By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 11:1-44
Catholic priest and mystic Richard Rohr writes that for some Christians, the title “Christ” seems to be simply a last name for Jesus. The gospel of John is emphatic in reminding us that the one whom this gospel proclaims is both fully human and fully divine. Sometimes Jews and Muslims have remarked to me that, from their perspective, Christianity does not seem to be a monotheistic religion. It appears, to some at least, that Jesus and God the Father function as two different, though cooperative, gods.
But that is not the faith that we Christians proclaim. Among disciples of Jesus, the historical Jesus and God Almighty are one in the same and if that essential tenant of our faith has never given you pause, or baffled you, or seemed a mystery beyond your ability to explain; well, then it is likely you’ve never given it much thought at all for the implications of that belief change everything.
Now, no story within John’s gospel more powerfully reveals Jesus as God and human than this morning’s story of the dying and raising of Lazarus. Jesus seemed to have had a special relationship with this family. Their home seems to have been a place where he went to relax and unwind. It was his “home away from home;” or perhaps, more truthfully, his home… since all of our gospels reveal Jesus as being continually on the move and never in one place for long. So this was the place Jesus could circle back to for rest and renewal and the simple blessing of food, friends and fellowship. It’s significant also that Bethany, the home of Lazarus, was located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In John’s gospels, Jesus is in and out of Jerusalem multiple times. And, with each trip, he’s getting himself into more and more trouble with the religious establishment. But this morning’s story will be the straw that broke the religious establishment’s back, so to speak. Bringing a dead man back to life is too sensational and controversial to simply ignore. After Lazarus is raised, the religious leaders finalize their plan to put Jesus to death. In fact, they gave considerable thought to killing Lazarus as well; burying the evidence, one might say.
So with that additional background let me return to the theme of this gospel story and this sermon series. We’ve been talking about spiritual practices that have their roots in Judaism. Now a spiritual practice is something we do to strengthen our relationship with Jesus. The title of this morning’s sermon is “Good Grief” and that might seem like an oxymoron. If you have ever lost a loved one, your grief likely wasn’t a very “good” feeling. And even more bizarre might it seem to consider the experience of grief as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. But, it is. Painful though it is, grief can draw us closer to God because there ought to be something distinctive about the way Christians grieve. I believe that Christians can grieve in a way that honors their relationship with the deceased and with God and even honors themselves. And this gospel story provides a beautiful model for that.
Jesus, if we take this story seriously, never lost sight of who he was and what he could do; yet that did not prevent him from feeling or expressing grief. While in the presence of Martha, Jesus speaks with strength and courage the truth of our faith: that he is the resurrection and the life and that those who trust in him will never die. Jesus knew his power; he knew his power was greater than the grave. He is one with God the Father and he remains faithful to that relationship. His gospel words that affirm life eternal honor who he is and honor who he is in relationship to God the Father; that they are one and one in their purpose of Jesus coming to grant life to those who are his friends.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?[i]
Jesus grieved. We see it revealed in his encounter with Mary. His power over death doesn’t diminish the sorrow and the pain he feels within this story. Jesus cries. One word in this story is a rarely occurring Greek word that is not easily defined. It can mean to be upset or agitated, or even angry; a word that spans the semantic gamut for feelings we all experience in the midst of grief. Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Jesus wept… He wept tears for his friends Martha and Mary in their grief; tears over the loss of his friend Lazarus; tears about the frailty of life and the randomness with which it was snuffed out; tears that no one seemed to understand what he was about, much less believe it; tears over the enormity of what he had been given to do and how alone he was.”[ii] Now, I don’t know if Jesus had ALL of those feelings Taylor attributes to him. But one can’t deny that, within this story, Jesus is a bundle of emotions that he doesn’t try to stuff down; he lets them loose in all their messiness to such a degree that he is criticized for it. Preacher Kendall McCabe writes that such weeping “means to identify with another’s pain and sorrow and to admit it as our own. When Jesus wept beside the tomb of Lazarus he was weeping with every person who has ever lost a loved one to the power of death.”[iii] The tears Jesus sheds honor Lazarus and Mary and Martha and the friendship the four of them shared. Jesus’ display of emotions cause some to remark about how much he must have loved Lazarus while others criticize him for not doing more. I mean, he’d made a lame man walk and opened the eyes of a man born blind. Surely Jesus could have done more; could have come through for them a little better and a little sooner.
