ArticlesPoetry Aug 14, 2015 Liberty or Law, Samaritan or Jew
Ifeoluwapo Eleyinafe Article by Ifeoluwapo Eleyinafe Creator and author,

Nei­ther re­li­gion nor ir­re­li­gion (li­cen­tious­ness) will ful­fill or bring free­dom.
So far, we’ve seen Gen­e­sis 16:1-8 from the view of Sarai and Ha­gar. We’ve seen how each re­lat­ed to God and what this can teach us about our­selves. They pur­sued wa­ters that would not quench their thirst and each tried to cre­ate their own so­lu­tions to prob­lems that only God could solve. Now let us look at how this plays out on a grander scale with­in two dif­fer­ing na­tions.

A Nat­ur­al Re­quest

From read­ing John 4, it would seem that the Holy Spir­it is not con­tent with teach­ing us through Ha­gar and Sarai’s ex­pe­ri­ences alone. So He in­tro­duces us in John 4, to a high­ly in­tel­li­gent and high­ly re­li­gious woman who is not ex­plic­it­ly named. We know her sim­ply as the woman by the well.

We know she is high­ly in­tel­li­gent be­cause of the du­ra­tion of her con­ver­sa­tion with Je­sus and the depth of that con­ver­sa­tion. We know she is high­ly re­li­gious be­cause of the con­tent of her con­ver­sa­tion with Je­sus Christ and her re­sponse to what He says. Je­sus tried to have a sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tion with Nicode­mus, an ed­u­cat­ed Phar­isee, but Nicode­mus couldn’t keep up so that Je­sus had to mar­vel at his lack of knowl­edge John 3:10. I’m not in the league of Nicode­mus and cer­tain­ly not that of the woman by the well but I will do my best here so bear with me.

As we are in the New Tes­ta­ment, let us ob­serve that un­like the Old Tes­ta­ment this pas­sage is more like­ly to build in lay­ers. Je­sus was trav­el­ing to Galilee and he had to pass through Samaria. It was a long jour­ney so he stopped by a well and His dis­ci­ples went away to buy food. This is where our sup­port­ing char­ac­ter, the woman by the well, en­ters the scene. As soon as Je­sus sees her com­ing to the well, He asks her for a drink John 4:6-7. By this we know that Je­sus is a hu­man be­ing be­cause He asked for wa­ter which is some­thing we all do when we’re tired and thirsty.

It was a very nat­ur­al ques­tion but we will dis­cov­er that it was also a very spir­i­tu­al one. From an nat­ur­al stand­point, this woman is equipped to pro­vide Je­sus with a drink. They are sit­ting by a well and so the wa­ter is deep. The only way to get at it is with a jar which this woman has. She also had the in­ten­tion to get wa­ter any­way so that a drink from her jar is not a big deal. Seems like the per­fect ques­tion from Je­sus asked to the per­fect per­son.

Sarai felt the same way when she told Abram in Gen 16:2 to have the child God promised by Ha­gar. Ha­gar was af­ter all, in her house­hold, young and like­ly fer­tile. She had all the things it ap­peared that Sarai lacked and so it was very nat­ur­al for Sarai think of putting Ha­gar in the po­si­tion of hav­ing a child for her. It was equal­ly nat­ur­al for Ha­gar to ex­pect the spring in the wilder­ness where the an­gel found her to pro­vide her with drink as well Gen 16:7.

False Re­li­gion

This woman’s re­sponse in John 4:9 is in­ter­est­ing. Ba­si­cal­ly, she said to Je­sus “There is noth­ing be­tween me and you. We are dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent worlds and I can­not reach across to give you any­thing.” What was it then that cre­at­ed this great sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the Jews and Samar­i­tans? The long and short of it is this. Samar­i­tans are Jews that had ac­cept­ed idol­a­try in ad­di­tion to the law of Moses. There is a lot of bib­li­cal his­to­ry and back­ground here but that’s the gist of it.

Jews and Samar­i­tans are sep­a­rat­ed by re­li­gion. In fact, Jews would of­ten look down on Samar­i­tans be­cause Samar­i­tan re­li­gion was a pol­lut­ed form of Jew­ish re­li­gion and the Jews con­sid­ered their re­li­gion to be pure. This is why they could not have any­thing to do with one an­oth­er. To a Jew, a Samar­i­tan was un­holy and un­clean. Hence the scan­dal of the para­ble of the good Samar­i­tan when told a Jew­ish ex­pert of the law Luke 10:30-34. I’m about to make a leap in the next sen­tence so just stay with me.

Reread the pas­sage in John 4:1-24 and every­where you see the word “wa­ter” or the word “well” re­place it with the word “re­li­gion”. We can only do this be­cause with­in the con­text of this pas­sage, wa­ter and re­li­gion are used as analo­gies for one an­oth­er. This a tech­nique we dis­cuss in the lessons. Our con­clu­sion then is this: the Samar­i­tan woman would not ex­pect Je­sus, a Jew, to ask her for wa­ter be­cause the essence of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty was that only the Jews had the real wa­ter, the true re­li­gion. True re­li­gion for a Jew con­sist­ed in ad­her­ence to the laws of Moses and the teach­ing of the prophets. Samar­i­tans on the oth­er hand had many wells, many wa­ters and many re­li­gions which they called their own. This is the case for all of us. Our re­la­tion­ship to re­li­gion of­ten lies some­where be­tween strict Jew­ish ad­her­ence to laws and Samar­i­tan idol­a­try with a touch of faith­ful­ness. Re­li­gion, church, faith might be for us just an­oth­er spring we will stop to drink from on the road of life.

