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First Presbyterian Church of Guymon

Thirsty for Truth

Our story today is about an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at a well in the desert.  As we follow their conversation, we’ll see that not only us, but every generation, has had to deal with their mistaken understanding of how they are to worship, where they are to worship and who they are waiting for.   Contemporary people have the same issues when it comes to sorting through the different denominations and religions who claim to present truth, the true Jesus, all the different ways to worship, and a common understanding of who we are waiting for.    I’m reading from John Chapter 4, beginning at verse 5.  Hear the word of the Lord:

 

John 4:5-42

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

 

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)  10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”  13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  17 “I have no husband,” she replied.  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

 

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”   

 

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

 

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.  42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  Thanks be to God!

 

Getting Jesus Right:  Thirsty for Truth

 (Not exactly as preached)

 

Water wells are important places – in ancient times they were often built in town squares for easy access, but the one in this story is just a short walk from the outskirts of town.  Because everyone had to go to the well at least once a day, they were usually social meeting places, especially in the cool of the evening.   Wells are mentioned a lot in the Bible especially as a place for men to meet women – Abraham’s servant went looking for a wife for Isaac and met Rebecca at a well; Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well and Moses met his wife Zipporah at a well. 

 

Spiritual things also happen near wells – when Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away into the desert, Hagar met the Angel of the Lord near a desert spring.  The Celtic races believe that wells are “thin places” where human beings can come near to the spirit world.  And how could any well be more of a “thin place” than this one where the Samaritan woman encounters God himself incarnate in Jesus? 

 

John tells us that it is noon – the hottest part of the day when most people are indoors.  Jesus – God in the flesh - is hot, tired and thirsty and sits down to rest while the disciples have gone off into town to look for some lunch.  It’s worth noting that Jesus – who can feed 5,000 hungry pilgrims with five loaves and 2 fish – sends his hungry friends off on their own to look for a Subway Sandwich shop!  Apparently, God isn’t going to waste any miracles on things we can do for ourselves!

 

Jesus sees a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water, so he asks her for a drink.  No shrinking violet, she immediately starts in with a smart remark about why a Jewish man is talking to her, a Samaritan woman.  It turns out she’s quite a talker, and Jesus’ ordinary question turns into the longest conversation with Jesus recorded in the Bible!  And after she challenges him, she hardly stops for breath before mocking him about being greater than Jacob, the great patriarch who dug that well thousands of years before.  She is unafraid, unimpressed, and quite disrespectful.  She is the unbeliever that frightens all of us would-be evangelists into silence.

 

What is unsaid in the story is that the reason no good Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman is because no Jew would go near Samaria at all.  Jews believed that Samaritans were pagan and unclean, and Samaritans were especially resented because they claimed to worship the same God as the Jews.  As far as the Jews were concerned, the Samaritans got everything wrong:  They used the wrong Scriptures, because the Samaritans only used the first five books of Moses, and none of the wisdom books or prophets; they worshipped in the wrong place, because instead of worshiping in the Jerusalem Temple that Yahweh had established, the Samaritans worshipped in a rival temple on Mount Gerazim; instead of having priests appointed by God from the family of Levi, the Samaritans appointed their own priests; and finally, because the Samaritans had intermarried with pagans, the Jews believed that the Samaritans had polluted the Jewish bloodline.   In short, they only used the part of the Bible that suited them; they worshipped in the way most convenient for them; they had fake priests; and they lived like the world.    

 

We encounter Samaritans today, too, but because we’re taught to be more tolerant, we would not be so obvious about it.  We could compare the Samaritans to the quasi-Christian religions we know of today.  Instead of using a Christian Bible, they write their own Bible to create a Jesus that suits their own theology; or they add extra books to the Bible in their effort to amend it to match their religious ideas.  There are other sects that call themselves Christian that claim their own leaders are the Messiah and not Jesus. 

