WHY Is God Among Us – And Still We Doubt?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

Third Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2023

Scripture reading: John 4: 5-42

Once again, I am asking another WHY question for all of us to ponder; this one is:

WHY Is God Among Us – And Still We Doubt?

Before we tackle that question, let me summarize today’s Gospel reading with a few things that might not be obvious or even known about this passage:

  • Jesus had been in the south, in Judea.  His disciples were preaching and baptizing like crazy all over the area.  

Apparently, they did such a good job that Jesus needed to get out of town so the heat would die down; he was not yet ready to become widely known.

  • Jesus and his disciples decided to go home to the area of Galilee; the short cut was to travel through Samaria, which Jews avoided at all costs.  Jews often took the long way around to Galilee to avoid Samaria – but Jesus took the short route for some unknown reason.
  • Jesus stopped at the center of a Samaritan town – at Jacob’s Well, as it turned out.  He sent his disciples into town to buy food.  He could have produced a miracle and created food, but he sent them to obtain it the normal way.
  • Jesus greatly surprised everyone when he spoke to the Samaritan woman who appeared at the well; Jesus surprised the woman, his returning disciples, and even the people of the town when they heard about it later.  Jews didn’t speak with Samaritans; moreover, men did not speak to unaccompanied women in that time either.
  • Through his words and actions, Jesus convinced the woman that he was the Messiah.
  • Despite being in enemy territory, Jesus and his wary disciples remained in Samaria for two more days before proceeding to Galilee.

Is that about it?  Did I miss anything? It’s important that we understand the entire story and all its details before proceeding with the sermon for today.

Now let’s return to the question for today:

WHY Is God Among Us – And Still We Doubt?

It often seems to readers of the four Gospels that whenever Scripture describes the people encountered Jesus, they were usually ill at ease, uncomfortable, wary, and even suspicious of him.  He was nothing like other prophets and teachers who came before him.  He was nothing like the latest “hot prophet” – namely, his cousin, John the Baptist.  He didn’t even try to get along with the established religious authorities or the long-accepted religious teachings and thought processes that dominated almost every aspect of Jewish life in his time.

In a word, Jesus was…weird!  

At least, at first…

So, let’s examine why this Samaritan woman doubted Jesus:

  • She was a Samaritan; he was a Jew.  That should need no further explanation.
  • Jesus was not supposed to speak to her, even to ask for some water.  This was not proper in his time.
  • Jesus spoke to her anyway and said the phrase “living water” to get her attention, to possibly divert her suspicion, and to push their conversation a little farther; she was also unprepared for that.
  • Jesus produced a sign showing he was not just another Jew passing through the area; he accurately told her that she had no husband – 

and that she had been previously married five times!

You know how it is with signs: once a sign is produced, doubt usually leaves the stage.

Once the woman’s doubt was erased, she embraced what she suddenly knew: the Messiah had come to Samaria, in fact – had come to their little village.  Shrugging off any further blocks to her belief and behavior, she went into her village telling anyone and everyone she saw what she knew.  We can only imagine her excitement, her compelling behavior, and her insistence upon following her back to the well to see for themselves.

The various things that should have ensured her doubts – being a Samaritan woman, being a polygamist, being an unaccompanied woman talking with an unaccompanied man – were replaced by an overwhelming faith.  Makes me wonder how she compares with other Gospel stories of doubt being erased:

  • What interfered with anyone believing the Bethlehem shepherds on the night Jesus was born?  What stopped the common folks who listen to those first witnesses to Jesus’ birth describe all they had seen?  Only the fact that God has chosen lowly shepherds as the witness bringing the joyful news.
  • What interfered with anyone believing the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning to wash, anoint, and prepare the body of Jesus for its proper burial?  According to Mark’s Gospel, they never even saw Jesus’ resurrected body at that time!  And Mark also remarked that they were so freaked out that they “told no one.”  Was it the fact that they were “easily excitable women overcome by emotion?” 
  • What interfered with the Apostle Thomas believing all of the other Apostles who told him that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them?  Christians have been debating this question for 2000 years.  It would seem that our best response is, “If I’d been Thomas, I would have believed!”

Christians, do you see my point?  We have multiple examples of doubt being wiped away by actions the Lord takes; we have strong doubts being erased – not carefully or slowly or gently – but quickly, suddenly, and even harshly.

Doubt has no room when faith is present.

So…when God is among us, why do we still doubt?

What interferes with us?

Could this particular story have some “hooks” that catch our attention and prevent us from absorbing its full account?

  • Jesus sent his disciples to buy food.  If he could feed 5000 using just a couple of cheap barley loaves and a few dried fish, he wouldn’t need to do this.  Doubt established!
  • Disciples didn’t believe what they saw when they returned to Jesus at the well.  They also had very little to say in this situation too.  If the disciples doubted…are we allowed to doubt too?  Doubt established!
  • If you really, REALLY study the four Gospels, then you know that only the Gospel of John tells the story of the Samaritan woman at the well; haven’t I remarked multiple times before that when the four Gospels line up on a particular story, we should draw near and pay close attention? What should we do when only one Gospel tells a story?  Doubt established once again.
  • Jesus produced a sign to prove he was who he said he was, namely he told the woman she had been married five times, and that the man she was living with at that time was not her husband.  Perhaps that truth did little for the woman other than to remove the last shred of doubt she still possessed.  But when Jesus did this, it immediately reminded me of the famous literary character, Sherlock Holmes and how he could make such fantastic deductions from just observing a few clues when he first met someone or when he first entered a crime scene. 

I think we’d all agree that Jesus was at least as clever as Sherlock Holmes – if not more so.

I could stand here all day and poke holes in this story and establish doubt in what you read, think, or believe.  But that is far from my objective today.

Return to the question for today:

WHY Is God Among Us – And Still We Doubt?

I think the reason is that often our faith is weaker than we want to admit.

I think that in a world filled with those who would fool us, trick us, deceive us, and lead us away from what we hold to and believe, we want to be as Jesus told us to be in Matthew 10, verse 16: “Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”  

Nobody wants to be fooled, but we also want to have faith.

I also think that faith takes constant work, prayer, study, and more work.  If we take our faith for granted, we might not be well prepared when we are tested.

As Lent continues, and as the events beginning on Palm Sunday approach, let all of us resolve to hold tightly to our faith, to resist doubt, and to look for examples of God being among us in our daily walks of faith.