The ques­tion then is sim­ple: does your re­li­gion quench your thirst? Does your re­li­gion fill all the emp­ty spaces and make all the bar­ren places bloom? Does your re­li­gion bring you light in all the dark places in your soul? Or is your re­li­gion just an­oth­er un­re­li­able well that will run dry? Do you come to church on Sun­day to cel­e­brate and wor­ship or are you com­ing every Sun­day be­cause you’ve run dry by the end of week and you need to quench your thirst? To be hon­est, the Samar­i­tan re­li­gious promis­cu­ity might ac­tu­al­ly be a smart strat­e­gy if we were speak­ing in pure­ly hu­man terms. Af­ter all, a Samar­i­tan doesn’t have only one well. He has many. So that when one runs dry, he just runs to an­oth­er one.

This is what Ha­gar and Sarai did and this is what we of­ten do. We run from well to well, look­ing for the thing that will ful­fill us, look­ing for the wa­ter that will bring us life. There­fore, this Samar­i­tan woman with her many hus­bands ex­em­pli­fied the re­li­gious iden­ti­ty of her en­tire peo­ple John 4:16-18 and of­ten our re­li­gious iden­ti­ty as well. She had no hus­band be­cause each hus­band she had had could not ful­fill her and even the one she was liv­ing with, she couldn’t trust and so could not com­mit to.

How many times have I found my­self where she is? Try­ing one thing af­ter an­oth­er, look­ing for the thing that will ful­fill, want­i­ng to trust and com­mit but not be­ing able to trust be­cause I’ve been dis­ap­point­ed so many times be­fore. Maybe among your many wells are your job, your friends, your fam­i­ly, your wife, your hus­band, your drugs and so on and so on. Maybe these are the wa­ters you drink from and look to hop­ing that they will quench your deep­est thirst, the one that God cre­at­ed. And yet they do not. And yet, every Sun­day, like clock­work, I show up at Ja­cob’s well, I show up at church, tired, alone and thirsty, hop­ing to get some wa­ter. Maybe this next week will be dif­fer­ent.

Just Do It! Right?

You could now per­haps say to me that maybe its not so much that my re­li­gion doesn’t ful­fill me. Maybe it’s that I’m not do­ing it right. Maybe I’m not do­ing the right thing. Maybe I’m in the wrong church. Maybe I need to bring some ex­cite­ment back to my mar­riage. Maybe I just got­ta spend more time with my chil­dren. Maybe if I just did things the right way then my life would be ful­filled. In one re­gard, you might be right. We do of­ten add sor­row or joy to our lives by our bad or good deeds Matthew 25:1-4.

But your re­sponse cre­ates an­oth­er sep­a­ra­tion be­tween me and you, an­oth­er rea­son why like this Samar­i­tan woman, you could nev­er of­fer me wa­ter. Per­haps you’re just bet­ter at get­ting the wa­ter than I am. Je­sus sat by the well with­out a jar, with­out any rope. Yet, He had the “au­dac­i­ty” to ask a woman who had the good sense to bring these things for wa­ter from the well. In our mod­ern per­spec­tive, many of us would scoff at Je­sus and call Him lazy. He should go get a jar and some rope and then come back and then maybe His thirst could be quenched too. Maybe He just need­ed to work hard­er. And maybe that’s the case for me too? Maybe I just need to work hard­er at my re­li­gion. Maybe I just need to work hard­er at get­ting wa­ter from all the wells around me.

The Samar­i­tan woman right­ly re­spond­ed to Je­sus in John 4:11. Ja­cob’s well is deep. Ju­daism is deep. Any­one who wants to drink from that well had so many laws to obey and ad­here to. Fur­ther­more, Ju­daism has been around for a long time. That is the na­ture of a good well. It is deep and gen­er­al­ly the deep­er it goes, the longer it lasts. Ju­daism has “worked” for so many peo­ple. If you’re fail­ing at be­ing a Jew or if the Jew­ish re­li­gion was not sat­is­fy­ing you then per­haps you’re not work­ing hard enough. If you’re fail­ing at be­ing a Chris­t­ian, then maybe you’re not just work­ing hard enough. If this whole hus­band thing ain’t work­ing for you then some­thing is wrong with you right? Since so many hus­bands and fa­thers seem to have it right.

I of­ten won­der in my mind about those real­ly saved peo­ple. Those peo­ple who, from my nar­row per­spec­tive, seem so holy and have it all to­geth­er. I of­ten won­der whether the rea­son I’m not more like them is be­cause I’m not work­ing hard enough or don’t have the right tools or the right po­si­tion. Does this mean then that only those who work hard can get a drink? Does it mean the hard­er you can work, the smarter you can work, the luck­i­er you get then the more you can drink?

No. It would be bib­li­cal­ly ir­ra­tional to think that any work I do is the source of my ful­fill­ment. Such a log­ic makes it ap­pear that my ful­fill­ment is de­pen­dent on my work and some luck. Es­sen­tial­ly, I am the provider of the wa­ter for my own thirst. This is the same mis­take Sarai and Ha­gar made. And as we saw pre­vi­ous­ly, when they tried to pro­vide for them­selves, they only end­ed up deep­er and deep­er in the desert. As we will see in the next sec­tion, only Je­sus of­fers the real thing.

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