Friends, the grieving of Jesus provides a pattern for us. When we grieve, we ought never to stuff down our emotions or be influenced by criticism from others. That is, perhaps, an important message for the whole church. Sometimes we try to tell people how they should feel or act in the midst of grief; what they are ready or not ready to do. And sadly, sometimes we use their relationship with Jesus as ammunition to lop at people, telling them how happy they should be that their loved one is now with Jesus. That is good news; but it is good news they might not yet be ready to hear. I have a poster called “Lessons from a Dog.” One of the lessons is this: “When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.”[iv] Now, the nuzzling part might not always apply or be appropriate. But, when someone we love is grieving, perhaps the best we can do for them is to be silent and sit with them.
The experience of Jesus affirms for us the good-ness of grieving. People need to be free to express any and all tangled emotions when someone they love dies. And those emotions, even expressions of anger, are a way for them to grow in their relationship with God. After all, no relationship can grow if we can’t let it all out and speak our minds and our feelings truthfully.
Friends, Easter is coming soon. But first we must journey through Holy Week. It begins next Sunday. It begins with a parade and palms; it concludes with betrayal and death and grief. But Easter is coming; a day when we celebrate not only the power of Jesus over death but when we find comfort in remembering that Jesus knew our grief and our sorrows; that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our journey through the lonesome valley of loss and grief can draw us closer to God; closer to the one who became one of us; the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.[v]
[i] Lyrics from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” #526 in The United Methodist Hymnal; United Methodist Publishing House; 1989.
[ii] Mixed Blessings by Barbara Brown Taylor. Cowley Publications; Cambridge, Mass; 1998; p. 120
[iii] Dr. Kendall McCabe was my seminary Homilectics Professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton. I had these notes on this story and am certain of their origin; only that they were part of a sermon or lecture given by Dr. McCabe.
[iv] Taken from All I Ever Learned from a Dog by Roger Knapp. http://www.rogerknapp.com/inspire/ilearned.htm
[v] See John 1:14
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
Origen: “the practice of hospitality does not simply mean that we should entertain those who come to us. It means also that we should go out and invite others to come in.”
Meals are the primary object around which hospitality centers.
In the ancient world, meals were ceremonies – events in which role or status is affirmed.
Those at table together generally shared a common set of ideas and values and frequently a common social position as well. What, where and with whom one eats were critical questions.
Again this is related to holiness – the idea of being set apart – and purity.
In the ancient Roman world, when meals were held that included those of varying social rank, they were frequently relegated to a different room to eat different food. Thus Pliny the Younger writes (see p. 381).
A pastor serving a poor, rural Appalachian congregation was visiting with members who requested that he remain and eat supper with them. What they served him was refried beans. By their own admission, they’d been refried three times. They were swimming in grease and, as the pastor looked down into his bowl, he saw several little fruit flies swimming in there as well. He wanted, desperately, to decline their offer of hospitality. But then he recalled the bible verse from Luke, chapter 10 in which Jesus sends out the 70 to minister in his name and he instructs them to “eat what is set before them.”[i] Remembering that scripture, the pastor ate those beans. Shortly thereafter, he visited his doctor and shared with the doctor his concerns about what he’d consumed. The doctor gave him some comfort by reassuring him that, if those beans were really as greasy as he’d described, than all that excess grease and fat probably allowed the flies and anything else to just glide right through. That pastor knew and understood the value of hospitality in our Christian tradition.
This morning’s gospel story is a story about hospitality and how the simple gift of hospitality can bring dramatic change to our lives and our communities. In the ancient Mediterranean world, meals were the primary event around which hospitality centered. Our bible is filled with stories about meals. Genesis chapter 18 records the story of three mysterious travelers who cross paths with the ancient patriarch Abraham. When Abraham sees them, he runs out of his tent, chases them down, bows before them, and implores them to receive his hospitality. He invites them to rest and draws water that they may wash their feet. Then a tremendous meal is prepared and set before the visitors: bread, curds, milk and a calf that has been slaughtered and prepared. After eating, these three mysterious travelers proclaim a promise, confer a blessing upon Abraham and his wife, Sarah, saying: “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” It is a story illustrating the cycle of blessings that are unleashed through the practice of hospitality.
