Today’s passages invite us to consider for ourselves who Jesus is and what Jesus offers to each of us, if only we take the time to be in conversation with him and to spend time with him. Jesus welcomes us into a closer and more loving relationship with God through both his living and his dying.
In today’s passage from Romans, Paul says that “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.”
Is God really waiting to deal wrathfully with us, miserable sinners that we are?
In his commentary on Romans, William Barclay, a Scottish theologian, explains “the wrath of God” in this way.
Think about the law.
We all know that none of us can keep the law perfectly. That doesn’t stop us from trying to keep the law, but sooner or later, we mess up. When we mess up, we suffer the consequences. And if we think of God only in terms of the law, then we can assume that God is going to be angry with us when we break God’s laws. Barclay points out that if we think of ourselves in terms of the law, then we are all headed for God’s condemnation.
Paul wants the Romans to know that trying to be in a right relationship with God through our own efforts will never work, because we will never be perfect.
Thanks be to God, then, that we have another way to be in right relationship with God, and that way is when we enter by faith into a relationship with God. We learn God is not waiting to condemn us and wrathfully punish us. Instead, God loves us and is waiting for us to draw more ever more closely into God’s presence.
Jesus is the one who leads us into a deeper relationship with God. As we come to know Jesus more and more, then we find ourselves growing closer to God. Jesus would do anything for us. He doesn’t wait for us to be good, or to have our act together—in fact, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
When Jesus died, he showed us the way to God by showing us the way of God—God is always breaking love wide open so that it can be shared more fully. When Jesus was broken open in his death on the cross, God’s love flowed from the cross out into the world like a stream of living water that gushes up to eternal life.
When a woman gives birth, she breaks open, and new life emerges. As Jesus breaks open on the cross in death, new life emerges for all of us, that new life in Christ—we are being born all over again into a life of deeper grace and love than could have been possible before Jesus showed us the way to come closer to God.
God’s love is sheer grace—we did nothing to deserve it, we could never earn it. God freely gives God’s love to us. Jesus freely gives his love to us—this is my body, given for you, this is my blood, shed for you. Sheer grace, freely offered to all of us.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us access to God’s grace in which we now stand. In other words, as Barclay points out, according to the Greek meaning of the word used for access, which can be translated “introduction,” Jesus introduces us or ushers us into the very presence of God, “where we find grace, not condemnation, not judgment or vengeance, but the sheer, undeserved incredible kindness of God.”
This same word is used in later Greek to describe a ship entering a safe harbor or a haven. Barclay says that “so long as we try to depend on our own efforts we are tempest tossed, but now that we have heard Jesus inviting us into God’s grace, we have reached the haven of that grace, and “we know the calm of depending, not on what we can do for ourselves, but on what God has done for us.”
Imagine grace as a wide open space full of God’s love—and Jesus is the opening into that space—as Jesus says in later in John’s gospel, “I am the door,” that is, the door into the sheep fold, where the sheep can come and go and find pasture, and where they are safe.
Jesus invites all of us to enter into this haven where we know peace and love with God and with one another.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus welcomes a Samaritan woman into this wide open place of grace. This is a shocking story. Jews hated Samaritans and avoided them at all costs. After all, the Samaritans must already be condemned by God because they didn’t keep Jewish laws or worship in Jerusalem.
Also, Jewish men did not initiate conversations with women, especially Samaritan women. And yet, here is Jesus, just as comfortable talking with a Samaritan woman and offering her God’s grace as he is offering God’s grace to one of his own Jewish brothers, the well respected Pharisee Nicodemus.
Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman take what Jesus has to say literally and they both miss at first what he is trying to tell them. But I’d say three cheers for the Samaritan woman, because even though she believes that Jesus is offering her literal flowing water from a stream that will permanently quench her physical thirst, and she can’t figure out how that could be, still, she enthusiastically wants that water! And she takes the conversation with Jesus deeper by asking him about the divisions between her people, the Samaritans, and his people, the Jews. One big source of disagreement—the right place in which to worship. And Jesus explains that the place isn’t the point, but that God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.
And when she says that she knows that the Messiah is coming, Jesus says to her, I AM.
I AM—the one in whom God is known. As Gail R. O’Day points out in her commentary on John’s gospel, this I AM “confirms the words of John’s prologue, ‘the word was with God and the word was God.’”
Jesus is the Messiah, and more than the Messiah, and he is the one talking to a Samaritan woman at noon with the sun boiling down on them both by a well in Samaria.
What this woman experiences is God’s sheer grace and love. Leaving behind her water jar, she hurries back to the city and says to the people that she has met someone who may be the Messiah, and so they come out to meet Jesus for themselves.
And they ask Jesus to stay with them. So he stayed there in that Samaritan village for two days with them, and many more believed and came to know that Jesus is truly the Savior of the world.
Jesus ushers these Samaritans into God’s grace. Jesus came for everyone, even the ones we despise. For God so loved the world, not just the privileged, not one group over another, but for everyone willing to hear and to enter through the door into God’s spacious grace. Jesus came to welcome us into God’s grace, where there is no place for wrath, but only love, and living and life giving water gushing up to eternal life.
Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans, Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
O’Day, Gail R. “Commentary on the Gospel of John.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume IX. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.