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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

The Woman at the Well

John 4:5-42

It is not obvious that Jesus was obliged to go through Samaria – unless you have the map.

map

If you find Sychar, you will see that it’s at the intersection of two valleys. One is a river valley coming out of the hills; the other is a rift valley, running almost north and south. Going up the rift valley was part of the shortest time path for returning to Galilee. Having just cleansed the Temple, Christ was looking for the shortest time path.

The problem, however, is that this path takes you right through the middle of Samaria. The Samaritans and Jews of this time had an enmity which rivals that of Jews and Arabs today. Jesus Himself used this fact in portraying his angel of mercy to be the Good Samaritan – knowing that his audience would take more astonishment from it.

The providence of God

Many Christians will use the phrase, “divine appointment.” By this they mean an apparently chance meeting in which God provides special circumstance and activity. Older generations would use the word, “providence,” a term no longer taught, evidently.

There is a sense of connectivity in this story as well. The well is said to be Jacob’s well. The idea would have connected both Jews and Samaritans to their ancient history. It might even be said to carry a certain sense that great things happen at the well the great man dug.

Jesus is weary

Let’s look at the Scripture:

Joh 4:5-6 NIV So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (6) Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

It is the mark of the strong that they may be truly gentle. Here the creator of the universe walks our planet, and is hot, dusty, thirsty and tired. Augustine, commenting on this passage, tells us that “the strength of Christ created you, the weakness of Christ created you anew.” It is a common theme in the Bible that God, perfect in power, is also perfect in love, and therefore deals with us in our weakness, not His strength.

This is also a mark of his humanity. He did not float through this world without footprints; He partook fully of our human nature. He knows how we feel; He’s been there and done that.

We may also note the comment about the sixth hour. John, using Roman reckoning, tells us this encounter happened at noon. In Palestine no one goes out to the well at noon; it’s too hot. No one, that is, except a social outcast. But in this we may take heart: if Christ will speak to a Samaritan, a woman and an outcast from even that society, just who is He unwilling to touch?

The woman as a figure of the church

It is possible to view this entire encounter as a picture of Christ and His church; the church, obviously, being represented by the woman. This might just give us another way to look at this passage, and yield insights of its own.

Joh 4:7-26 NIV When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (8) (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (9) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[1]) (10) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (11) "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? (12) Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?" (13) Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, (14) but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (15) The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." (16) He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." (17) "I have no husband," she replied.

Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. (18) The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." (19) "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. (20) Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." (21) Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (22) You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (23) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (24) God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (25) The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." (26) Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

The seeker at noon

However the woman saw herself, Christ saw her first as an object of pity. She is an outcast among outcasts, her every move criticized. Could our Lord have been unmoved by her plight? She is not only to be pitied, she is one who is ignorant of the truth. That’s most of us before the church; wandering, outcast from God’s love by our own doing, just trying to get by somehow.

Puzzled

It is a fact: Christ introduces Himself here in a way that claims some importance – in terms of “if you knew.” But it’s not a claim delivered in arrogance; just delivered in mystery. It’s not until he gets down to personal detail that she begins to have some idea of who He really is. It is a mark of the love of Christ: he not only loves all of us, he loves each of us.

Call your husband

Jesus knows quite well she doesn’t have a husband – so why does he ask her to go get the man? Perhaps He is teaching us about His relationship to the church. The church is pictured as the bride of Christ – and in submission to Him. (That latter is still in the Bible, last time I checked.)

Picture the woman as the seeker of truth; she has no one in authority over her. She is liberated – and lost. She’s had five husbands, and now one live-in, and none of them have been the “right answer.” That’s the seeker, coming to the church. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

You are a prophet

Well, He is. But that’s not all he is. This is a typical misunderstanding by the newly created church member. It’s human to be that way; you typically don’t understand anything completely the first time.

We may also see in this section the defensiveness she has about her sin. She’s trying to change the subject from her sin to what appears to be empty theology. It’s typical of Christ’s response that He comes back with an answer which pulls her back to the point. It also gives her greater insight of God. It’s a growth process.

Call of Christ

Here is a simple summary of evangelistic preaching:

  • The time is now – not later, now.
  • Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
  • If you want into His kingdom, you must enter in spirit and truth, not ritual and dullness.
Service in the church

Saved to serve, as the Scots would have it. Despite her reputation, she starts spreading the good news. But see one thing: she doesn’t hide her sins, or pretend that they are irrelevant. In fact, her testimony is the stronger for her sins, a phenomenon we see even today.[1]

Aftermath

Joh 4:27-42 NIV Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?" (28) Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, (29) "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ[2]?" (30) They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (31) Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something." (32) But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." (33) Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?" (34) "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (35) Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. (36) Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. (37) Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. (38) I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."

(39) Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." (40) So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. (41) And because of his words many more became believers. (42) They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

The woman

This woman is a beginner at evangelism; see, however, what the beginner should be doing:

  • She is full of zeal for Christ – she leaves the water pot there. There is no sense of “wait until I have watered my livestock.”
  • She does not say, “See the Christ.” She says, “see a man who told me everything…” She testifies to what she knows; theology later.
  • She then asks her hearers, “Could this be the Christ?” In short, she testifies and then asks them to make up their own minds.
The disciples

It’s clear that the disciples aren’t clear on the subject, but the lesson Christ wants them to learn is zeal. He personally disdains food; the will of the Father is more important. Man does not live by bread alone.

When they finally get the question in edgewise, Jesus gives them the view they should have. They see a woman, a Samaritan and an adulteress – three strikes. He sees Samaria as ripe for the harvest. They see slim opportunities; He sees fields in need of workers. Sometimes we just don’t recognize what we’re looking at.

The Samaritans

We might see ourselves as not able to harvest; but see what this woman has done! Her evil reputation actually works for her in the kingdom as well as the community. No one would have believed her if she began to talk about how she was sanctified; but for her to admit her sins – and that Jesus knew them all – is a very different attitude. This is credibility – if you can stand being honest about yourself.

The other Samaritans? They take it personally. They take her up on the offer to “come and see.” Then there is no need for her further testimony, for they have met the Master. Meet the Master – and never be the same again.


[1] See Chuck Colson for an example today

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