalem find freedom and favor in Jesus as they receive life everlasting. We were once shut off from life with God because of sin. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection opened access to the Gospel and transformed life in God’s Kingdom. Those who have received mercy must now share that same mercy with those around us, even if it doesn’t seem like they belong. Through Christ, we now belong and have access to a new life in the Holy Spirit.