 

Less obvious modern Samaritans are those individuals who call themselves Christian and yet pick and choose their favorite Scriptures in the Bible and dismiss the rest.  There are “red letter Christians” who only accept the words of Jesus that are printed in red in some Bibles and dismiss the writings of Paul and the rest of the Bible.  There are others who only accept the New Testament, but not the old; and others who accept the gospels alone.  I expect we all know some people who fit these descriptions, yet call themselves Christian.   

 

If we wanted to go farther afield, modern Samaritans might be the other major religions of the world who would seek to elevate their human writings to the level of God’s word; or who seek to pull Jesus down from his divinity as God to a level as single teacher or prophet among many. These are the people who claim that there are “many roads to God,” and seek affirmation from Christians and Christian institutions and they often receive it.

 

Nevertheless, here at the well, Jesus is clear in his conversation with the Samaritan woman that he – and no one else - is the Messiah that the Samaritans wait for, but they don’t know it, because they are worshiping wrongly.  Jesus makes it clear that salvation is from the Jews – and not from anyone else; and that God the Father is seeking a particular kind of worship and a specific kind of worshiper that God alone – and no man – defines.  Jesus is saying that God the Father – God HIS father - is a particular God with particular attributes and particular desires; that there is no other God and that all other gods are powerless inventions of the human imagination; and that God is under no obligation to those who worship idols.    

   

The Samaritans almost had it right – they used the Bible, but not all the Bible.  Like the Jews, they were descendants of Abraham – but they had intermarried with the Medes and the Persians.  They lived in the Promised Land, but they centered their culture around a well dug by a Jewish patriarch, Jacob.  If there was ever a religion close to the truth, it had to be the Samaritans.  And Jesus had the opportunity – right here in this conversation at the well – to validate that God was obligated to save the followers of all the other religions of the world, but he didn’t do that.  Instead he offered himself to the Samaritans – and to the other religions of the world, and unbelievers and gentiles like us.   For reasons we don’t know, in eternity past, God chose to save the world through Jesus as a Jew – so everyone today has equal access to God through Christ, his Son.[1]

 

Well, besides his commentary on the Samaritans as a group, and other religions in general, Jesus also addressed the woman’s condition as an individual.  That he cared to engage her on this level is itself extraordinary – any other Jewish man probably would have struck her for her insolent tongue – but also, as far as the Jews were concerned, religion was about – and for – the benefit of men.  In Jewish thought, not only could women not be saved, the reason that women could not be saved was because they had no soul – they were little better than animals.  Think of it.  No souls. Not to have a soul means you’re not human.  It sounds bizarre and foreign to us moderns.  But in all cultures – even our progressive culture - women are considered to be of less value than a man.  The one-child policy in China results in the abortion or infanticide of girls because girls are considered a burden to the family and boys are an asset.  It is the same in many countries of Africa and the Middle East, where abortion is less common, but girls are still considered a burden.  Parents around world may love their daughters, but many are proud when the baby is a boy.  Gender-selection abortion is becoming common in the United States, with boys being the favored gender.   It’s true that in the United States and in most western nations, that women have equal rights on paper and in courtrooms – but in practice, it is often quite different.

 

It may be that was why the Samaritan woman was so bold with Jesus.  In her mind – at least at the beginning of the conversation – she must have considered him less than a man, because he was so different from the other Jews - and so she was not impressed and didn’t seek to impress him or defer to him.  But in spite of all of this, Jesus pressed ahead with her – even though he knew about her five husbands and her current extra-marital affair, he didn’t speak to her in an accusatory way.  He didn’t try to shame her for her past.  He didn’t accuse, but he did speak the truth.  He didn’t speak the false gospel of moralism to her:  “Why did you do that?”  “Don’t you know better?” “Don’t you know what the Bible says about that?”  Jesus knows better than anyone that the law doesn’t change anyone’s heart – that only grace does.  Grace first treats other people like human beings with feelings and not like sub-human animals.  Grace lifts people up to an equal level - it establishes a relationship without unequal power, without hierarchy.  Grace asks for water as though from a friend, and doesn’t demand water from a servant. 

