18/10/03 SALT John 4:14-15.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 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. 7 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. ) 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."
Newsweek magazine carried the story
of the memorial service held for Hubert Humphrey, former vice-president
of the United States. Hundreds of people came from all over the world
to say good-bye to their old friend and colleague. But one person who
came was shunned and ignored by virtually everyone there. Nobody would
look at him, much less speak to him. That person was former president
Richard Nixon. Not long before, he had gone through the shame and infamy
of Watergate. He was back in Washington for the first time since his
resignation from the presidency.
Then a very special thing happened, perhaps the only thing that could have made a difference and broken the ice. President Jimmy Carter, who is a Christian and was in the White House at that time, came into the room. Before he was seated, he saw Nixon over against the wall, all by himself. He went over to him as though he were greeting a family member, stuck out his hand to the former president, and smiled broadly. To the surprise of everyone there, the two of them embraced each other, and Carter said, "Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!"
Newsweek magazine commented, "If there was a turning point in Nixon's long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion."
We read today of Jesus reaching out to a person who was despised by her own people who were themselves despised by the Jews.
Jesus was returning Northwards from Judea to Galilee, where he lived. He had a choice. To take a "short-cut" through Samaria, or to go a longer route.
There was a great deal of hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. They worshipped the same God, but the Samaritans only accepted the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, rejecting the Psalms and the Prophets. The Samaritans refused to worship at Jerusalem, preferring their own Temple built on Mount Gerizim, very near to where Jesus meets the woman at the well. In 128 B.C. Jews had burned this temple and there was an established hostility, suspicion and bitterness.
Today we might compare this to Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or Palestinians and Jews.
Until we realise this background cannot understand the shocking nature of Jesus' parable about the good Samaritan. To a Jew there could not be a good Samaritan !
A good Jew would take the long route around Samaria because it was considered that contact with a Samaritan would defile them. Making them ceremonially unclean and unable to take part in Temple worship.
Verse 4 says Jesus "had to go through Samaria". The reason he had to was not because he was lazy or unable to walk the longer route. But because it was God's will that Jesus would reach out to people outside the Jewish race. Sometimes called Gentiles.
That God would want to reach out to Gentiles was difficult for Jews to understand. That he should want to reach out to Samaritans was radical to the point of being offensive. Not only that but to a Samaritan woman. Women were of little importance in Jesus' day. They were treated like objects.
The well that Jesus came to was about half a mile from the town of Sychar. He was tired, showing us the humanity of our Lord. He would have been hot too, for it was about twelve o'clock, the sixth hour, verse 6.
Sunset was the normal time that water was drawn. This woman probably came at midday to avoid the other women of the town who could have been hostile because of her promiscuity.
Jesus ignored the custom of the day which held it was improper for a man to talk on his own with a woman. Not only that he requested a drink from a Samaritan. A Jew drinking from the same jar used by a Samaritan was unheard of. That is why the woman questioned Jesus in verse 9. Perhaps it was tinged with sarcasm.
Jesus uses this situation to move the conversation onto a higher plane. From the material water, to the spiritual living water that only he can give. He does it in such a way as to arouse the woman's curiosity. 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."
The woman hasn't quite understood everything although she does understand that Jesus is making important claims about himself. She is still thinking materially. Pointing out that Jesus has nothing to draw water from, and that the well was founded by Jacob. 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?"
Jesus replies that the water he gives, God the Holy Spirit, will satisfy in a way that water cannot. Water may quench a thirst once, but a person will soon become thirsty again requiring more water. Another trip to the well, winching a jar 100 foot down and up before carrying it home.
The Holy Spirit living inside will satisfy in a way that no water, no wine, no fast car, luxury mansion or foreign holiday can. Not only that but the Holy Spirit will overflow from us. Living water describes running water, moving, full of life and vitality Gushing out.
The woman still hasn't caught on. She is thinking of the material. 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." If we had to go and collect water we might sympathise with her.
So we have Jesus, the Messiah, reaching out and defying accepted customs and norms. Going to an immoral Samaritan woman to ask her for a drink of water. And engaging her in conversation in a clever way to bring her into a realisation of who he is.
We have a regular worshipper here. He comes here every Christmas Eve. To pray for his father who is dead. Melanie met him on a bus last month and he said to her that he didn't feel he could come to church any other time because of the clothes he wears and the earrings he has. Melanie assured him that clothes and earrings are not barriers to God, and that he would be welcome to come.
Sharon Borjesson from 'Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work'; "When my son was a young teenager, he and his friend set out on a bus across town to purchase skateboard axles. They each had $20. When they arrived downtown, they discovered they needed more money to cover bus fare and sales tax. They were short $3.75.
A branch of our bank was nearby, so they decided to go in and take out a loan. The teller told them that was not possible, but that they could get a cash advance on their parents' credit card. So they called home, but got no answer. They tried the teller again to see if anything more could be done. She referred them to the desk of the vice president. When he asked why the bank should give them a loan, they answered, "Because we're Boy Scouts and good students, and very trustworthy." He said that since they had no collateral, they would have to write out and sign an IOU. They did, and he in turn gave them the money they needed to complete their mission.
We found out later that this wonderful man lent the boys his own money. (My husband called him the next day asking for the same terms on a home loan!) In talking with the man, we learned that he had made many such loans, including a large one to a Navy wife whose allotment was delayed. He said he's been repaid almost 100 percent of the time, and that the opportunity to help others in this way was one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
My son and his friend hopped on the bus the very next morning. They paid off their loan and received their IOU signed by the vice president. It was banking at its best."
After this episode do you think the author ever thought about going to another bank? Do you think she was ever fearful in approaching her bank?
We and others need to open the doors of our hearts and our churches to look out. I am sure that many people are fearful when someone new comes into church. But the chances are that they are twice as fearful as we are ! Perhaps rightly so, because churches can come across as insisting that people conform to their own expectations rather than those of Christ. We are to reach out to people with the love of Jesus. Defying false expectations that create barriers. Not judging them but inviting them to meet Jesus and letting Him transform them by His Spirit, as he went on to change this Samaritan woman.