John 4:5-42 marks a shift in Jesus ministry. It marks a shift from ministry to the Jews only to ministry to both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus had to go through Samaria. God is willing to go anywhere to meet us as sinners. No one is outside the reach of God’s love. God’s gifts are for outsiders. Those who consider themselves worthy of those gifts will be in for a nasty surprise!
It was ironic that he, as a Jew, went through Samaria. The Assyrians defeated Samaria and took many Samaritans into captivity. Those remaining in Samaria intermarried with non-Jewish people, which compromised their ethnic identity and went against many Jewish customs regarding cleanliness. Later, the Babylonians defeated Judea and took many Judeans into captivity. The Judeans managed to maintain their identity while in captivity. When they were finally allowed to return to Judea, they rebuilt the temple. The Samaritans offered to help, but were rebuffed because of their mixed heritage. They later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which started a continuing controversy regarding the proper place of worship. John Hyrcanus destroyed the Gerizim temple in 128 B.C.
Because he was human, Jesus was tired. To make matters worse, he was travelling during the hottest part of the day, so he was thirsty. Jesus took the initiative by speaking to the woman. In Jewish society, that was a taboo. It was against the culture and traditions for a man to speak to a woman in public unless she was his wife. The woman also broke with tradition by going to the well during the hottest part of the day. Normally women came to the well in the morning or in the evening. While they were getting water, they would catch up on all the news or gossip (much like people do when they go to the barber, the beauty salon or a local coffee shop). If the immoral woman showed up at the same time, she would have been the target of their gossip.
Jesus often used physical things to teach spiritual lessons. When he mentioned living water, he was referring to the spiritual water that he can offer to all believers, but the woman thought he was referring to physical water. Jesus knew that the woman was searching for something that would give her life meaning. That is why he offered her living water. That is also why he made the comment about her five husbands. The woman did have a spiritual hunger, and so did the Samaritans. They thirsted for the truth, and their thirst made it possible for them to see that Jesus was the living water gushing up to eternal life.
We are also restless and unsatisfied even though we have access to all sorts of earthly treasures. Just look at all of the rich celebrities who have died because of drug overdoses. The world searches for relevance and significance without success. People go from one relationship to another, from one activity to the next, and from one fashion or “in thing to do” to the next. They are literally dying of thirst and hope that the “new drink” will satisfy them. It never does. Earthly “drink” can never satisfy our desires like the living water Jesus offers can.
Once we have tasted Jesus’ living water, nothing else will satisfy our thirst. The living water provides cleansing and a spiritual life. It flows through true worshippers who worship God and Jesus with all of their heart. In order to drink the living water, we have to repent. That is why Jesus brought up the woman’s past. She needed to see and admit that she messed up and needed God’s help. We also need to admit that we are messed up and that we need God’s help. When God looks into our souls and sees our dark side, our secrets, our guilt and our motivations, he loves us anyway. That love is the living water that renews us and restores us. When God sees how we are dying inside, and when he tells us everything we have ever done, he still gives us living water. The Holy Spirit helps us to see our mistakes and failures.
The woman was open to the truth that Christ taught. As a result, she came to faith in Jesus. She reminds us who doubt or struggle with faith to stay in a conversation with Christ. God’s grace drew her to Christ, and she became an evangelist. Likewise, God’s grace draws us to Christ, and now we can be evangelists. We, like the woman, are to listen to the Word of God and look for opportunities to share it with others. We will never be alone, because Jesus’ living water will stay with us and will be there when we need it.
Jesus also offered something meaningful to her, and it is the same thing he offers us. He offered her the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would live in her like it lives in us. God is not made of physical matter, so he can be everywhere and with everyone all at the same time. Spiritual food is important to our eternal life, just like physical food is important to our physical life. Spiritual food was more important to Jesus than physical food. That is why he dismissed the disciples’ concern that his behaviour with the woman was caused by physical hunger.
The other aspect of food and water that this reading talks about is the process of growing food. Those of you who have grown vegetables or flowers know that it takes time for a plant to grow from a seed. The same thing happens in the spiritual realm. It takes time for a spiritual seed to mature once it is planted in our souls. In addition, one person can plant the seed while another person waters it and still another person reaps it. There are times when sowing and reaping take place at the same time, as was the case with the woman at the well and the people of her village.
The spiritual harvest is now, and we are missing it. We can stay by Jesus’ side and be part of powerful encounters by doing the following things:
- Ask God every day where he is at work around us.
- Be open to the Spirit if he asks us to go into an unlikely area.
- Understand the harvest is now.
- Press in a bit. We need to get people alone, ask some questions and find out what God is doing below the surface of their lives.
Jesus made himself known to the Samaritans as the Messiah. How ironic it was that he made himself known as the Messiah to people who were seen as outsiders. By doing so, he made them insiders in his kingdom. The insiders of society often became outsiders in his kingdom. Sometimes God uses the most unlikely people to do his work, while those who should have been at the forefront of God’s work fail him. The heart of a worshipper is the most important thing to Jesus. He hates pompous attention-getters and loves true believers. He seeks out authentic worshippers, and when he asks them to do something, he gives them greater things to do. Legitimate testimony glorifies Jesus rather than the person making the testimony.
So how should we share the Good News with people, especially people from different backgrounds? Jesus shows us how. We must put aside our own agendas and ask questions. We must not condemn them or condone their sin. We must offer them the bright hope of a future that is God’s gift. We must look beyond their sins, their outside appearance and their cultural differences. We, like Jesus, must see everyone as someone God loves and not as a person of a certain race, background or reputation. When we approach God in spirit and truth, we touch his heart and move him in a special way. In return, we are to reach out to others and spread our faith by reaching out to one person at a time.
It might seem as if the task is hopeless, but it’s not. It might seem as if our neighbors are hopeless, but they aren’t. We don’t have the responsibility to bring them into the church. We have only the responsibility to be godly people in their midst. We have only the responsibility to invite. We have only the responsibility to plant the seed. God will send other people to water it, and others still to harvest. God doesn’t need us to succeed. God just needs us to be faithful––to do our part. The Samaritan woman was faithful. She did her part. She ran into town to tell her neighbors about a Jew who might just be the Messiah
Sometimes we are reluctant to do this. Why? It is because we are comfortable with our existing lives. Sometimes we don’t want to take the simple actions we need to change our lives or the lives of other people. Making small changes in our lives or the lives of others can have big impacts, especially since we live in an area that is spiritually dry and thirsty.
In his article entitled “The Last Crusade”, Major V. Gilbert told of the early 20th century battle for Palestine against the Turks. At one point Allied forces outpaced the camel caravan that was carrying their water. There were wells in the territory occupied by the enemy. Gilbert rote, “We fought that day as men fight for their lives. If such were our thirst for God and for righteousness, for his will in our life, a consuming, all-embracing, preoccupying desire, how rich the fruit of the spirit would we be.” This is a good lesson for all of us to learn.
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