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Jesus & the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42)

March 27, 2014

She is a stranger to Jesus and the Jews who soon experiences salvation and transformation resulting from a period of intimacy with the Lord of life. John tells us of this occasion in Jesus’ ministry. For John, this historical event also serves as a rich, deep parable for his audience to engage in meditative reflection to discern the revelation for their own lives.

The woman from the Samaritan town of Sychar comes to draw water at noon. Jesus has sat himself at the well while his disciples have gone off to find food. Rather than ignore the woman or engage in polite mannerly greetings. Jesus demands of her, “Give me a drink.”

Jesus has been described as a “friend of sinners.” Today, this has often morphed into imagining Jesus “hanging out” with sinners; however, as a friend to sinners, Jesus engages them, confronts them and seeks to transform them into his children and disciples. “Give me a drink” begins the confrontation on the road to transformation.

The woman is taken aback.  She sees the interaction in terms of “Who are you?” and “Who am I?”  She sees a great divide between the Jewish man and herself a Samaritan woman.  It reminds me of how 10 of the 12 Jewish spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land responded to the giants of the land.  They declared defeatedly, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13.33)  This woman seems to have a similar self-image, “Why would you ask someone lowly and despised like me for a drink?”

Jesus gets to the point about the reality of the situation, “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.” Jesus doesn’t respond to the labels or divide.  He speaks to the reality of who he is and what he offers.  Think about the two things, “If you knew the gift of God,” and “If you knew who I am.”

Do you really know the gift of God? Does your life reflect a deep awareness of knowing the gift of God?  The gift of God is infinite.  In fact, the gift is the one who speaks to the woman.  Jesus is the gift of God who has come into the world that all who believe may have life.  We think we know him and the gift, but we can never fully know him.  We can continually meditate on the gift and the God.  I think Jesus’ question is appropriately posed to us each day of our existence.  Ask yourself daily, “Do I know the gift of God?” and “Do I know the One speaking to me?”  Do you know that He is present and speaking to you?

I love the fact that Jesus doesn’t follow up the “If you knew who I am?” statement with something like “Then you would bow down and beg me not to destroy your sinful existence in wrath and torment.” Or “Then you would give me the respect I am due you sinful woman!”

Rather, he gently says, “If you knew…, you would have asked…”  This amazes me everytime. Consider the grace of such a statement by the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  This is the Creator, the Word, the One without beginning or end.  He says, “you would have asked.”  This is why God reveals himself to us, so that we would ask!   It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once.  Heartwarming because it demonstrates God’s love and desire for intimacy; heartbreaking because we ignore and reject him so often. 

This reminds me of what God says to David through the prophet Nathan upon rebuking him for his adultery and murder.  After Nathan catches David’s attention with a parable, he says to the king, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.  And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?”   (2 Samuel 12:7-9)

Did you catch this sorrow and grace in God’s rebuke, “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more?”  All David had to do was ask.  He failed to understand the gift and the Giver.  We sin against God and hold his gift in contempt by minimizing it in our eyes and failing to come and ask.

Jesus says to the woman that if she would ask, then “he would have given you living water.”  How good God is to us.  He would have given living water.  The woman has come for material water.  His disciples have gone for material food.  Jesus reveals the gift of God as living water.

John later records Jesus as promising that, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:37-38) John lets his readers know that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit here.  The living water is the Holy Spirit, God himself.

The living water, the gift of God, can also be all that comes from God: the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, all things we need for life and all good things.  The truth of the gospel is that, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

If we knew, we would ask him.  Are you asking the Lord daily for his gift and for himself in the Holy Spirit?  This is clearly his desire, “If you knew, you would ask, and He would give.”  Is it possible that God could do anything more for us to love him and become intimate with him?

The woman hears Jesus and objects that he has no bucket and the well is deep.  She continues to look at the earthly things, while Jesus is speaking of heavenly things.  Nicodemus had the same problems when Jesus spoke of being born again from heaven (John 3).  I think we all have a well full of earthly things that keep us from asking God and receiving his gifts.  Our deep, dark well may include the pains of being victimized by sin or the shame of our offending sins.  The well may be full of our anxieties, fears and broken dreams or promises.  As the woman needs the water continually, we need money for bills, help for sicknesses, recovery from the past, freedom from addiction, escape from the miry clay of impossible situations, relief from conflicted relationships, etc.

We look at the deepness of the well, and we look at our image of God, and we think, “God, you have no bucket.  How are you going to draw water from this well for my problems and needs?”

The bucket could stand for anything we think we need:

“Jesus, you have no bank to help me.”

“Jesus, you don’t have a hospital to help me.”