In ancient Mediterranean culture, meals functioned as ceremonies that affirmed the roles and relationships between the diners. Hospitality was one of the most significant values in the ancient Mediterranean world. It was related to honor; another highly important value. So people were very cautious about table fellowship. More often than not, hosts did not observe an open table because one’s dinner guests reinforced or affirmed the reputation of the host. Those who ate together generally shared a common set of ideas and values, as well as a common social position.
Jesus, however, preferred an open table approach. After all, “exclusive fellowship required an exclusive table, while inclusive fellowship required an inclusive one.”[ii] Jesus, who came to serve the least, the last, and the lost, sets an undiscriminating table; a practice that many around him found quite offensive. And in this morning’s story of Zacchaeus, Jesus does it again.
Now, it’s important to know just a bit about ancient tax collectors so we can understand why Jesus’ choice of dining with Zacchaeus is so shocking and controversial.
Rome was, of course, a vast empire fueled by an expansionism that required a large military. So Rome turned the screws on her own people – mostly peasants – to fund this enormous army through taxation. Here’s how it worked:
Roman government officials contracted with local businessmen to collect the various taxes, tolls, fees and tariffs and those amounts had to be paid in advance. So, only those who already had some wealth in place could even afford this venture. Generally, those local businessmen – the “chief” tax collectors – would hire other guys to go out and do the collecting. It was assumed that the collectors would take a little something extra for their trouble and it was assumed that the local businessmen – the chief collectors – would also bill a little something extra for themselves.
And so, given the notorious reputation of chief tax collectors, we shouldn’t be surprised that the crowd that day would hardly have opened up a spot in the “front row,” so to speak, to accommodate Zacchaeus’ vertical disability. But Zacchaeus is determined and so he runs ahead and climbs a tree, hoping that in doing so, he can catch a glimpse of Jesus. Now, if Zacchaeus was lucky, everyone had already turned their attention toward Jesus because in that culture, any honorable adult male would never have run or climbed a tree. It was considered childish, humiliating behavior. As it turns out, Jesus comes to a stop just under the tree and looks up and invites Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree so he can host Jesus in his home for dinner. The crowd is aghast. There must have surely been good, religious professionals in the crowd that day. Why wouldn’t Jesus, a well-respected rabbi, have honored one of them with his presence?
But here is where the story gets interesting; and here is something new I discovered just this very week. As the crowd grumbles and mumbles, slandering Zacchaeus beneath their breath, Zacchaeus responds. He says, “Look half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.” Now that may be a little different from your bible translation because most of our bibles translate that Zacchaeus will give to the poor and that he will pay back to any who have been defrauded through this dubious Roman tax plan. Yet, the verb form used is somewhat ambiguous. It is not future tense. It is a present tense verb that can express either that someone is currently doing something; or that they are about to do something.
Now, you may consider this hair-splitting and wonder why I’ve taken up sermon time to talk about verb tenses. But here’s the thing: one translation communicates that Zacchaeus truly was quite the scoundrel in sorry need of some significant confession and repentance; while the other translation communicates that Zacchaeus has been inappropriately judged and censored by the crowd around him. So, our judgment of Zacchaeus becomes a bit of a slippery slope. Well, except that – for the most part – we need not even wrestle with this dilemma at all because our bible translators have removed all doubt.
And that’s where this morning’s lesson truly lies. How easy it is for us to judge those we do not know; those we hold at arm’s length. So long as any demographic remains “those people,” we can rest in moral certitude expressed through phrases like, “If they really wanted to work, they would.” Or, “they’d be able to pay their rent if they weren’t so irresponsible with their money.” Or, “no wonder their son is on drugs; they never took the time discipline him.” And so on and so on.
Our judgments will always be assumptions if we are separated from one another. But, if we sit down to table together, we can get to know one another and avoid that trap of long-distance assumptions.