 

But grace doesn’t stop there.  Because grace doesn’t pretend, grace lifts up, establishes relationship and earns the right to speak the truth.  The woman could speak boldly to Jesus because of the relationship that he established.  And Jesus, too, gained the right to speak boldly to the woman:  “The fact is you have had five husband and the man you now have is not your husband.” It is relationship that enables Jesus to speak truth in love through us:  “The fact is that you’ve been an addict for a long time now and it hurts me to see you hurt yourself that way.”  “The fact is you’re my friend and I’ve seen you scare your kids and your wife and I have to tell you your bad temper is keeping you from being a good husband and father.”  “The fact is that I know you’ve been lying about (whatever it is).  There’s no need to hide anything from me because I love you.”

 

You know, a couple of weeks ago, before I preached on the Beatitudes – the ways that Christians are to practice living to get ready for life in the realized Kingdom of God – I preached about the reason that we are to live differently:  Because as God’s elect people, in God’s sight, we are “kind and smart and important.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble and the peacemakers – the kind of people who are on God’s list of “kind, smart and important” people. 

 

In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, we see what evangelism Jesus’ way looks like:  He doesn’t walk up to her and say, “Do you know Jesus?”  He doesn’t say, “If you died tonight, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?”  Instead, he does the same thing he did with the crowd when he preached the Sermon on the Mount, only he does it with her as an individual:  First, he relates to her as an equal, and by doing that he blesses her by acknowledging her as a person, not a project.  By doing so, he is conveying that she is important.  Then he asks her for a drink of water – he provides the opportunity for him to accept something from her to validate her - he gives her an opportunity to be kind.  Then he engages her in meaningful conversation – he doesn’t talk at her.  He doesn’t argue with her.  He doesn’t try to prove that he’s right by telling her she’s bad.  With meaningful conversation he conveys that her opinions are important, and by challenging her assumptions, he’s communicating that he thinks she’s smart

 

That’s Kingdom evangelism in a nutshell:  acknowledge people as equals and don’t classify them; share something with them to prove that you need them; and then engage them in meaningful conversation.  That will earn you the right to speak about important things with them, important things like who Jesus is and what he’s done for you. 

 

The Samaritan woman became so thrilled with what she’d heard from Jesus that she ran back to her village to tell all her friends and family that they just have to come and meet this remarkable man, because he’d told her some extraordinary things!  And when they hear her story about the Jew who talked to a Samaritan woman – imagine thatthat was worth coming out to see.  And when they heard Jesus speak themselves, they became believing followers of Jesus.  Do you see how that works?  We don’t need to worry that we don’t know the Bible well enough, or our words won’t be convincing enough to bring people to faith – because it isn’t our words that bring people to faith.  The Samaritan woman didn’t bring anyone to faith with her words.  The Samaritan woman shared her enthusiasm, her excitement – she told her friends what Jesus had done for her.

 

If you are a Christian whose life is centered in who Jesus is and what he has done for you – you will have your own stories of how Jesus has saved you; stories about how the Holy Spirit has led you; stories about the providential hand of God intervening in your life in ways that turned things that looked like catastrophes into blessings.  You’ll have stories about moments that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up when they happened because you knew that what was happening was a God-thing.  Those are your stories!  That’s what you say when you tell someone to “Come and learn for yourself about the One who did this for me.”  Then, when they listen and read God’s words for themselves, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, they will come to believe for themselves. 

 

When you’re talking to someone about faith, you never have to worry that you have the right words.  You only have to have the right Jesus – the one who changed your life.

 

Let’s pray:    God, you are such a blessing in our lives – thank you for coming to find us; thank you for taking on human flesh so you would to be tired and thirsty enough to sit down with us and rest for awhile.  Thank you for being willing to talk to unclean Samaritans like us.  And thank you for believing that we are worth saving.  We ask that you to set a desire in our hearts for those in the world who worship false gods or no god.  Make us bold to speak about the ways that you have approached us, and led us and engaged us.  Stir up our enthusiasm for all of the things you have done to lift us up.  We ask these things in the name of our friend and brother, Jesus, who speaks to our hearts and minds, so to save our souls.  Amen. 

 

[1]Jimmy Davis, “The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well.”

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