John 4 v 1 - 26: 'Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well'

John 4 v 1 - 26 We recognise that we have been given a message by loving God in order to pass it on to a hurting world. But how best can we do this? Understanding that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were beginning to see that He was a bigger target than John the Baptist, Jesus-knowing it was not yet the time for confrontation- heads back from Judea to Galilee, at least a seven-day walk. Hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry, Jesus sat by the well of Jacob. Note that John, who is so aware of the divinity of Jesus also emphasises His humanity. It was midday, the hottest time of the day, no one around, disciples gone off to get food-interesting that this illustrates how their attitudes were changing-eating out of a Samaritan village. Jesus had spent time in Judea and the area around Jerusalem and was returning to Galilee, sensing the Spirit’s prompting. To go through Samaria was the obvious route although the Jews despised Samaritans, and many would have chosen to make the long route around this district. In one sense this was an ordinary day of journeying for Jesus, seeking to get to His next place of journeying, but with Him, unlike often with us, it was about the journey as much as the destination! He was aware as no one else has ever been of the silent thread of the Holy Spirit’s quiet workings, always alert for His prompting. Do we give the Holy Spirit opportunity to direct us? Let me be honest, I would probably have missed this opportunity-maybe taken the time to close my eyes and rest or pray, ignored the woman who was doubly taboo for a Jewish Rabbi-a woman and a Samaritan and as Jesus reveals as He speaks with her, one with a chequered history! However, what begins as an ordinary mundane conversation changes that woman’s life-don’t be so big on big talk that you lose the ability for small talk! This whole encounter is so far removed from anything that might happen to us-the well, the woman, the issues, the history, the state of religion at that time-yet it still has much to teach us, because essentially people remain the same, they continue to have a need to be recognised, to be viewed as important, to have their opinions heard, to have someone truly listen to them, to have someone who knows all about them, but doesn’t see that as a reason to condemn. As the great Bruce Springsteen coined it: ‘Everybody has a hungry heart!’ One thing about a stable community like Bradford on Avon is that people do not lose their bad reputations easily: think of this woman-middle aged, worn out, despised even by her neighbours-rejected by those who were rejected themselves-in no way an attractive proposition for an evangelist seeking to spread the Good News amongst the Jews! Yet Jesus spent time with her. This reminds us that Jesus loved people - He loved the crowds, He loved individuals - He knew that people messed up and lived lives full of pain and compromise, yet He loved them, and we can see this clearly here. That person you and I walk past-the well-known drunk, the elderly person who smells a bit because she cannot wash herself, the youth who has mental health issues, the young woman who is running away from her partner because he beats her up, the child who is being bullied, the bully himself. We have sanitised the Bible stories about encounters with demon-possessed men- how would that have been like and how far would we have gone to keep away from them? For you and me the challenge is that Jesus means us to get involved with these people, to have our hearts broken, to have the part of us that judges others sorely tested and to be active in this, to be deliberate. In those circumstances what does Jesus teach us about sharing our faith? 1. His humanity and naturalness, He is tired, but is always reaching out-one of the qualities we see throughout His ministry. He is not odd, there is nothing that is said or done which would cause the woman to stop the conversation, despite their huge differences Jesus is at ease and allows the woman to relax, the chance encounter with a stranger allows the woman to speak freely. He comes without uniform. There would have been no chance that an orthodox Rabbi would have had such an encounter-his manner and dress would have been one obstacle too far. In fact, there was a group of Rabbis called ‘the bruised and bleeding Pharisees’ because they would shut their eyes as they walked if they saw a woman on the street and so walked into walls and hurt themselves! 2. His relevance. The conversation is about things she can understand and that are important, the daily trudge to the well, the drawing of water at a time chosen to avoid others-what better thing to talk about than water and the continuous need for it? 3. His knowledge. Jesus knew the Scriptures, but this had not made Him into a pedantic scholar, He was able to use it to bring people to the truth-about themselves and God. This woman’s life-experience would have given her a very lop-sided view of God and His view of her, more about judgment and punishment than grace. Jesus invited her to receive and gave no sign that her life caused her to be invalidated. 4. However, Jesus is direct. This is a conversation rather than a chat-it goes somewhere, and it does not brush over the issues of her broken life. 5. He does not get side-tracked. You may have found like me that it so easy to move away in a conversation from what you originally intended to say. This contains much about religious differences, but that does not prevent the issuing of the invitation. 6. His compassion. She is treated as a person, her words, her argument is respected and listened to, He gives her dignity. Perhaps for the first time in her life the woman is listened to, she and her opinions are given respect-and she has a view, Jesus is in no rush. ‘People want to know that we care before they care about what we know’. Jackie Pullinger found that to say ‘Jesus loves you’ has no effect unless people can see the evidence. Pray, pray for a heart full of compassion! 7. His expression of His need. He has a request for the woman; He has no bucket-the travelling skin-with which to draw water. So often we get to know people when we are in crisis ourselves, it does us no harm to ask for help from a neighbour or stranger. The times when a car has broken down when people-normally young men-have jumped out of a passing car to help push ours. So, what was the offer from Jesus that the woman was so keen to accept? It is good for us to know here that Jacob’s well was one into which the water percolated and gathered-not the best quality water-but Jesus offered spring water! Not only beautiful tasting but quenching eternally! Despite all the differences of our living, one thing remains consistently true-men and women have a thirst that will not disappear, can’t be sated by drink or food, gambling, drugs, sex, alcohol, whatever. We are surrounded by thirsty people and we have the solution given to us by Jesus. All other things bring death, Jesus brings life and life in abundance, not brackeny water, but living spring, bubbling up, doing a new thing, always fresh.

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