Friends, meals were the primary event around which hospitality centered; but the true objective of hospitality is to embody the unfiltered, unbiased welcome of Jesus. Adele Calhoun writes, “Because we have been welcomed into the love of Christ… [w]e can incarnate the welcoming heart of God for the world.”[iii]
Church, over the next few months, Trinity will launch some new initiatives designed to help us build relationships with our neighbors and eating meals together is a critical component of building those relationships. Sometimes we want to quickly drop off a casserole and be on our way. But, while offering people food may fill their stomachs, it does nothing to build community. It is only when we take time to sit and break bread together that we express true hospitality and a build authentic community.
In the story of Zacchaeus, Jesus honors Zacchaeus by allowing him to offer Jesus food and hospitality, by crossing the threshold and entering his home, by sitting down at his table. Lauren Winner in the book Mudhouse Sabbath reminds us that “offering hospitality to others… offers us up to new levels of vulnerability and even to the possibility of being taken advantage of.”[iv] When we practice true hospitality it is more than an invitation into our home or to sit at our table. When we practice true hospitality, we invite people into our lives and open our hearts. For those who are “recovering perfectionists,” Winner further comments: “we are not meant to rearrange our lives for our guests – we are meant to invite our guests to enter into our lives as they are. It is this forging of relationships that transforms entertaining… into [true] hospitality.”[v] In the practice of hospitality, we do more than give, we open ourselves up to receive, knowing that we do not hold a monopoly on the incarnating of Jesus. In fact, we may be surprised to see Christ great us in the very person to whom we opened our lives and our table. Parker Palmer wrote of a French village during WWII whose citizens risked their lives to welcome and shelter Jews. When a pastor there was asked why they responded as they did, he replied, “I could not bear to be separated from Jesus.” Like Abraham, in that story of the three mysterious travelers, we too may discover that those to whom we show hospitality bring a blessing to us as well.
For Trinity to be a growing church it must be a Christ-centered community where we place as much emphasis on community as on Christ for that is how we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
So here’s what I hope we’ll all think about – and act on – this morning: We can begin to practice, right now, for Trinity’s upcoming community-building events by fine-tuning our expressions of hospitality in a myriad of contexts. Here are just a few ideas:
An open table can sometimes be a little scary because we live in a world where we are increasingly being taught to fear strangers; to fear “the other.” Our world runs rampant with divisions, prejudices, xenophobia, and isolationism. But what a privilege it is that we can incarnate the hospitality of Christ because we carry the presence of his Spirit within us. We all need to remember that, since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension; we – his disciples – are now Jesus’ only option for setting an open table that was always his preference.
[i] See Luke 10:7
[ii] Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels by Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh; Fortress Press; 2003; p. 382.
[iii] Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun; InterVarsity Press; 2005; p. 139
[iv] Mudhouse Sabbath: an Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (the study addition) by Lauren Winner; Paraclete Press; 2005; p. 56.
[v] Ibid; p. 63.
Ripe and Ready
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 4:3-42 (focusing on verses 9 & 31-38)
Avocados are one of my favorite foods. I went through my entire adolescence without seeing or tasting an avocado. (I can tell you they’re not your standard Appalachian produce.) I started eating them in my late 20’s and have grown increasingly fond of them. But the thing about avocados is that they need to be at the perfect ripeness which can be tricky to discern. Now, I’ve honed my skills over the years and here’s what I’ve determined: you want a darker shade (the lighter green never seems to fully ripen); you want just the slightest give when you press the skin (too much give means it’s going to be rotten inside), the smoother the outside the better the inside (I have no idea why that’s the case), beware of indentations (which will be rotten spots when you cut it up). Most of the time, I do pretty well. Sometimes I get fooled. It appears perfect on the outside and when I open it, it’s rotten on the inside. When that happens, it makes me angry at the supermarket. But sometimes I have an entirely different problem. You see, when I get home with my avocado, it generally needs to lay on the counter for a couple days to reach optimum ripeness. But if I let it lay there too long, it will begin to go bad. It’s happened. I get busy and forget to put my avocado in the refrigerator and I miss my narrow window of avocado perfection. The opportunity is lost. That makes me really angry at myself. I think, “You just wasted something great just because you weren’t paying attention.”
This morning’s scripture is just a small portion of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s a story that ends with an agricultural proverb, a metaphor of sorts, which challenges us to look around and notice people who are ripe and ready to respond to the good news of Jesus.
