Our gospel story this morning begins —
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee.
But he had to go through Samaria.
But he had to go through Samaria….John says.
And here’s the thing… it IS shorter to go through Samaria, if you are traveling from Judea to Galilee. It’s the most direct route….but he truly didn’t have to. They could’ve taken the long road and gone around. And in truth…many folks did. In fact, later in the gospel, Jesus and his disciples will take that other road. But John is clear… this time Jesus had to go through Samaria on his way back to Galilee…but it turns out it was for reasons that turned out to have nothing to do with distance.
Jesus had to go through Samaria because he was meeting someone at Jacob’s well.
He was meeting Photini. We don’t actually have her name in the gospel…but in the early church she was well known as Photini. And the Eastern Orthodox churches still remember her as the first person to share the good news of Christ — the first person Jesus revealed himself to as the Messiah…the Christ …and the first person to bring others to Christ. Even his disciples, at this point, only understood him as a teacher…they call him “rabbi”. But she knows the truth…believes the truth. Shares the truth passionately with her community. And the way her story has been told since antiquity — Photini …along with her five sisters and two sons all became passionate preachers of Christianity … refusing to be silent even when the Roman Empire was showing excessive cruelty toward the Christians. Until, in the year 66, they all were brutally tortured and killed by Nero.
Yes, Jesus had to go through Samaria….because he was meeting Photini…who would be the very first person to proclaim him as the Messiah, the savior of the world.
Notice…Jesus is not the savior of the Jews…that’s what Jesus’ friends would have believed the Messiah was going to be…the savior of their own people. No, Photini recognized that Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, was the savior of the whole world.
I love Photini…the woman at the well. I love her because she is inquisitive and unafraid. Whatever reason might have drawn her to the well in the heat of the day…it is not because she is ashamed of being seen or timid of what others think of her. I mean…look at her. She challenges Jesus — “what are you doing talking to me?” And then, when he tells her she should ask him for water …”this well has been the source of life for our community for centuries…you can do better? And once she is convinced that he knows the truth…knows what’s what about life…she questions him about theology — “So what do you think…where do we find God…on our mountain or yours…in my faith or yours?” In Photini, Jesus finds a sharp mind, an open heart and a compelling preacher. In a short time, she manages to convince all her neighbors to come out and meet Jesus. She brings them to faith in Jesus. Yes …Jesus had to go to Samaria…to meet Photini. And she did not disappoint.
Photini met Jesus…and found in him…the way, the truth and the life. She found her faith. Her hope. Her reason. Her purpose. Her identity. Something in this ordinary Jewish man was not ordinary at all. He saw her. Really saw her…not as an object of pity or disdain…or a statistic or as inferior. He saw her as a person to engage…a whole person worthy of God and all God has to give. Something in Jesus made her understand that she was valued and safe and fully a child of God. It was the same “something’ that drew his disciples…that made them leave everything just to be with him. It wasn’t his good look. Trust me, they would have mentioned somewhere along the line if it was…that he was handsome, tall, strong. No…Jesus’ looks are never mentioned….he was at best, ordinary. He is despised and rejected. But his presence with people was extraordinary. He knew who he was…from the inside…he knew God’s love and presence within him. And he knew who we were…from the inside….he recognized God’s love and presence in those around him. He knew “everything Photini had ever done”…and saw her fully as God’s own beloved child. It didn’t matter that she was a woman….or whether she was married….or what her religion was or her race.
And this…this is how she and all around her came to know that Jesus was the savior of the world.
Every person…not just the people of Jesus’ own faith…EVERY person needs to know who they are in this world. Why they matter. Every person needs to know they are valued of God. No matter who they are or where they come from or what they have done. Photini and her family became so convinced of that, they refused to be silenced. They refused to denounce Jesus…this ordinary Jewish man whose presence saved them and gave them life and hope. They preached the good news of Jesus….that God is among us and within us…on the loose, not holed up on any hill. They preached the good news of Jesus, the savior of the whole world, until they took their last breath.
In a world that is so fractured….we sometimes forget…that Jesus isn’t just our savior. That what Jesus brings isn’t limited to any religion…but rather is an understanding of who we are…who God is…that belongs to all people. Every person is invited to be seen and known…loved and valued. Every person in the whole wide world. And this is life giving news, especially for those who have not been seen…who have not been valued….who have been told they are worthless, they are inferior, they are failures, or that they are despised of God.
Of course, that “good news” is harder to understand for those who already assume they alone are the ones worthy of God. They tend to not be such big fans of Jesus and his love. But the ones in prison…the disfigured and diseased….the women and the foreigners…the traumatized and abused….they are the ones whose lives are transformed by Jesus and will never be the same.
In this past couple weeks, we have dealt with a lot in our little corner of the world. We have grieved as we read the details of a murder trial….grieved the young man we knew and loved who was murdered so horrifically….and grieved the young man we knew and loved who did something so monstrous. We have grieved a hit and run death of a young transient native woman just down the road and then grieved the suicide of the person who hit her. We grieve with the victims of sexual abuse and the trauma and pain they carry….and we grieve the lives of people we trusted who could hurt others so deeply. Our pain is all over the place. But we have to remember. Jesus is the savior of the world.
Every victim is seen, known, valued, loved by Jesus. Many of them will carry or did carry messages inside their hearts that they were less important, less loved, less worthy…not good enough. But Jesus knows who they truly are — Beautiful and beloved, gifted and precious children of God. Jesus loves them. Completely. Jesus is the savior of the world…and calls them whole…completely whole…not broken, not “less than”…but whole and valuable members of God’s family.
But ..that is also true for those who live with guilt and shame…those who know they have hurt others deeply in ways they cannot undo. Jesus knows that they are more than the worst thing they have done. Jesus knows each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done…and Jesus enters even prison walls…to offer forgiveness and new life. We are never hopeless when we put our hope in God. Jesus is the savior of the world…and every person matters to God.
And that is the light in our darkness. The light of Jesus. The light Photini saw and felt emanating from this ordinary Jewish man at Jacob’s well. May we be transformed by that light and may we reflect it to others. Always. Until our last dying breath. Amen.