Sunday the 19th of March 2017
John 4: Jesus and the Woman at the well
This morning I am going to preach on my favourite bible passage: which is the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.
One of the interesting things about John’s Gospel that differs from the others is that it has these accounts, which record conversations with Jesus, like with Nicodemus last week, today’s reading is about a Samaritan woman and her conversation with Jesus.
Conversations with Jesus in scripture were not just any normal conversation, as Jesus’ words that he spoke were full of the power the Holy Spirit. In John 6: 63 Jesus says this: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”
When Jesus speaks, the Spirit is at work. When Jesus speaks, things happen. In the life of this Samaritan woman, who is not named, Jesus’ words to her bring her life. To this woman who came to the well at midday to avoid all the other women, is given the opportunity to engage in a conversation with Jesus, a conversation that would change her forever. As Jesus speaks to her the Spirit is at work through his words to bring her new life that comes from him.
One of the things that stood out to me was that there are contrasts between before and after her conversation with Jesus. These contrasts highlight those things that were now different for her in her life.
Before Jesus’ conversation with her, this woman could only see life in terms of her ancestry. Her identity as a person, and her place in the world so to speak, was founded upon her religious belief of the Samaritans, who based their whole religious identity on their ancestral link to Jacob, Joseph and the blessed well, from which she was drawing water. Through the conversation with Jesus, this woman’s eyes were opened to see her life as greater than her ancestry or heritage; that her true life and identity were in her relationship with God through Jesus, who is greater than Jacob, and in her fellowship with those who put their trust in this Messiah.
Before her conversation with Jesus, this woman could only see that to be faithful to God, was to worship him at a particular Holy place (called Mount Gerizim), and in a particular way. Again this influenced how she understood what it meant to worship God. After Jesus spoke to her, the woman began to see that true devotion to God meant focusing on the Spirit and on Jesus, God’s truth. Her eyes were opened to see that since Jesus is God’s temple and presence in our midst, one looks for God neither on Mt Gerizim nor even in Jerusalem, but rather we are to look to his Son and Messiah through whom we have access to our Heavenly Father.
As Jesus spoke to her, the Spirit worked in her to open her eyes to see. But to take it a step further in today’s reading, it is not just the Woman herself whose eyes are opened through his speaking to her. Before Jesus speaks, I get the sense that this woman was perceived in a negative way. What did the disciples see in this woman? Perhaps they saw her life as one that had many limitations and disappointments. Maybe they saw her failures and her sins. It would be an interesting question to ponder how these disciples’ perceptions of this woman influenced their thinking. Their attitude to the woman is given away when it says in verse 27: “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?”
Yet Jesus was talking to her. He was not only talking to her, but he was allowing her to ask him questions. He was allowing her to engage in a conversation with him about things that were important to her. Jesus was treating this woman with dignity and respect, rather than talking down to her. After Jesus’ conversation with the woman, the disciples see the work of God in the life of a despised outsider; they were able to see her new life in Jesus and the extension of that life through the woman’s bold witness to her countrymen and the way they responded to her and to Jesus.
When Jesus says: “But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”, he uses a picture here of the Spirit of God at work in the hearts of people. The water that is life-giving, are the words that bring with them the life-giving gift of the Spirit to the Samaritan woman and to all of us who believe.
This Jesus, who spoke those life-giving words to this woman, is the same Jesus that speaks to you and me today through his word to us. This Jesus who came to this woman, met her where she was at, listened to her questions and spoke words of life to her, is that same Jesus who does this for you and me. This Jesus who came to this woman in all her misunderstandings, in all of her sin, in all of her shame, and treated her with understanding and respect and grace, is the same Jesus who comes to us in the same way.
The woman in today’s reading was bold and she responded immediately by leaving her water jar and running out to tell others what Jesus had told her and she invited them to come and see for themselves. Now I don’t know about you, but I am someone who certainly does not feel confident in speaking to others like this woman did, as I suspect many of you don’t either. But the more I thought about it the more I thought about how maybe it is a matter of how we have come to a place where we don’t recognize the Holy Spirit working in us. I wonder if we are guilty at times of living life as if we have not been given the Holy Spirit. In other words we get stuck thinking only about the physical world around us, a bit like the disciples, rather than being open to God’s leading.
The fact is that even though we know that we sin, that we let God down at times, that we struggle to do what is right, we have been given the Holy Spirit who is with us in these times. We have been given Jesus’ words to us. And Jesus promises that he is with us and that he works in us, because of all that he has done for us. Like the conversation with the woman, when Jesus speaks, his word is powerful because his word brings the Sprit of life to us, every time he speaks.
One of the reasons why this is my favourite account of Jesus, is that he shows us how far he is willing to go, to reach out to those who the world may think are beyond reach. And at times I think it is a good idea to think about ourselves this way. Jesus comes to us and gives us his Spirit-filled word that brings us life in him.
I encourage each of you to read through again the account of Jesus and the woman at the well and to think about how Jesus comes to you and gives you the same life-giving water that he gave her. And I encourage you to think about what this means for your life as you follow him.