Now this story of Jesus in Samaria consumes 42 verses so I didn’t share them all. But I do want to summarize what takes place in the verses I didn’t read. Verses 5-7 set the scene. Jesus and the disciples are in Samaria, Jesus is resting by a well, the disciples go off to buy food, and a Samaritan woman comes to draw up water. And that is the point at which Jesus and this woman enter into a dialogue with one another that ultimately results an entire village being brought into relationship with Jesus.
The dialogue begins with Jesus asking the woman for a drink of water. She notes how unconventional his request is when she says: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Then, our gospel narrator sheds some light on this peculiarity by informing us that Jews do not “share in common” with Samaritans. Now hold onto that thought because we’re going to circle back to it in just a moment after I finish my summary of this dialogue.
The woman and Jesus talk more about this water. Jesus’ words reveal that he’s referring to something more than H2O at the bottom of a well and his words pique the woman’s interest. Next, Jesus invites her to go get her husband. When she remarks that she doesn’t have a husband, Jesus reveals that he already knows that and so much more about her. She’s surprised, caught off guard, and assumes Jesus must be a prophet so she asks him a very important question about worship. You see, Jews and Samaritans worshipped in different places and the Jews down south were pretty fussy about the temple in Jerusalem being the only acceptable place to worship God. Worship was and still is, in large part, about encountering God and John’s gospel will reveal that Jesus is the way to encounter God. Their discussion at the well goes even deeper and Jesus reveals to the woman who he is. Incidentally, this is the first time in John’s gospel that Jesus discloses his identity. He does so by using the exact same words God used to name himself at the burning bush with Moses when Moses asked God’s name. God replied: “I am.” Likewise, Jesus says, “I am.”[i]
Now, having summarized this dialogue of 19 verses, let’s circle back to that verse 9 that I mentioned where our narrator informs us that Jews do not “share in common” with Samaritans. Now the Greek word used there[ii] was generally used in reference to dishware and utensils; meaning that Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t have “shared in common” dishware which sounds pretty odd to us. But part of what distinguished the Jewish people – part of what identified them as God’s chosen people – was the way in which they ate. This is what we know today as kosher. Way back in the 14th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy,[iii] God gave the Israelites rules about what foods they could and couldn’t eat. Today, strict Jews – generally, Orthodox Jews – follow those rules to the letter. They even have special dishware for especially holy days, like Sabbath, Yom Kippur, Passover, etc. But why; we Christians might wonder. What is that all about?
Well, it’s about holiness. There was distinctiveness about how Jews were to eat and dress and worship; rules that defined how they were to generally behave because those rules acted as boundaries that set them apart from other ancient people and cultures. The word “holy” means “set apart.”[iv] The Jewish people had been “set apart” for God. They were to be holy just as God was holy. Holiness is defined in relation to God. Let me say that again: holiness is defined in relation to God. People, places, even things become holy because of their relationship with God.
Now, according to most Jews of Jesus’ day, Samaritans[v] were not holy and had no legitimate relationship with God. They were unholy, unclean. So, any respectable Jew would steer clear of them… except for Jesus who, within this story, is the one who initiates the relationship with this Samaritan woman.
Friends, this story demonstrates a radical transgression of boundaries in order to bring those whom others would deem as unclean into relationship with the holy God through Jesus. Let me say that again. This is a story about transgressing conventional boundaries in order to bring those on the “wrong side of the border” into a relationship with God through Jesus. Logically, Jesus should have had nothing to do with this woman. She was a Samaritan, she was a woman and she had a somewhat dubious living arrangement. Three strikes and you’re out, right? Yet, once again, Jesus initiates relationship with her and Jesus doesn’t pick away at her personal life. In fact, it appears that he only references her multiple husbands to demonstrate his divine knowledge of her. And the fact that this is the first person in John’s gospel to whom Jesus reveals his divine identity, is the craziest fact of them all. It is through their relationship that she, too, will become holy – one of God’s chosen ones – not based on her diet or her ethnicity or even her lifestyle; but based solely on her response to Jesus.
