(John 4: 5-42)
Back when I was in private practice, I used a site called Public Data which, for a fee, would allow me to run a computer check on people to see if they had any sort of a record. It wasn’t as accurate as the computer checks that law enforcement would use, but it gave me a starting point. I would use it to run background checks on my clients to see if they had any sort of criminal history that could be problematic. If possible, I would use it before our first meeting if a person called for an appointment to come in and discuss their case. Somewhere during the conversation, I would casually ask them if they had ever been arrested or in trouble with the law. Some were very upfront and would tell me all about their various criminal endeavors and escapades. Others would tell me they had never been in trouble, and the quasi-honest ones would say they had a few minor run-ins with the law, nothing I should concern myself with. I would then ask them rather matter-of-frankly to tell me about the time they did this thing or that thing. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” Sure you did. It was a less-than-subtle way of letting them know I was thorough and had a way of finding things out. I would assure them that I could only help them if they trusted me and didn’t hold anything back because if I knew about it ahead of time, I could plan accordingly and do damage control. The time for me to learn about their misdeeds was not in the middle of the trial. When one of these “gems” popped out during a trial I asked my client when he was planning on telling me. His response was that he felt if I knew about these things, I wouldn’t want to represent him. I told him I wasn’t in the business of representing innocent people, the market wasn’t that big, and if I was going to save him from himself, he was going to have to put his faith in me and my abilities.
People don’t like it when you ask too many questions and start getting a little too personal. It makes them nervous and a bit uncomfortable, especially when they think they have something to hide, and are afraid you will think less of them if you know the truth. And that’s what Jesus experienced in our scripture reading for this morning, a woman who was uncomfortable with her past and discussing it with a perfect stranger.
Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and were passing through Samaria. Most Jews would take the scenic route, traveling around the region of Samaria as they hated and looked down upon the Samaritans. This animosity was of the worst kind. It was racial and it was no fault of the Samaritans. They were despised because of who they were, even though they worshiped the same God and were awaiting the same Messiah. Hundreds of years earlier, when Samaria fell to the invading Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria and foreigners were brought in to settle the land and keep the peace. The intermarriage between these foreigners and the remaining Jews resulted in a mixed race, impure in the eyes of the Jews who lived in the southern kingdom of Judea. The pure Jews of Judea hated this mixed race, called Samaritans, because they felt their fellow Jews who had intermarried had betrayed their people and nation. Because of this exclusion, the Samaritans had set up an alternate center for worship at Mount Gerizim to parallel the temple at Jerusalem, but it had been destroyed 150 years earlier. This prejudice, which went both ways, was generations deep and not likely to change anytime soon. It would take either a miracle or an extraordinary person to bring them together.
So, as Jesus and the disciples are traveling from Judea to Galilee, he stops around noon to rest by a well outside the city of Sychar. It was called Jacob’s well because Jacob had given the plot of land to his son Joseph many years ago. He had sent his disciples on into the city for food and was sitting by himself when a Samaritan woman came to draw water and he asked her for a drink. Now, the fact that it was noon is a very important detail. Wells were almost always located outside the city along the main road. Twice each day, morning and evening when it was cooler, women came to the well draw water to take back home to their family. This woman came at noon, in the heat of the day, probably to avoid meeting people who knew her reputation and to avoid those disapproving stares.
When she approached, Jesus asked her for a drink to which she replied; “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” She was well aware of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans so Jesus even acknowledging her presence took her by surprise. Jesus answered her; If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. Now she’s intrigued and asks; “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks who drank from it?” Jesus sets the hook and responds; Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. At this point, I think the woman is starting to catch on and realizes that this is no ordinary man. She is starting to feel uncomfortable regarding this conversation because of her past and wants to change the subject so she says to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She knows they are no longer talking about filling water jugs, it’s just a figure of speech. Jesus then plays his trump card when he tells the woman to go get her husband and come back to which she responds that she has no husband. Jesus says he knows it, that she has had five husbands, and the man she is with now is not her husband. Busted.
This is an extraordinary conversation. Jesus is about to reveal himself to her, a lowly woman, a woman with a past. He could have told his disciples to bring the synagogue elders and rabbis back with them from town, but he didn’t. He chose to have this conversation with someone who really needed to hear the message and fully appreciate it. Of all people, Jesus chooses to say to her; Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. He continues; But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. This poor woman must be stunned, but she keeps her head and says; “I know the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus looks her squarely in the eyes and says; I am he, the one who is speaking to you. About that time, the disciples return to see Jesus talking to this woman. With that, she left her water jar on the ground and ran to the city to tell all who would listen about this man who claims to be the Messiah.
What an incredible story. Another person I want to meet in heaven and talk to. The message of this amazing encounter is that the gospel is for everyone, no matter of his or her race, social position, or past sins. It’s not that Jesus didn’t care about the woman’s past and her current living situation, it’s just that it didn’t matter, as he was offering her the “living” water that would change her life. If it was of no consequence to Jesus, why should it matter to us? Jesus crossed all barriers to share the gospel, and we who follow him must do no less. We must be prepared to share the gospel at any time, in any place, and with whomever.
Jesus was also telling her that the location of the worship isn’t nearly as important as the attitude of the worshiper. To Jesus, it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship. We have to ask ourselves how genuine and true our worship is and whether or not the Holy Spirit is involved. That spiritual nourishment we seek includes more than just Bible study, prayer and attending church. Spiritual nourishment also comes from doing God’s will and helping to bring his work of salvation to completion. We are nourished not only by what we take in, but also by what we give out for God.
The wages Jesus offers are the joy of working for him and seeing the harvest of believers. These wages come to the sower and reaper alike because both find joy in seeing new believers come into Christ’s kingdom right along the older believers who have been regenerated and have found their renewed purpose. As people see the changes in us, much like the townspeople saw the change in the Samaritan woman, they become curious and want to see what it is that caused such a change. Like our woman at the well, we must put our past behind us and look for opportunities to introduce people to Jesus Christ by inviting them to “that” church who can show you where to find this “living” water and thirst no more.
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving Father, how grateful we are that you sent your Son to live among us who sees us not for who we are, but who we can be. How grateful we are for the “living” water he offers that will quench our spiritual thirst reviving our souls and allowing us to live a new life of meaning and promise. Move us through the Holy Spirit to put our past behind us and live for the future and the promise of a life in eternity with you. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.