Reading: John 4.5-42
I guess we all have an image in our minds of a Christian. For many it's a middle-aged, middle-class person dressed in Sunday best. For others in society it may be someone who is a bit barmy believing in God isn’t exactly fashionable.
I wonder how you would react to a ‘Hell’s Angel’ coming to church, or a prostitute? I expect we would be a bit surprised – an unlikely turn of events. Well this is a story of an unlikely Disciple for Jesus.
The story begins with Jesus on his way to Galilee. He comes to a town called Sychar and decides to stop for a rest. He sits down for a rest beside a well. He’s probably wishing he had a bucket so he could draw some water to drink. The disciples have gone off into this Samaritan village to buy some food and then a woman arrives in the normal course of her day to fetch water. In other words, this is an everyday encounter.
There are problems though - the woman comes in the heat of the day - could there be some reason why she doesn’t come in the evening with the other women?
In any case she’s a Samaritan woman and Jesus is a Jewish man. They should, by all rights, ignore each other.
But what does Jesus do? He starts up a conversation. And there are couple of things about the way he does it. First of all he begins at a very down to earth, pragmatic level. "Give me a drink." There’s nothing intimidating or threatening about the way he begins. In fact it’s a very natural conversation starter isn’t it?
What’s more, although he knows something about her, as we discover later in the conversation, he doesn’t treat her as someone who might be despised by an upright Jew.
In fact he puts her in a position of power relative to him doesn’t he? He’s asking her for a favour.
But he’s doing more than that. He’s taking the opportunity that God has given him to make a connection with this woman so he can tell her the good news. He takes an ordinary situation, an ordinary conversation and he turns it around to a conversation about eternal life. And the conversation is with a very ordinary woman, someone you would never pick as a potential convert to his new movement, let alone an evangelist herself. Yet that’s what she becomes.
Sharing the good news
Let’s see what Jesus does. Well, Jesus begins the conversation with a request for a drink of water, but he quickly moves on from his material needs to her spiritual needs. The Bible is full of imagery of water bringing life, and of God’s spirit being living water that brings healing and eternal life.
So it’s a natural connection for Jesus to make between this well of still water and the living water that God provides to those who ask it of him. Well, surprise, surprise, the woman hears and responds.
Far from being a lost cause, or stony ground, she wants what Jesus is offering. She may not quite understand it but she knows this is something important that she needs.
But Jesus knows that God wants us all to be honest with him. He knows that this woman needs to be honest with him, to recognise what she is truly like – to see her true state before God.
So Jesus tells the woman to go and call her husband. He knows what her answer will be. He’s already discerned her true situation. But he needs her to acknowledge her standing before God so she can ask for forgiveness.
And how does she respond? Well, she tries to change the subject doesn’t she? She throws in your classic red herring. "That’s OK for you but we Samaritans believe different things from you Jews." She tries to divert the conversation away from the uncomfortable truth of her own history to the much safer ground of the history of the Jews and the Samaritans.
Ah, but Jesus doesn’t let her divert him - this is a matter of life and death. This woman can go on relying on the dead water of her religious traditions or she can drink of the living water of the gospel. So Jesus pushes a bit harder.
He says "Let’s not argue about how we worship in this world. A time is coming when true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth. In fact that’s the only way to worship him. So you’d better get on board now, while you have the chance."
And then we have the wonderful moment when the penny drops. She realises that this man is something special. In fact she says he reminds her of the one who was promised, the Messiah. "Yes," says Jesus, "You’ve got it. I am he."
God transforms even outcasts
Isn’t it amazing how God can take someone who’s obviously lived a fairly disreputable life and completely turn them around?
So many people think that Christianity is for good people – those who have got it all sorted out, who are nice and polite and good. Of course that’s not right – Jesus went to the outcasts, those who have messed it all up, and who need his acceptance and love.
I have met people who have lived fairly heathen lives, perhaps into crime or drug addiction, maybe they’ve been a total disappointment to their family. Yet somehow, even at rock bottom, they discover the good news of Jesus and become a Christian. And then, like this woman they are so filled with the forgiveness and life of Jesus they couldn’t help but tell others about him.
She races off to the village, so excited that she forgets she’s a social outcast and begins to tell everyone about what’s happened.
"Could this be the Messiah?" she asks. And the whole village follow her out to where Jesus is waiting with his disciples who have returned by now with lunch.
Finally, notice that Jesus spends the time while he’s waiting, encouraging his disciples to have confidence in his message, in the gospel. He says "Just look around. The fields are white for harvest."
What he’s done isn’t anything outstanding or unusual. He’s just shared the good news with someone who’s thirsty for the news that God is at work in the world, bringing salvation to lost people.
The picture is of a field where the fruit is almost falling of the trees, where the wheat is standing up tall ready to be cut. In other words there’s no magic formula needed to harvest. You just need to share your experience of Jesus with people – just as this disreputable Samaritan woman does. And the result: "Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ’He told me everything I have ever done.’"
Like Jesus we can have conversations with people and respond to the questions they ask - and sharing what we know of the Bible with them.
Or we can do what the Samaritan woman did. We can tell people what Jesus has done for us and then we can bring them to church or to someone who can tell them more.
Let me encourage you, either way, to have your eyes open for opportunities in your everyday life to share the good news of Jesus with people, to offer them living water, invite them to come to church with you, so they too can worship God in spirit and in truth.