John 4:27-42 2/7/17 9.45 & 11.30
By porthkerryandrhoose, Jul 4 2017 11:02AM
News travels quickly today. An accident happens on Port Rd and the warnings are all over social media straight away, so you can avoid the area. A lost dog, cat or child and the photographs are out there so we can start looking. Good news travels quickly too: the birth of a baby is announced on social media so friends all round the world can share the joy of the new arrival, even relatively trivial good news is shared with wild abandon, from the tasty meal in the restaurant to a new washing line which has managed to stay up.
Our reading starts with a woman who had some really good news to share. It's been a few weeks since we met her on our journey through John's gospel, but a quick glance to the earlier verses of chapter 4 will remind you. She is a nameless Samaritan woman, with a somewhat chequered past, who Jesus met at a well. And in spite of her gender (women were 2nd class citizens then), and in spite of her nationality (Samaritans were the big enemies of the Jews), and in spite of her questionable morality (adulterers could be stoned to death), Jesus offered her living water. Living water was a promise made by God, to his people the Jews, way back in Isaiah. But Jesus offers it to her. She is an immediate living illustration of Jesus' famous words in John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". You couldn't get much more 'whoever' than her. As their conversation twists and turns through religious controversy and her many men, her realisation of who Jesus is grows, until in v25 & 26 he answers her statement directly "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes he will explain everything to us" then Jesus declared 'I, the one speaking to you - I am he'. This is the most amazing news! Jew and Samaritan alike had been waiting for God's anointed king to come for so long. For the Jews the silence had been 400 years, for the Samaritans it was even longer. Yet here he is! She has got to go and tell people.
That's where our reading starts. The disciples have come back from buying lunch, surprised to find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman, and she dashes off to tell the good news. Another of John's contrasts is set up ready for us. Look how keen she is to go and tell v28 "Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people 'Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done. Could this be the Messiah?' A friend of mine has just got tickets to meet William Shatner, the great Captain Kirk. He is so excited that he's been posting pictures of the great man on Facebook and counting down days until he meets him. This woman has left one of the most precious and essential for life things she owns, her water jar, to go and tell the people she was previously avoiding, the good news. Her testimony isn't great: 'he told me everything I've ever done', no sign of the clever theological debates she was trying to draw Jesus into earlier, yet the impact is huge v30 "They came out of the town and made their way towards him." and John gives it the same weighting as John the Baptist's testimony, as he uses the same word to describe it. Why does her simple 'come and see' testimony have such an impact? Is it maybe because Jesus has already started to change her? We can see a change, can't we? From the woman on her own at the well at midday, friendless and alone to the one dashing to tell everyone who she has met. There is no substitute for just sharing with joy what the Lord has done, and when that's coupled with a change by the Holy Spirit, that testimony is powerful. By the end of our reading, many of those Samaritan villagers have come to faith in Jesus v39 "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony." and their faith has been cemented by actually listening to Jesus themselves v42 "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 Saviour of the world." The Saviour of the world, not just of one group of people.
We have the same saviour and the same good news. Why do we find it so difficult to share, as individuals and as a church as a whole? Why are we quicker to put our cooked breakfast or our new washing line on Facebook, than we are that answered prayer, or that touch of God's grace (and I do include myself in this)? We can find some answers to that question in the way the disciples handle the situation with the Samaritan woman. And remember that John has deliberately laid them out as contrasting, just as Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were contrasted, to show us an important truth.
To begin with, the disciples are too conventional. Traditionally a Jewish man would not speak to a Samaritan woman, and so when Jesus breaks with tradition to share the good news with her, they are surprised. We don't do things that way. Are we too conventional in our Britishness? Do we still have in our minds the idea that it's somehow not proper to 'do God' in public? Are we too conventional in the way we do things, imagining that because we love to sing worship songs/have a Green Book eucharist, that that's what everyone out there must want? And if they don't, then maybe Jesus isn't for them anyway. Are we too conventional, like the disciples?
Or are we too distracted? The disciples had gone off on a quest to buy food. It was a good quest, their teacher Jesus had flopped down wearily by a well after a morning's walking and they knew that food would revive him. But very quickly Jesus' lunch distracts them from the real purpose of being in Samaria. v31-33 are almost comical "His disciples urged him 'Rabbi, eat something'. But he said to them 'I have food to eat that you know nothing about'. Then his disciples said to each other 'Could someone have brought him food?' Feeding Jesus is undoubtedly a good thing. But the disciples' fixation on it has stopped them from noticing the abandoned water jar, or the excited woman running off into the town. Do we get distracted from our true purpose by other things, even if the things which distract us are good things? I don't doubt that we do. Both as individuals and as a church. There's always so much to do, always so much need. But what use is a beautiful church if its empty? What value a magazine worthy home if we miss out on a mansion in heaven? What purpose a memorable day trip if our children journey to adulthood without the Lord? Are we distracted from the real need?
Finally the disciples were blind to what was in front of them. v35 "Don't you have a saying 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." Like many people I have a vegbox delivered each week. It's great, fresh organic, mostly British food. And it comes each week with a letter from the farmer. Sometimes it's a rant about pesticides or advice on trying a new vegetable. A week or two ago it was his musings about the hot weather. Intense heat was doing many of the crops no good at all, and so he had to get up and get his workers in in the early morning to harvest the basil and spinach and so forth before it spoiled. Much of it was ready for harvest far sooner than it normally would be. Now imagine if he was complacent. ;The basil won't be ready for a fortnight. I'll pop over to check my farm in France. It would have ruined. He had to be alert, looking for the crop to be ready for harvest. The disciples had missed the harvest that was in front of them. They thought the good news was just for the Jews, but there were thousands of Samaritans who were ready to respond to the gospel. Who are we missing? Are we looking at one field and seeing a few scrabbly stumps, when there is whole other field just waiting to be harvested? Perhaps people we had never considered before? We need to ask the Lord to open our eyes.
So, a contrast today between the most unlikely convert turned evangelist and the conventional, distracted, blind disciples fussing over Jesus' lunch. Let's hear the force of the words of this passage for us in the church today and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to see where the harvest fields are ripe and to work with God in his harvest.