“Jesus, you can’t help me with this broken relationship.”

“Jesus, how can you draw away the pain of the past?”

“Jesus, how can you relieve me of this addiction?”

“Jesus, you have no bucket.  Who do you think you are?”

To the woman, Jesus reasserts that he is offering living water that will become in her a fountain of living water that is eternal life.  Jesus speaks of gifts beyond our imagination in this world.  He is speaking of eternal satisfaction and fulfillment.  Jesus confronts people with the reality, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God but the things of men!”  (Mark 8:33)

The woman responds surrenderingly, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”  At this point, we might expect for Jesus to applaud her willingness to receive living water.  We might tell someone approaching salvation, “Well, receive Jesus and you will be saved, then you are blessed and ready to go!  Declare your blessing and enjoy being a Christian.”

That is not what Jesus does.  Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and salvation to people.  For Jesus, this includes healing and transformation.  Healing and transformation require repentance and bringing our hurts, pains, perversions, distortions, sinful mind and nature to Jesus for him to transform us.  Jesus neither glosses over our damaged selves nor leads us to narcissistically analyze ourselves.

Jesus confronts our sinfulness.  He gets to the heart of who we are and how we have been hurt and how we have hurt others.  He works for holiness and wholeness.  God works in us that we might be conformed to the perfect image of Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus reveals himself as the one who says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)  To the woman, Jesus says, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

She confesses that she has no husband, and again, Jesus gets to the rub, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”   Jesus shines his light on the darkness of that deep well.  He doesn’t need a light because he is light.

Jesus is not accusing or condemning.  He is healing and saving.  The Bible calls Satan our accuser.  He accuses to shame and condemn.  We often react by thinking that Jesus ignores our shortcomings, vulnerabilities, woundedness and offensive ways.

Rather, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.  (John 16.8)  The Spirit reveals how we have been hurt by sin, how we are out of a right relationship with the Lord and how God has conquered our accuser and justifies the ungodly.  The Spirit does this in his work of facilitating repentance and healing.

Jesus highlights the woman’s pain and shame.  The woman has had five husbands and lives with another man.  This does not occur without having extreme pain, sadness, humiliation, sinfulness and despair.  This is her deep, dark well.  What is your deep, dark well?  Let Jesus shine a light on it, so that you can healed.

The woman turns to religion.  She acknowledges that Jesus must be a prophet to know this about her.  Now she wants to speak about the where’s, why’s and how’s of religion.  Jesus makes two points.  He asserts that her religion has been wrong, because salvation comes from the Jews.  He also asserts that God is doing a new thing, and these old religious rituals, right or wrong, are finding fulfillment in the One who has come.

The hour has come, and God desires true worshippers.  These true worshippers will not seek a specific place or ritual, but they “must worship him in spirit and truth.”  All that comes to us in Jesus is grace and love.  This does not preclude a series of imperatives that are prescribed by Jesus for children of God.  Here we have one of them–we “must” worship in this way.

Other imperatives include the following: we must be born again, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus and we must receive the kingdom of heaven like little children.  The way to worship right and the “right” way to do church is in “spirit and truth.”  Our worship must be in accord with God’s revelation in Scripture and ordered by the Holy Spirit leading our spirits.  Through the Spirit and truth, we are reborn and transformed.

The woman reacts with excitement and guarded belief.  She leaves her water jar (an interesting insertion by John) and goes to town proclaiming, “Come and see!”  She wonders, “Can this be the Christ?”  Is it possible that this man with us now, speaking to us and offering living water can be the One?!  Her life is changed.

The rest of the story includes many in the town believing in Jesus, “because we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  Have you heard from Jesus for yourself?  And not just at some time, but have you heard today, have you known the gift and the Giver today? Have you received the living water today?  That is what the Lord desires.  The Father is seeking you! He is seeking you to worship him in spirit and truth today.  This is the intimate relationship with the Father that Jesus demonstrates in his life.

In this story, the Samaritan woman comes to receive living water.  She is renewed and revived as a daughter of God.  Because of an intimate moment with Jesus, she helps to bring about salvation for a town.  The villagers demand for Jesus to stay with them two full days in fellowship.  How soon we part company with Jesus when we could remain with him longer, as he desires.

The story concludes with the town declaring that Jesus is the “Savior of the world.” The Samaritan woman and Jesus own disciples are bound to the things of the world—food, water, racial identity, approval of others, religious rituals and dependency on man.  Jesus transforms them to supernatural beings born in heaven.  He is the Savior of the world, because and everyone in the world needs a Savior who confronts and heals.

Sit beside Jesus at your deep, dark well today and let him light the darkness and fill that well in you with living water. 

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