Where do you belong?
One of God's purposes for us is to give us belonging, to create in himself a place for us to belong and abide with him.
Human beings are made for belonging. We're born longing for love, acceptance, and a place to belong, people to belong with and among. Family is a place of belonging, and hopefully, our first place for belonging. Then as we grow older we leave our families and find new places to belong: social groups, workplaces, friendships, lovers, marriages, and other communities where we find our belonging.
All of this is a glimpse in a mirror dimly of the true belonging God longs for us: to belong in Him.
John's Gospel is all about this belonging. This is at the heart of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter four.
Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.
To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
"I have no husband,” she said.
“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
“Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, “Rabbi, eat. Aren’t you going to eat?”
He told them, “I have food to eat you know nothing about.”
The disciples were puzzled. “Who could have brought him food?”
Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!
“The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That’s the truth of the saying, ‘This one sows, that one harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others.”
Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!”
Remember that this dialogue with the woman at the well, this story, comes immediately after Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. John's Gospel just gave us the good news of John 3:16, that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would have life, and life that never ends, or eternal life. The Son didn't come into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world would be saved by him. God's imagination is for salvation for the entire Creation, the entire cosmos. And this story with the Samaritan woman shows that to us, it embodies that imagination. This is the world.
This story shows us what and who the "world" is that the Son came to save. The good news of salvation is not just for Israel and not just for a select few, but for the entire cosmos. But if you want to see that in action, Jesus basically says: come on, I'll show you the world I'm here to save. And even though it wasn't geographically necessary for him to go to Samaria, it was theologically necessary for him to go to Samaria and specifically to find this woman. A woman in a place of low stature in society, a Samaritan rejected by the Jews, seen as a kind of heretic, seen as a sinner with many husbands, etc. Jesus comes to seek out and find this woman, and she, for us, embodies the journey of discipleship that God purposes for all of us.
In this dialogue, we hear her go on this journey, finding for herself who this Jesus character is. We witness her gradual progression of understanding who Jesus is. He goes from being a thirsty Jew with no manners, to somebody who has something she needs (water), to a prophet, to the Messiah, and then ultimately going beyond Messiah to the claim of "I am." "I am" is the ultimate claim in John's Gospel of who Jesus is, he is "I am," he is the God of Israel that spoke to Moses on the mountain. This ultimate claim is of Jesus' divinity. He is more than Messiah, he is God. The first claim of "I am" in John's Gospel is made by Jesus to this Samaritan woman at the well.
This isn't just the Samaritan woman's journey, but the journey we're all invited into, and God's purpose for us: to know his Son Jesus, and to progressively know him more deeply. To continue to explore who he is until he becomes more to us than just some annoying Jewish guy, to becoming more than someone who can give us something we want or need, to being even more than Messiah to us, but to know him as God.
This progression we witness then leads the Samaritan woman to go back to her town and invite the townspeople to come and see, she finds them, and leads them back to Jesus. And ultimately even they say, now we've seen him for ourselves and know that he is the Savior of the world. Remarkably, this is the only time that word Savior appears in all of John's Gospel!
During the season of Lent we look to the Passion of Jesus and the event of the Cross for God's salvation, and we ought to look for salvation and look for meaning and purpose there. But in John's Gospel, salvation is so much more. Salvation in John's Gospel isn't found in the Cross, or at least not only in the Cross. In John's Gospel, salvation is belonging.
Each of these stories, each of these encounters, each of these relationships made between Jesus and followers like the Samaritan woman, like his disciples, like the townsfolk who come to know him, all of these relationships are salvation because they are finding their belonging with him. Salvation means to belong: to belong to God and to belong to community. Salvation is belonging and it is abiding in relationship with him and with other children of God in Christian community. That is also true worship, as Jesus says in this story. Worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth is abiding in relationship with him. Worship is one of God's purposes for us, but it is not just on Sunday morning or when we're saying praise songs or hymns. Worship is our whole life and all that we do, when we abide with him and make our belonging with him.
It would be so easy for us to look at this text in John's Gospel and see the divisions present. Likewise, it is so easy for us to look around in our neighborhoods, families, and country and see all of the division. We see the division between Jews and Samaritans. We know the divisions of gender between men and women at tension in this story. But the story doesn't focus on these divisions, it beautifully goes so much farther. It focuses on the relationship and belonging of these outcast Samaritans into the new Jesus community. These people might be told they don't belong with Jews, but they are welcomed with open arms into belonging with Jesus.
God's purpose for us to receive belonging: to belong with him, in him, and to belong in God's family. We are made to be with God, to abide in relationship with God, and to abide in community with each other. We are made to be in God's family. In our baptism we are adopted into that family, when we first hear those words of belonging, that we are sealed as Christ's own forever. In our baptism we are adopted into this crazy family of faith that is God's Church and given a place, a seat at his table. Later in John's Gospel Jesus will talk about this as dwelling places, homes, abiding places. Places to abide in God.
We might say that God gave his only Son to create places for us to abide or dwell, to belong, in God. What kind of belonging are you looking for in your life? Have you experienced true belonging? Is it something you long for? Have you found belonging in your life, and if not, what are the barriers?
The good news is that you belong to God and with God. God longs for you to receive that belonging and abide in him. God's not condemning you. God isn't keeping you away until you pass some test or reach some level of perfection. God wants you now, just as you are, and longs to give you the greatest gift imaginable: God's own self. You can receive him today by entering into that relationship and abiding with him, and by participating in his family of faith in the Church and receiving the grace of the sacraments where we receive him and his grace.
Another purpose God has for us is to create belonging for others. I mentioned the division in the world: what would it look like for us to be agents of God's reconciling love, creating belonging and reconciliation of division in the world around us? Where in our lives, in our communities, our relationships, our neighborhood, our country, where are their divisions that need healing?
Where does racism, or classism, or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia, or political differences, or anything else divide and separate us from each other? Who are those people out there who are like the Samaritans: different from us, who a decent person like you might not be caught dead with? Who are you afraid to be seen with or spend time with? If you're a liberal, is it the MAGA hat wearing Trump follower? If you are a conservative, is it the Biden apologist, the democrat, who you think hates America? Is it the trans employee at the Starbucks down the street? Your homophobic uncle? Where are the places where you can make places to belong, abide, and dwell, especially for the outcasts, the rejected, the "othered", the different?
This Lent, what could be more powerful than to attest in our lives and with our words to the one who has made a place for us to belong in him? And what could be more healing than for us to create places of belonging with our actions, in our communities in our lives? This week, meditate on where in your life you can receive belonging and where you can create belonging for others.