Last Sunday from Derek we heard the tale of three sons, the Prodigal, the older brother, both lost sons and the Son who told the story - the Son of God, Jesus, the redeemer. This morning our gospel is the story of a prodigal daughter, if you will - the woman at the well in Samaria.
I want to dive into this story this morning in a similar vein, to try to see what Jesus own strategy was - how did he communicate the gospel to someone who was a perfect stranger ( well actually HE was the perfect stranger, wasn't he?).
So, first of all, just a little background on two fronts. It's interesting that there are two taboos working here - actually working against this whole scene ever happening.
1. Samaritans and Samaria were a despised class and place by the Jews of the day. Why? Because of their heritage, one of disobedience - you see the Samaritans were the place and the people who had been driven out because they were the fruit of the intermarriages between Jews and the other tribal peoples of the land. When Israel was given the land they were prohibited from intermarriage, yet some did it anyway - and thus a whole generation - generations - actually a whole people and division of the land in Israel had grown up. Samaria was a place.
Jesus used Samaria more than once to illustrate or to make a point - think of the illustration of the "Good" Samaritan - a parable illustrating righteousness and neighborliness using this despised class of people in that day. And in the promise of the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8 we hear again that we are going to be sent to Samaria (a place that is different in belief and in relationship from us). Jesus loved Samaria for the same reason He loved tax collectors and prostitutes. They were part of the reason He came! They were part of the world that Jesus came to seek and to save. We just read that in the last chapter of John!
2. This wasn't just a Samaritan he was speaking to, it was a Samaritan WOMAN. Men did not speak to women who were not their wives, especially despised women who were seen to be in a different class. And a man would definitely not be asking a drink from a foreign woman who was drawing water in the heat of the day in Samaria! Why? Because that fact also tells us that she was despised by her own people - she was outcast from her own society. The other, "respectable", women would make that trek to the well early in the morning and together to draw water - it was a social occasion in the cool of the morning, as you began your day before the sun came up and headed back to town just at sun up. One coming at noontime to draw water? Well, we don't talk about THOSE kinds of people in polite conversation.
So Jesus had two MAJOR roadblocks in his way, before He said a word! What would his disciples think? Talking to a woman? Alone by the well? What was Jesus doing there anyway ... alone while the disciples go into town - perhaps for the sake of his anonymity?! He didn't want to be seen and draw a crowd, he needed to rest. He was tired. Perhaps for us, that would have been a THIRD roadblock. Just too tired to engage someone!
So here we are with Jesus, at Jacob's well in Samaria. He's resting under a palm tree while the guys head into town to get some bread and fruit. And a woman shows up at the well at noon.
What is Jesus thinking? "Oh no! I'm pooped, Father! I don't want to talk to her - I don't want to talk to anyone." Something makes me doubt that! Because Jesus was a man on a mission. He was sent and he knew it, from sun up to sun down, in every place he turned up and in every life he encountered. Why? because all the lost people mattered to him.
So you are out in the wilderness, a desert almost literally, alone and suddenly another person approaches. Do you stand in silence or do you engage them. Kind of uncomfortable to not engage, right?
But how to engage? Isn't that OUR ROADBLOCK too often? So Jesus simply uses the moment and the matter at hand - "excuse me! Could you give me a drink of your water there?"
Now notice that the roadblocks work both ways in culture. We don't want to engage but neither do they typically. And so she responds with a roadblock question:
"What are you, a Jewish man, doing speaking to me at all - a Samaritan woman, and of all things, asking me for a drink!???"
But Jesus responds, not out of any defense of his question, but out of a recognition of her need - the very reason she is there at all. Water! Interesting question he asks as well! Listen.
"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 makes a reference to her need, but it is deeper than that. Not just for a drink of water but for a source of water! It was a dream (even one that we have) to live by a running stream or a river that never is dry. That is the normal meaning of the phrase "living water." Of course Jesus meaning is more than that, spiritually applied - the wellspring of life that is in us by the Holy Spirit - He speaks of it just a few chapters later in John.
It's got her interest, but she is no dummy! She looks around at him and sees no skin, no bucket - this guy has no source for "living" water - no bucket to pour anything from. She asks him then, "where do you get this living water?"
And her question is interesting, isn't it? "Are you greater than our ancestor, Jacob?" He's the one who dug this well and provided for himself and his sons and daughters, even down to our generations, who have been drawing from this well all this time. Are you greater than him?
