Sunday, October 11, 2015
Sermon: John 4: 1-42 The Woman at the Well
If you’re looking at job adverts in the newspaper, one of the things that you’ll notice is the statement ‘So and So is an equal opportunities employer.‘ So it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your background is, you are welcome to apply; it’ll not affect your application. This morning as we continue with John’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is an equal opportunities Saviour. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your background is, Jesus is interested in you, and will save you. It’s the outworking of what we saw in ch 1 - He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him; but to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (1:11-12).
So think back to before the harvest, when Jesus met Nicodemus, and look at the person who meets Jesus today - they couldn’t be more different. Let’s play a little spot the difference. Nicodemus was a man, a religious man, and a Jew. Today, Jesus meets a woman, a morally questionable woman, who’s a Samaritan. Very different, yet both needed to meet with Jesus; both needed to be saved by Jesus, but the conversation goes very differently. You see, there’s more than one way to introduce people to Jesus. So let’s see what happens here.
Look at verse 4. You’ve heard of a man on a mission - there was no one more on a mission than Jesus. Everything was done perfectly. He could have gone by another route to avoid Samaria entirely, but Jesus ‘had to pass through Samaria.’ He had this woman in his sights. He had a divine appointment with her, even if she didn’t know it yet.
So he arrives at the well. He’s weary from the journey. He’s thirsty. And it’s noon. The sun is at its highest and hottest. You’ve heard the saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. Well, there were no mad dogs, and no Englishmen around. But there was this woman, coming out to the well to draw water.
Now think about it. Why is she coming when it’s really hot? Surely you would come when it’s cool, at morning or evening when everyone else came? Why come now? It’d be harder to do. She’s avoiding people. Yet Jesus knows, and Jesus is there to meet her. As they chat, they talk about three topics - water, husbands and worship, but watch how the woman’s view of Jesus shifts.
Jesus starts off with a basic need. ‘Give me a drink’ (7). Now even this is surprising. She can’t believe that he has even spoken to her. Normally Jewish men wouldn’t have looked near her. She was unclean, lesser, inferior. Yet here Jesus meets her, and speaks to her. Give me a drink. But then Jesus talks about living water - ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ (20)
She’s lost - you haven’t a bucket, how could you get water? But Jesus isn’t talking about the water from the well. He’s talking about living water - a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Water that satisfies and means you’ll not be thirsty any more. This is what Jesus is offering. Satisfaction for thirst.
But the woman reckons it would be great not having to come to the well any more. Is it just internal plumbing, hot and cold running water Jesus is offering? Do you see what she calls him? ‘Sir, give me this water...’ (15). But she doesn’t get it yet.
It’s at this point that Jesus says something that sounds to us completely random, and a wee bit personal. ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ (17). But Jesus is putting his finger on her own thirst, her own longing for satisfaction, and the ways she has tried to find it. The story goes of a wedding reception, and a person couldn’t make it, so they phoned in a telegram to be read out. They wanted 1 John 5:18 read out ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’, but the 1 of 1 John was missing and instead this was read out: ‘for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.’ Five and six times, she had tried to find satisfaction, only to find disappointment, and heartbreak, and even greater thirst.
Jesus got to her heart. He showed he knew her longings. And so she shifts in her opinion of Jesus. ‘Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.’ So then she changes the topic (!) and talks about worship. If you’re ever in danger of personal matters, it’s far easier to debate theology, and so she asks who is right - the Jew in Jerusalem, or the Samaritan on the mountain? Where do we need to go to worship God properly?
But Jesus says you don’t need to go here or there, you can do it anywhere: ‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ Forget about personal background, or religious heritage, or even a life of immorality - God wants worshippers who worship in spirit and truth. Will you do it? Will you worship in this way? Is this you?
But again, he’s getting a bit personal, a bit in your face, and so she again tries to change the subject. ‘I know that Messiah (Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Yeah, all this chat is well and good, but if only the Messiah was here. He would sort it all out.
‘I who speak to you am he.’ I’m here. I’m telling you. And then the disciples come back. And she goes. She leaves her water jar. And what does she say in the town, to all the people she normally avoided? No more head down, cross the street moves. No more fear of what the people think of her as they gossip about her latest fling. Now she’s banging the doors down. The shift is complete. Jesus has gone from stranger, to Sir, to Prophet, to, well, look at verse 29. ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’
The disciples are fussing about Jesus eating, but Jesus’ eyes are focused on the food of doing God’s will - this is what sustains him. And in this season of harvest services, the picture of the Samaritans coming out of the town to hear him is of ‘see that the fields are white for harvest.’ There’s a harvest, people to be gathered in, even among the Samaritans. You see, Jesus is an equal opportunities Saviour. You don’t have to be Jewish. You don’t have to be born into the Church of Ireland. You don’t have to come from our group. All can come, and be found by Jesus.
That’s what the Samaritans found when they met with him, listening first to the woman’s story, but then meeting with Jesus for themselves. The evidence of Jesus’ teaching is met by their belief, which leads to life - that living water welling up to eternal life. The Samaritans know it for themselves: ‘we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’
So perhaps you didn’t identify with religious Nicodemus. Perhaps you sneak in to church, hoping no one will notice you, fearing what people say about you. You’ve been thirsty for a while. You’ve tried to satisfy that thirst for living water by drinking from broken cisterns - sex, or drink, or drugs, and nothing satisfies. You’ve been searching for Jesus, for his living water. So come to him, drink, and be satisfied.
But this isn’t just for the people who make it inside the church building. All around us, your neighbours, friends, family members, work colleagues, people you bump into in the street. Everyone is thirsty. Everyone is trying to satisfy their longing in different ways, but only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Only Jesus can give this living water, because he is the Christ, the one who shows us how to worship right, and live right.
So who will you bump into this week? Who will God bring across your path, in a divine appointment, a God-incidence? Will you be ready to let that living water flow through you, spring up in your heart, to let a thirsty soul drink? Could you share a word about how Jesus has satisfied you? There is a harvest to be gathered, and you are sent to share in the labour, to reap for God’s glory. God calls all sorts of people to be Christians, people like you and me, and people very unlike you and me. But whether it’s Nicodemus, or the woman at the well, or the person you chat to tomorrow, all who believe Jesus will become children of God. May we see it more and more, as we have the courage to speak out and share, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 11th October 2015.