Jesus is the bearer of God’s good news! In John 4 we find Jesus making a strategic choice not to do what good devout Jews of his day did not do. They avoided going through Samaria on their way to Galilee from Judea but Jesus decided to through Samaria risking all kinds of defilement for holy man at that. His route led him to a village named Sychar in Samaria where his disciples left him to do a food run.
He was tired and perhaps warn out by the hot Palestinian sun and sat by the well that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. It was around noon; the heat of the day when people stayed home to cool off but suddenly a person approached the well. It was a woman and of course she was Samaritan. But in that encounter is a problem.
Major issues in this scene:
- Jesus is a holy man talking to a woman and to a Samaritan woman at that:
-There was risk of impurity,
-Inappropriate interaction with a woman since he was a lone a morality concern.
-This was no ordinary woman judging by the time of day she came to draw water from the well
- Jews and Samaritans did not mingle, and they did not use the same vessels to eat or drink for that matter.
- The woman had a bad reputation with men in the community.
In spite of all this, Jesus chose to engage the woman in a life changing conversation:
This woman of Samaria came to draw water from Jacob’s well at noon all by her self. This was an indication of her ostracism in the community. Seeming to ignore all the risk named above, Jesus struck a conversation with her asking her for water. Jews and Samaritans did not share common vessels and if the woman had complied with the request, Jesus would have had to drink from her vessel, since Jesus did not have one. Such an act would have involved a risk of ceremonial pollution for a Jew no wonder the woman was puzzled by Jesus’ request.
But the water in Jacob’s well symbolized the old order inherited by Samaritans and Jews alike an order that is contrasted with the new order, the gift of new life in spirit, eternal life. I would dare to say that the water in the well in our context might symbolize the ways the world deals with broken relationships. This is what happens when people abandon the source of living water as Jeremiah lamented, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).
Jesus is the source of the real running fresh water that the Samaritan woman and us need. The woman was puzzled by Jesus’ words because she was thinking that the water in question was the natural one in the well, which of course Jesus had no means of drawing because he had no vessel or a bucket to lower and draw. Jesus’ water however was running and fresh indicating that the conversation was not about water but a bout new life that Jesus was offering to this woman and to all people regardless of their background. The water running in our facets quenches our thirst but the water Jesus is offering becomes a spring bubbling up inside of us, refreshing us with new life that reflects a whole new world God is making (v. 14) This new life when you accept it, has the capacity to affect all of your life and the life of others as well.
The woman realizing what Jesus was offering quickly expressed her willingness to receive this exciting bubbling water. She did not know however that in order to have that living bubbling water, she had to get rid of the old stagnant water first. In her case this stagnant water or broken cistern was broken relationships. Jesus saw through her and right a way located the stagnant water that needed to be drained before the fresh living came in. So, Jesus invited her on an exploratory tour that revealed her life; naming her issues and exposing them for what they really were. There was no place to hide, because Jesus knew her just like he knows all of us.
I grew up in the village and it was common to see ostracized women go to the river at midday when it was extremely hot in order to avoid meeting other women who looked at them with suspicion. From this story, we learn about this woman’s relational troubles. The villagers apparently knew her history with men and considered her dangerous. Her record from Jesus’ words tells the story; she had been through five husbands and was now with a sixth man who was not even her husband. Since the text does not say that the marriages ended because of death, the only one possibility left is, divorce.
We do not know the details and the emotional trauma that she might have gone through in the process of six relationships and the effects on her personhood not to mention what possibility contributed each time to the break ups. She knew her life was a mess, and she knew that Jesus knew. Jesus’ initial attempt to name her issue was met with clever religious talk that we all like to engage in when confronted with unpleasant truth about our lives. Her conversation seems to be directed towards a dismissal of her issues. Probably if it were today she might have pointed to the reality of divorce even among Christians and might have somehow got the conversation to be stuck on religious debates. She probably was trying to say to Jesus that since no one really knew where true worship ought to take place then, morality was equally uncertain.
All the excuses this woman was giving Jesus went nowhere, because they were irrelevant. God and where we worship is not the same thing. God lays a claim on every human life, offers a new kind of human life for all who give up the stagnant water and come to him for the living water. This claim on our lives is absolute, and can’t be avoided by questions about which church people think they should go to, any more than Jesus’ claim on this woman’s moral conscience could be avoided by old debates, such as whether Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, or Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, was the true holy mountain. (Church, holy places, etc are simply pointers to the real thing if they become substitute for the real thing, then we are idol worshippers)
The true and living God is not contained geographically or architecturally. God is spirit: this spirit does not inhabit only certain designated places, for he made all things and transcends all things as well. True worship is done in the spirit (everywhere all the time) and in truth. The woman tried another trick to change the subject, “ One day the Messiah will come, why don’t we wait until then” Jesus then confirmed that that Messiah was he and that he was ready to do what he does best.
Jesus was welling with excitement when his disciples returned from their food mission. He refused to eat prompting inquiries from the disciples as to who had given him food. He answered that he had food that they knew not of; fulfilling his father’s mission because he was the savior of the world. This was his food. The Samaritan village and not only the woman at the well declared this mission; “He is the savior of the world” (Jn 4:42). This Jesus who is the savior of the world today invites us in our various brokenness to drain the well of stagnant water and receive the living water that he offers. He is ready for he knows all our truth and cannot be surprised by them. Let us be ready and willing to name our brokenness and invite him to give us a fresh, living and bubbling water of the new life he is offering, this is good news!
Preached at The Point in Parkesburg PA
June 1, 2013