Breaking, Bucking Jesus

woman at well

John 4:5-42

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.

For many years I’ve looked at this passage through the eyes of Jesus.

He encounters this woman.  He’s a Jew; she’s a Samaritan; Jews don’t associate with Samaritans.  Nevertheless, he goes out of his way to teach her some amazing truths about God.  And in the end she goes back to her own town and tells her neighbors about the Messiah, about what he’s done for her.

The application is simple.  I’m to be like Jesus here.  I need to find someone unlike me, someone who is outside of my comfort zone; and I need to share the good news of Christ with them.  What’s more, my job isn’t done until that person goes and shares the good news of the Messiah with someone else—just like the Samaritan woman did.

So that’s how I’ve always looked at this passage.  It’s a good lesson for us all, sure.

But today I want to look at it in another way.  Today, with you, let’s try to get into the head of the Samaritan woman.  She’s the character more like us here, not Jesus.  She’s the one who meets the Messiah; she’s the one who comes to recognize him as the Messiah; and she’s the one who responds to the Messiah.  Like us, she’s the one on a salvation journey.

So then, as a starting point for her journey, notice that it is Jesus who initiates the conversation.

Jesus had many reasons not to talk to the Samaritan woman.  She was a Samaritan.  And, in that day of patriarchy, she was a woman.  But she was also something of a social outcast.  She’d been married five times.  And the man she was living with now wasn’t her husband.  When the disciples returned from lunch, they were shocked.  Jesus was breaking many unwritten rules, and maybe even some written ones, when he spoke to this woman.

So, I ask, what rules is Jesus breaking when he talks to us?  During this season of Lent, reflection and introspection are encouraged.  Which of your mistakes, shortcomings, and sins have come to the surface during your times of prayer?  What have you asked God to forgive you of recently?  You and I, we’re faulty, faithless, fickle human beings, prone to tantrums and whining, blame-shifting and selfishness.

Yet Jesus has initiated a conversation with each and every one of us.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today, sitting right where we are.  And we’re so important to him that he has broken rules and bucked convention for our sakes, just as he did for the Samaritan woman.

You’ve heard it before, I’m sure: Jesus meets us where we are.

But he doesn’t leave us there.  Notice, next, that it is Jesus who asks for a drink.

Have you ever thought about this peculiarity?  The woman has just walked from town carrying a water jar.  It is about noon.  Presumably it’s hot, and she’s thirsty.  And there’s this man, Jesus, just sitting at the well.

Why didn’t he get the water from the well himself?  He was perfectly capable!  And even if he didn’t have his own bucket, he could have borrowed the woman’s.  Or, if he’d been feeling especially polite, he even might have waited until after she’d drawn what she needed and then asked.  Yet he didn’t do any of this.  He simply said to her, “Give me a drink.”  What’s this all about?

Here’s my suggestion—a possibility anyway: Jesus offers the woman a chance to meet the Messiah through an act of love.

She’s on a salvation journey.  Jesus has initiated this journey, breaking rules and bucking convention.  But now he’s expecting a response—an act on her part, of love.

We meet strangers all the time, whether it’s someone’s hand you shook for the first time today or the table server you joked with last night at dinner or that homeless woman you walked past downtown the day before that.  We live in a large city; there are strangers all around us.  And with so many strangers comes human need all around us too.  A little thing like a cup of cool water offered to a stranger in love—this is a key part of our salvation journey.

The next thing to notice is the exchange: the woman genuinely engages Jesus, seeking to understand who he is.

He says, “Those who drink the living water I give will never be thirsty again”; and she asks, “Where do you get that living water?”

He tells her to go call her husband, and he will give them both this living water.

But she has no present husband.  Jesus calls her out on this.  But, you know, she doesn’t try to hide it.  Rather, the genuine exchange continues until Jesus at last delivers that great “I am” statement: I am he, the coming Messiah, the one who is speaking to you.

Jesus already knows her secrets—Jesus already knows our secrets—and he engages us anyway!  That’s part of that rule-breaking already mentioned.  But do you see what the woman does here?  She is intrigued by Jesus.  He teaches her something that is not easy to grasp, not at first anyway.  But she persists until she understands.  She shows a genuine desire to learn more about him.  She soon thinks he is something of a prophet.  But even this is a truncation.  And then, finally, she grasps the truth: he is Messiah.

So profound is this truth that she leaves her water jar on the ground at Jesus’s feet and returns to her town to tell about it.

Do you grasp the Messiah in a similar way?  Do you engage with tough questions about Jesus?  Are you striving to grow in your walks with Christ, perhaps even wrestling with his words as the Samaritan woman wrestled, not satisfied with easy answers but plumbing for deeper truths?  Does the truth about him resonate with you so profoundly that you set aside your daily routines—your own water jars—for his sake?

There’s one more observation I want to make about this woman’s salvation journey—and ours.  Notice what she doesn’t say to her neighbors.

What she does say is: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.”

“Come and see” is a good thing to say, and something we should all try to tell others.  But it’s the “everything I have ever done” part I’m concerned about.

What do you think her neighbors thought when she said this?  “Everything you’ve ever done, eh?  Wow!  That’s a tall order!  Where do we start?”

These were her neighbors.  They lived with her in close community.  No doubt they knew her shady past and her questionable present!  Everything she’d ever done?  It had to be a long list.

But there’s something she’s not saying.  It’s certainly suggested.  The reason she doesn’t say it, though, is because she doesn’t have to:

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done”—and still loves me anyway.

On our own salvation journeys, Jesus has brought us to himself, he has asked us to respond, he has engaged us in genuine relationship, and we have repeatedly failed him.  We know this, perhaps especially so during this season of Lent.

But, like the woman at the well, Jesus still breaks rules and bucks convention just to meet us where we are.  And like the woman at the well, he loves us anyway.  He is our Messiah!


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