John 4:5-42 9.45 & 11.30am 28/5/17
By porthkerryandrhoose, May 31 2017 09:15AM
A fortnight ago in our Together service we had a bit of fun doing Spot The Difference. I've got another one for us to do today. Here it is: [Jesus and Nico vs Jesus and Samaritan Woman]. There are lots of differences, not least the length of Jesus' hair. But that's not important right now. What I want us to notice is the spot the difference John has set up for us in chapters 3 and 4 of his gospel. If you turn back in your Bibles to John chapter 3 it will jog your memory. There we met Nicodemus. He was just the sort of person you would expect to be in God's good books, especially if you were thinking as a 1st century Jew. He was a man, he was an expert in the law, well to do and morally upright; a religious leader. Yet Jesus said some astonishing words to him v3 "No-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" v5 "No one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless they are born of water and the Spirit." No-one, not even you Nicodemus. Not even you upstanding church person. Yet there is a way 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." Whoever believes. In John chapter 4 we meet a 'whoever'.
Let’s get to know her. In v6&7 we find her coming on her own to draw water from the well at midday. Now going to the well was hard work. I think we forget how heavy water is. It’s only when I go camping and I have to fill up the big canister that I remember what women have to go through in countries without running water. It is hard. So you wouldn’t go at the hottest point in the day. You would go in the morning or the early evening when it was a bit cooler. This woman has come at the hottest time. Why? Well, getting water wasn’t all bad. The well was the meeting place so you’d get your water and have a good natter, catch up on the village gossip. This woman doesn’t want to meet up with anyone. She’s a social outcast.
There’s something else about her too. She’s a Samaritan. From the Jewish point of view that is completely beyond the pale. You see the Samaritans were a group of semi Jewish people. They were made up of the people who were left when Israel was taken into exile by Assyria and they intermarried with the local pagan people. But the die had been cast when the united kingdom of Israel had divided and the northern tribes had turned to idolatry under king Jeroboam. and had set up a new capital and a new centre of worship. In fact she brings the question of true worship up with Jesus in v20. It was a hot topic and this woman was on the wrong side of the debate.
But that’s not all. Her lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired (v17,18). In the days when people could be stoned for adultery this woman has had 5 husbands and is living with a man she’s not married to. All in all she is just about the least likely person to be in God's kingdom.
But just as we had a surprise about Nicodemus we’re about to have a few surprises about her.
First surprise, Jesus speaks to her v7. Now I don’t know about you, but if there is someone I don’t like or someone who seems a bit unsavoury to me, the last thing that comes into my mind is to go and speak to them. But Jesus speaks to her v7: “will you give me a drink?” The woman is startled. Apart from anything else she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus a Jewish man. He isn’t allowed to speak to her! Yet he does. Jesus breaks all the social customs to start a conversation with her. And that tells us a lot about God’s attitude towards people. There is no-one off limits to God. And that’s worth remembering. Jesus didn’t just call the nice upstanding citizens he also called the cheats and the fraudsters and the sexually immoral.
But he does more than just talk to her. Surprise number 2: he offers her something. V10 “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”. At first she doesn’t know what he means, just like Nicodemus when Jesus told him he had to be born again. It’s all a bit cryptic. Living water? All she can think of is water that she won’t have to come and get from the well again. But Jesus means a whole lot more than just physical water. In between services I always need to get a glass of water – leading and preaching is thirsty work and a glass of cold water just does the trick. My thirst is quenched. But by the end of the next service I’m thirsty again! It only satisfies to a point. But there is a deeper thirst inside each one of us. It’s this thirst that Jesus offers to quench “everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again but whoever drinks the water I will give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water that I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. This wasn't a new promise. Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters . . . come to me, listen, that you may live". But it was made to the Jews. Here it is for whoever. Whoever drinks the water. To everyone who will open their heart to him, he will enter in and be with them forever. Love, hope and peace that nothing else can match.
There's a deeper level of meaning going on here too. John 2 was all about a wedding, wasn't it? Jesus took on the role of bridegroom and made more wine appear. In 3:19 John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom. Today's meeting happens at Jacob's well. If you know your Bible history, who did Jacob meet at a well? His wife. In Song of Songs, Solomon calls his bride "a garden fountain, a well of flowing water" (4:15). All this talk of living water is a bit like a proposal. Now if Jesus was going to propose to a woman, what sort of woman would it be? Surely not this one! She's had 5 husbands already and the one she's with now she hasn't even married. Yet on the spiritual level that is exactly what he's doing. The image of Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as his bride is a frequent one in the New Testament.
And this offer truly is for everyone. You might look at the woman and think ‘Jesus is new to the area, maybe he doesn’t really know what she’s like’. But he knows all right. In V18 he says “you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband” and the woman is astonished. And it’s this that convinces her that Jesus is the Messiah. He knows her. And Jesus knows us too. He knows our past, He knows the things no-one else knows and he still loves us. In spite of this woman being a social outcast from the wrong religion with a dodgy personal life he still loved her and offered her the relationship with him that leads to eternal life. And he offers it to us too. No-one is beyond the pale to God.
So the story leaves us with some important challenges. If you are someone who thinks that because of your good church credentials God should let you into heaven, Jesus says no. If even a top guy like Nicodemus needs to be born again, then so do you. But if you are someone who thinks 'I'm not good enough for Jesus. I don't know enough. I keep messing up. My life is a mess'. Jesus says come, be my bride, drink of the water of life. And if you are someone who knows Jesus already, and is in that precious relationship with him, then let today's passage challenge you about how you view other people. Who is beyond the pale for God? The militant atheist? your muslim or Hindu neighbours or work colleagues? the drunken hens and stags staggering around Cardiff on a Saturday night? No. "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." How will that inform your prayers this week?