This is a story about transgressing boundaries. This is a story about the need to move into unfamiliar, even hostile, territory. But this is also a story about a bountiful harvest; a story of people who are ripe and ready. Friends, Jesus could see what the disciples did not see. So, “look around you,” Jesus says to them. “See how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” This woman was ripe and ready to hear the good news Jesus had to offer her. This woman’s spiritual condition was like that perfect avocado: laying on the counter ripe and ready. When Jesus’ disciples return and survey this situation, they don’t see what Jesus sees. They’re thinking to themselves, “Why is he speaking with her?” No doubt, those disciples saw an unclean Samaritan woman. They could not perceive her as a part of them. They were holy Jewish men enrolled in this itinerant rabbinical school. She was an unclean, Samaritan woman. What they saw likely repelled them. But Jesus saw something different. He wasn’t put off by who she was, where she was or even what she’d done. He wasn’t put off by her gender[vi] or her ethnicity or even her lifestyle.
And so, this story ought to challenge us to consider: what do we see when we look around? [Well, not in here, mind you; but when we walk through those doors.] Can we see people who are ready to hear the good news of Jesus? Have we gotten close enough to even know? There’s a danger for us as Christians; the danger that we become so comfortable with one another that we circle the wagons and batten down the hatches. There’s plenty of that going on in our world right now; people building walls to separate themselves from those who seem dubious or threatening or just plain different. It’s nice to be with other people who share our beliefs and our values and, to a large degree, even our lifestyle. But friends, we need to get over that. If we’ve insulated ourselves by surrounding ourselves with other Christians, then we simply are not Jesus’ disciples because to be a disciple means we’re learning to emulate the behaviors of Jesus and Jesus never hesitated to transgress those boundaries. Jesus loved to reach out to the people others avoided. So, this morning I want to ask you – and me – where do we need to go? What boundary do we need to cross? Who do we need to see differently; not seeing them as someone offensive but as someone who may well be ripe and ready to hear the good news of Jesus?
Last week I read a blog about a recent Barna Research survey.[vii] The survey revealed that 51% of North American Christians polled possess attitudes and actions that are more like some of those holier-than-thou Pharisees we read about in the gospels than like Jesus. In other words, our attitudes and actions reveal that we may get caught up in maintaining our boundaries and preserving our purity and, like the disciples in this morning’s story, miss the opportunity to show the kind of hospitality and mercy Jesus showed. In fact, according to the standards Barna applied, only 14% of Christians revealed attitudes and actions consistent with those of Jesus. The writer of the blog, Carey Niewhouf, identified some things he sometimes hears Christians say to other Christians that reveal this kind of Pharisaic, judgmental attitude. One was this: “You shouldn’t hang around people like that.” Another was similar: “I’m simply more comfortable with people from my church than I am with people who don’t go to church.” Niewhouf writes: “One of the reasons churches aren’t growing is because Christians don’t know any non-Christians.” He points out that, if we want to see our churches grow, “go to some parties and get to know some people who are far from God. You will discover that God likes them. And you might discover you do too. And people – who at one time didn’t follow Jesus – might even start following Jesus.” My response to that survey is more concise. I’d say that, if all of your friends already go to church, it’s time to make some new friends.
There’s no time like the present for us to look around and see people that are ripe and ready to hear – and even more importantly, to experience through us – the good news of the love of Jesus.
[i] See John 4:26 and Exodus 3:14 (the Greek translation). This is the Greek phrase ego eimi, meaning “I am” in both places.
[iii] See Deuteronomy 14:2-21
[v] Around 721 BCE the Assyrians conquered the northern tribes of Israel. People of other nations were brought into the territory of Israel and, in time, the Jews intermarried with these foreign people resulting in the ethnic designation “Samaritan.” Because they had intermarried and mixed Jewish and Gentile blood, they were deemed impure or unholy. They also mixed the worship of God with the worship of foreign idols.
[vi] Even today in many Middle Eastern countries men and women don’t mingle publicly. And rules governing such social behavior were especially stringent in Jesus’ day. A man simply did not enter into public conversation with a woman he didn’t know. It would have been deemed dishonorable. In addition, remember that at this time in Jesus’ ministry he was perceived as a rabbi and the reputation of a rabbi was severely compromised when he spoke with a woman. There was a rabbinical saying: “He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the law and at last will inherit Gehenna – or “go to hell,” we might say.
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