Again Jesus answers with three truths:
A. This water only temporarily quenches your thirst.
B. The water I'm offering is different - it quenches all thirst for all time.
C. Finally, that water will be gushing up from inside you - a source of eternal life!
Jesus is building a bridge of trust and peaking her interest with something that she needs and wants - to not have to come out in the heat of the day, every day of her life, to draw water and carry it back to her home. And she responds according to her need!
"Sir, give me this water!" Now the water she was referring to was the literal water, so she wouldn't have to keep coming out to draw it up. Sounded too good to be true, hmmm? "Wow, I'd love to have some of THAT kind of water". Got any?
Suddenly Jesus goes from preaching to meddling!
Well, as I said, Jesus knew from the setting that there was something different about this woman - here drawing water in the heat of the day.
Perhaps he has an inkling of what, or perhaps not. Either way the direction he gives her is in line with the way a man of her day would want to speak to her husband, another man, on matters of some import. So he asks her to go get her husband and return.
Her answer is his Aha here, but there is "something more."
The something more in this equation is clearly observed here as Jesus receives what we Crazymatics call "a word of knowledge" - we read about this ministry gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor 12. It is a thought, or direction from the Holy Spirit, that reveals something that is not known about a person or situation in the life of another.
We see it most often in regard to healing - that God may be healing some particular ailment or body part - we speak that out and people are built up in faith to receive a healing.
In this situation the Word of Knowledge is about her current living situation. Jesus could not have known - He could have surmised from the circumstance that something was amiss, but the exactness of this word, tells us that it is a "word" from the Spirit of God, regarding the specific circumstances of another's life.
Does this make Jesus model of engagement out of reach for us, normal humans?
Absolutely not! In fact it is THE model of engagement with others for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of their souls.
Friends, we are NOT ALONE in this engagement with the world and its needs. We can certainly be observant, as Jesus was I'm sure, but there is SOMETHING MORE! And that something more, came on Jesus at his baptism - we know it as the Holy Spirit! Jesus is our model here because he laid aside all that he was as God, and became just like us, without sin. He wasn't being omniscient here, he was relying on the power and presence of the Spirit, just like we have to.
And Jesus gives her a very specific and detailed "word."
"You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you are living with now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
I start getting amused here. Have you ever made an observation or spoken a word to someone that they didn't really want to hear? Have they ever changed the subject? Take the flashlight and pointed it in another direction?
Let's have a conversation about religion, huh? Whaddyasay? "I see you are a prophet!"
But Jesus brings her back to the point. He acknowledges her rabbit trail: "Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain and you Jews say we should worship in Jerusalem. Which is it?"
But Jesus brings her back to the spiritual point of the conversation and she hears him fully.
A time is coming when its not going to be about the where, but about the how and the Who!
"... the hour is coming and in now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."
This is Jesus' invitation moment ... "now is the time" "a true worshipper" "the Father seeks such". Is that kind of person you?
And the woman verbalizes her faith. "I know that Messiah is coming - the one called The Christ. When He comes He will proclaim all things to us." (And isn't this what Jesus has just done?)
And Jesus extends his hand to her, saying, "I AM" HE. Jesus acknowledges here faith and brings home the conversation in her recognition of him as the Messiah, the Christ "who will proclaim all things to us."
As the scene changes, the disciples come up and she exits, running back to the village proclaiming that she has met a man (can he be the Messiah?) who "told me everything that I've ever done." Now she was from a small village, so "everything she had ever done" was common knowledge there! And they followed her out and met Jesus for themselves.
The evangelized becomes immediately the evangelist!
But I want to close this morning with a look at the exchange Jesus had with his own disciples while the woman was in town:
"Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together."
We spend a great deal of time talking and thinking about the harvest - wishing for the harvest - complaining that we need new members or wringing our hands over the state of the world around us...
I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting!
Let us pray...
Lord Jesus, you are the Lord of the Harvest. We pray you to send forth laborers into your harvest, as you have told us to pray. Now send your Spirit, O God, that your love for the world, for lost people may infect our hearts and move us to compassion and witness. Clothe us, Holy Spirit, in compassion like Jesus and in your gifts for ministry, that as we reach forth our hands in love, and open our mouths in witness, your Word may be put in our mouth and spoken in love and gentleness. Use us, O Father, as you did Jesus, to win the world to you, one by one.
Now with Jesus and the prophets before him, we lend ourselves to You Lord and ask you to make us your witnesses, by your power. for the sake of your Kingdom and your Name! Jesus, the Christ.