My car was first registered 13 years ago this week and I think we have owned it since it was 12-18 months old (when I say owned it, the finance company owned it for the first couple of years). At first it was Jackie, my wife, who used it every day as she covers more miles than me and then in June 2009 the car became the one that I drive. We have covered over 100,000 miles in it and overall it has been a good car. Some members of my family have suggested it’s long past it’s ‘sell-by date’ but we have made an economic decision; it’s worth more to us than we could get by selling it. It’s still reliable, relatively cheap to run, most of the things in it work and in my opinion at least, still presentable but there is one thing everyone driving an old car knows; it’s only one major repair bill from going to that big car park in the sky. I’d like to be driving it 5 years from now but a major engine failure or even a fairly minor collision would result in it being considered beyond an economic repair and it being written off.
In today’s reading Jesus meets a human write off.
Jesus came seeking the lost but that is not the same as seeking popularity; this journey was driven partly by Jesus’ desire to get away from the spotlight (4:1-3). We have already looked at the hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans when we were reading the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel. Most religious Jews heading for Galilee would have avoided Samaria and taken the longer route around it but John states; “Now he had to go through Samaria.” (4:4). “The words ‘had to’ translate an expression of necessity.” (Zondervan NIV Commentary) So we see again that Jesus has a purpose and a plan in all he does. He is going through Samaria to meet a person and share the good news.
“Sychar was a small village near Shechem, about half a mile from Jacob’s well, which is located in the modern Shechem or Nablus.” (Zondervan NIV Commentary)
Before we get into the conversation between Jesus and the woman there is just one more thing we should consider; “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey” (4:6). The eternal Word that we thought about in chapter one, the one who was pre-existent and equal with the father; he was tired.
In the last chapter, Jesus spent time talking to Nicodemus. I think most of us would have considered this to be a good use of time, after all, Jesus described him as ‘Israel’s teacher’ (3:10). He must have been a very important and influential man. However, not many people would have thought having a conversation with a person like this woman to be a good idea.
- She was a Samarian with all that came with that. Not ethnically pure or religiously pure and possessing a hatred of the Jews
- She was a woman, this was a time when men and women did not just chat unless they were married to each other
- She had history, five marriages, five divorces, and an ongoing sinful relationship
- She was shunned by her own community. We are guessing a bit here but the fact that she came at the sixth hour (4:6) which would have been about noon when sensible people stayed indoors and certainly would have avoided heavy work in the heat of the day is quite compelling. She went when she could miss everyone else.
Jesus guides the conversation. He begins by asking for some water, as we’ve seen this was a big deal but it was also something that every person would have understood and it began a conversation. In my experience, it’s rare for a non-Christian to walk into a Church, hear a gospel sermon and the cry out; ‘what must I do to be saved?’ Of course it can happen but for most of us, the journey into faith in Christ begins like this one, with a conversation. This is a two way conversation, the woman is quite happy to share what she knows about worship with Jesus and amazingly, he is happy to listen.
Just as Jesus did not just happen to be at Sychar, his conversation was purposeful too and we see him masterfully leading to the things that really matter. It is noticeable that Jesus is constantly focussed on spiritual things when everyone around him seemed to be trapped in the mundane. Having demonstrated that he knew all about her life, he revealed three amazing facts;
- God the Father is seeking people to worship him (4:23). Jesus is on a rescue mission to bring people to the Father
- The people the Father is seeking are those who will worship in spirit and truth (reality). This was a time when there was a great deal of religion but also a great deal of hypocrisy. Jesus didn’t come to earth to find perfect people, he came for people who will be honest about themselves and their need of him.
“A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers.” (4:23 Amplified Bible)
- Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah (4:26). It’s the only time before his trial that he declared himself to be the Messiah. There are reasons for this of course, the Samaritans only accepted the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament) and so did not have access to all of the prophetic writing. They probably saw Messiah as a religious figure rather than the Jewish concept of a political leader. But the inescapable fact remains; Jesus chose to share this with just one person and she would have been at the end of a very long queue of likely candidates
I suspect most would have written off this woman as damaged goods, like a car that isn’t worth the cost of the repair and I suppose who could blame them. She’d had her chances and she had blown them. Jesus did not buy into that way of thinking. He is the shepherd unsatisfied with having just 99 sheep and willing to place himself in harm’s way for the one sheep that is missing. He is like the woman searching through the house for the one coin because it matters to her. He is the father running to embrace the son who has messed up. He is the Saviour, exhausted from the journey in the heat of the day, reaching out to a person on the margins of the community with the news that God is looking for her. He’s reaching out to you too!
“I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ Who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea.” (Francis Rowley)