Gospel Lesson: John 4:4-42
A Samaritan and a Woman!
Our Scripture reading this morning is an encounter that should have never happened! Last week we heard about another unlikely moment between Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and Jesus. A Jewish leader should not have talked to this rebel, this heretic!? Yet we saw how Jesus turned it into one of the most important teaching moments of all time. Now this week we read about Jesus talking to a Samaritan and even worse, a woman!
You may remember the story of the Good Samaritan and how shocking it is because a Samaritan cares for a man in need, when a priest and levite (both holding high positions in the Jewish world) ignore the man in need and do not help.
The stories of Samaritans call us to see that Jesus came not just for the “chosen Jews” but for all people.
It’s important for us to understand the history of the Samaritans. Around 721 B.C. the Assyrians captured the area of Samaria and exiled most if not all of the ruling class of Jews to Assyria leaving behind just a few of the lower class Jews. They then transplanted Assyrians who made Samaria their home. The few Judeans that were left in the area are said to have intermarried with the foreigners and so when the exile was over and the Jews came back to the area they considered the Samaritans to be “half-breeds, whose religion had become tainted by non-Jews’ ideas and practices.” (Ben Witherington: John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, ps 117) and so saw all Samaritans as unclean. Jews were not to interact with them in conversation and especially not share a common cup.
With that understanding of their history, this conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus was unprecedented and against the Jewish laws. We see, once again, that Jesus does not let the Law override the message He embodied.
Our encounter begins when at about the 6th hour, which is high noon, Jesus, tired from His journey, stops at Jacob’s well to rest. At first, we don’t hear where the other disciples are but later it is explained that they have gone into the town to find food. Jesus is resting near the well, when a Samaritan woman comes to gather her water for the day. This is very unusual because most women would have come early in the morning when the sun would not be as hot. It then raises the question why has she come, at the hottest time of the day? This question is answered as we hear more about her moment with Jesus.
As she comes to the well, Jesus asks her to give him a drink. We may wonder, was Jesus really thirsty or as the all-knowing Son of God, did he see this as an opportune time to teach and offer grace to the woman and maybe all those in Samaria? In any case, the woman knowing, probably by his accent or the language he used, that he was a Jew, says, “We are not to even supposed to be talking let alone the idea of me offering you a cup of water from my vessel!” Jesus replies, “If you only knew who I am, you would have asked me to give you living water.” (author’s paraphrase)
Water that quenches the thirst forever?
The conversation becomes even stranger now in a new sense. Jesus’ response raises many questions for this woman! You don’t have a bucket! Where will you get this living water? Are you greater than Jacob who gave us this well?
Surprisingly, she doesn’t ask the question that was bothering me earlier this week, “What is living water?” After much research, I found the answer to my question…living water was a metaphor in those days for running water, like that in a stream or river. That is why she asks if he has a greater water source than Jacob’s well, the place that has supplied water for centuries.
Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases Jesus answer like this: “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 living water he speaks of is not just a stream but a gushing fountain of endless life! Isn’t that a beautiful image!
The woman hears this as still referring to water that she can drink. Water that will quench her thirst forever so she will never have to come to this well again.
She will never have to deal with the other women who look at her with accusing eyes and disgust.
You see, it is at this point that Jesus seems to change the subject but in reality is getting to the point. He tells her to go get her husband and come back. We can begin to feel the woman kind of pull back a little as she says, “I have no husband.” What Jesus says here is pivotal! In my own paraphrase I hear him say, “You’re being very honest. In reality you have had 5 husbands and now you are living with a man who is not your husband.” (author’s paraphrase) When she hears this she declares that he must be a prophet, for he knows things that have not been told to him. So, now that her true identity is out in the open, she is uncomfortable and changes the subject.
Don’t we all do that? When we are in a conversation with others and it gets a little too personal and uncomfortable, we change the subject. Some people turn the topic around and make it about the other person or about someone who isn’t even there, anything to change the focus.
The woman changes the topic by talking about the Laws and where they are suppose to worship. Jesus responds again similarly to his first response, “If you only knew.” But then He says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”(John 4:23-24, NIV) The woman answers with the knowledge that she does have, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (vs. 25)
Here is comes, Jesus proclaims to a Samaritan, “I who speak to you am he.”
He knew it ALL!
What?!?! The woman has no reply except to take off back to the town, even leaving her water jar behind. She was obviously amazed, shocked and excited – enough to run into town and tell people, “You have to come and see this man who has told me everything I have done! Could this be the Christ?” (my paraphrase)
Did you hear that? She is calling them to come meet him but still has questions. There are many people who are on their journey to becoming believers but still have questions. It doesn’t stop them though from telling others about what they have learned thus far. Too often people think that to be a witness and tell others about Jesus, we have to be a mature, Bible memorizing, faithful follower of Christ.
In reality, as soon as we meet Jesus and start down the path of believing in Him we can share what we know and even share our questions. All that we share helps others to hear and maybe want to know more.
Believe it for Yourself
This is what happened to the people in town. They believed what she said and went to Jesus and urged him to stay with them. He stayed two days. In that time they no longer had to believe just because of what the woman told them but they heard His words and believed for themselves that Jesus was Messiah, the Savior of the World.
Wow! All these people, these Samaritans who were dismissed as unclean by the Jews, become believers. This revival (as we might call it) begins at the well, in a moment between a Samaritan woman with a questionable past and Jesus.
This is the experience of the woman at the well, who had her moment with Jesus as she went about her daily task of drawing water. Have you met Jesus in an every day event? Has he spoken to you in a way that has made you curious and raised questions that need answers?
There is so much more we can learn in the scripture text today, but what has struck me and I hope I have conveyed to you is, Jesus came to bring Eternal Life, life that gushes like an everlasting spring of water, to all people. There are no borders to Jesus’ love. No one is beyond hearing the Gospel AND no one is excluded from sharing their witness, even if they still have questions. Your moment with Jesus is important for you and may very well be important to someone you meet, if you will just tell them about it.