The Woman at the Well

Today’s passage: John 4:1-42
Who are you really?

This morning, we’re continuing our Easter series, considering the good news that our lives aren’t defined by our failures. Instead, we find that God offers us the chance for new life in the midst of our brokenness.

In today’s passage, we get to look in on an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. For most of this incident, Jesus was alone with the unnamed woman; all the information that we have on this encounter must therefore have been passed on either by Jesus or the woman herself for John to be able to write it down. We’re not sure who the source was, but I’d like to think that it was the woman herself. Certainly, by the end of our reading, she wasn’t at all shy about telling anyone who would listen what had happened. And that’s a big thing. Because this was a woman who, it seems, was living in a desperate place of shame and guilt and social isolation when Jesus found her. Last week we saw how Zaccheus sought Jesus out, wanting to know who he was. The woman in today’s story wasn’t expecting to see Jesus – she was probably expecting to find the well blissfully unoccupied.

John tells us that Jesus had to go through Samaria on his way from Judea to Galilee. Not because that was the only route available to Him – it wasnt’. Not because that was the most time-effective route – He happily stayed two days extra in Samaria. Jesus had to go through Samaria, because the good news about God’s kingdom was good news for them as well. Jesus had to go there, we might even argue, because He needed to meet a desperately thirsty woman at a well.

The dregs of what had once been the northern kingdom of Israel, mixed with all sorts of other peoples and religions, the Samaritans were considered by religious Jews as outcasts – both racially and religiously. The two people groups were constantly at odds. For a Jew to speak with a Samaritan was almost unheard of – it wasn’t done. For some idea of what it must have felt like for Jesus to speak with this woman, consider a Jewish person asking a Palestinian for a drink of water today. All that racial enmity. And yet Jesus refused to be bound by cultural barriers. He reached out in love to this broken outcast.
Jesus was physically thirsty that day. But the thirst that this woman brought was much deeper.  She was a marked woman in her community. She had had five husbands (or men) in her life, and the husband (or man) she was living with at the time wasn’t her husband. As with Zaccheus last week, we’re not told the backstory of her life. We don’t know if she had been cast aside by several men, and wasn’t willing to risk the hurt of yet another divorce. Maybe she’d been hurt by men in the past, and so would rather push them away than risk being hurt again. Whatever it was, it seems that she just couldn’t find satisfaction. So many men in her life, and still she was alone. Isolated. An outcast in an outcast nation.

As you read through the passage, notice how the woman tries to push Jesus away at every step. She’s drawn to his offer of living water, but uncomfortable with revealing her need. Even when Jesus reveals that he knows the truth about her relationships, she doesn’t want to discuss it, but immediately tries to sidetrack Jesus with a question about right worship. Her relationships might be a mess, but who, she seems to imply, was this Jew to come and lecture her?

But Jesus won’t be pushed away. Instead, He uses her attempt to push Him away to pull her back into her need for the gift of God. The worship God desires is worship in spirit and truth.

Which brings us back to our initial question: who are you really?

All of us have dark corners in our lives, areas where guilt and shame drive us into isolation and desperation. We tend not to want to face that reality; we want to avoid the scorn of those around us, and to present ourselves as better than we really are. We don’t want to admit the whole truth about ourselves to ourselves – let alone to God.

But if we are to worship God, we must do so in truth – which includes the truth about who we are. As C.S. Lewis says, we must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.  God already knows it all – and still comes and offers us living water, if only we ask. God offers us Himself – his Holy Spirit – if only we ask Him, putting our trust in Him.

Jesus still offers the Gift of Himself, bubbling up to eternal life. (And “this,” said Jesus, “is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”) And God the Father still desires worship in spirit and truth.  As this woman found out, there is none too far gone for Jesus to reach.

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