John 4: 5-42
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
From the very outset of his ministry Jesus challenged the status quo. He broke down barriers and tore up the rule books. He made the uncomfortable comfortable and the comfortable uncomfortable. When he was teaching he often employed the tactic of shocking his audience to gain there attention and then teaching them a lesson they would never forget. Today’s Gospel reading is a very good example of this in action. The concerns of the episode at Sychar are threefold: the gift of ‘living water,’ the worship of the Farther in Spirit and truth, and the mission to non Jews. They are bound together by the actions of Jesus as Revealer, Redeemer and Mediator.
The passage begins with Jesus leaving Judea to avoid confrontation with the Pharisees. The quickest rout to Galilee is through Samaria. Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, in Samaria, after a long hot journey and rests, revealing his full humanity, he is tired and he is thirsty. When a Samaritan woman approaches from the nearby town of Sychar, to draw water from the well – he asks her for a drink! In contemporary Jewish society this would have been truly SHOCKING! In our liberal society nobody would think twice, but then no Jewish man would talk to an un chaperoned woman, even a married man rarely spoke to his wife in public, not so surprising really, because she had to walk three paces behind her husband in public. What would have made this event even more shocking was that the woman was of dubious character and a despised Samaritan!
The Jews believed the Samaritans were of mixed race, defiled, although Jew and Samaritan were both descended from Jacob and lived as neighbours, the Samaritans had collaborated with the invading Assyrians and intermarried with them. Worse still they were guilty of adulterating the Jewish religion. The Samaritans accepted the first five book of the Old Testament, but they worshipped in a different temple this rendered them untouchable and beyond redemption in Jewish eyes.
Jesus by breaking two taboos in one go would certainly have grabbed the attention of 1st century listeners, he openly challenges and breaks open two boundaries in this text: the boundaries between the “chosen people” and the “rejected people,” and the boundaries between male and female.
There is another famous occasion when Jesus uses the Samaritans to gain the attention of his audience and this was when he told the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’. In this instance the hero of the parable was the Good Samaritan, shocking enough, but he is only a character in a story. The Jacob’s well encounter would be profoundly more shocking because it is Jesus in person who initiates contact with the Samaritan woman by asking her to draw water for him.
The Samaritan woman is clearly shocked and say’s to Jesus “how can you ask me for a drink”, Jesus replies that if she new who she was talking to, it would be her who would be asking him for the ‘Living Water’ he could give her. The Hebrew phrase, living water, was used to describe fresh running water not still or stagnant water, and at first the woman takes the literal meaning of what Jesus is in fact offering her. Jesus tells her that any person drinking the well water will be thirsty again but any body drinking the water he is offering will never thirst again, in fact it will become in him who drinks it ‘A spring of water welling up to eternal life’. Quite naturally the woman, still thinking literally wants this magic water so she won’t have the drudgery of fetching well water every day.
Jesus now moves the encounter along, he asks the woman to go and get her husband. When the woman replies she has no husband Jesus reveals that he knows the woman’s marital history and present situation, Jesus is not being judgmental, and the truth of whom she is talking to slowly begins to dawn on the woman form Sychar. She raises the fundamental issue of who is right and who is wrong, Samaritan or Jew, where should God be worshiped Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. Jesus response is tell the woman that God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth, and champions neither Jerusalem nor Gerizim. This is a fundamental break with both traditions, and prompts the woman who is clearly shocked by Jesus’ authoritative reply to say to him ‘The Messiah is coming, and will tell us everything’.
Jesus reveals himself to her and replies, ‘I who speak to you am he’
Jesus’ disciples now return and I almost wish they hadn’t. I would have loved to hear more of the dialogue between Jesus, full of compassion, and the woman who first saw him as a thirsty man, then a Jew, then a Rabbi, afterwards as a prophet and finally the Messiah. We can only imagine her, so full of excitement she forgets her water jar, hurriedly leaving to spread the word as the disciples return.
We now have two stories taking part at the same time.
If this was an Andrew Lloyd-Webber production you would now see Jesus talking to his bewildered disciples at the front of the stage while in the background the Samaritan woman could be seen excitedly spreading the ‘good news’ to the town’s people of Sychar.
The disciples not for the first time completely miss the point of what is happening before their very eyes. They try to offer Jesus food and all he does is talk to them about a harvest that is four months off, what did he mean by telling them the fields are white and ripe for harvest? What they had not noticed was what was going on at the back of the stage. The Samaritan woman has wasted no time in spreading the good news, and now the road from Sychar to the well is full of people, all wearing the white clothing of the Middle East, all hurrying down the hill to meet Jesus. It is of course this spiritual harvest that Jesus told his disciples to prepare for.
Today, we as Jesus’ living disciples must follow his bidding.
As you know we are now living in a post Christendom, secular society – that is in reality a spiritual dessert, and the dessert starts outside the walls of this church. A desert means lots of thirsty people.
As practising Christians we all enjoy the ‘Living Water’ we have found in Christ Jesus. But as Christians we also have a duty to those who thirst around us who have not yet found God, who do not know it is Jesus that can give them ‘a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life’.
Our task, if you are willing, is to share our ‘Living Water’ with those who thirst around us. We don’t have to press ourselves on the unwilling, there are so many people who thirst for spiritual fulfilment, rather like a deer that seeks water in the cool of the evening, they will find us if we are prepared to be a witness for Christ Jesus in the same way as the woman of Sychar was.
The fields are indeed white for harvest.
May God be with us all.