Text: John 4:4-26 Theme: Jesus tells a Samaritan woman about living water.
The woman lived in the village of Sychar. Sychar lay in the middle of Samaria. The region of Samaria was situated smack in the middle of the Jewish territory. So, we need some background on these Samaritans.
In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel was crushed by the Assyrian Empire. Most of the survivors were carted off as slaves. Some of the poorest were left behind. Then the foreign conquerors divvied up the land for themselves. Over time they inter-married with the locals and developed their own culture + identity.
Yet, Jewish roots remained. These Samaritans still had a partial notion of God. They still accepted the first five books of scripture: Genesis through Deuteronomy.
Samaritans also had their own place of worship to rival Jerusalem- Mt. Gerazim. Mt. Gerazim towered just a few miles to the southwest of Sychar.
When the exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed them. In turn the Jews despised the Samaritans as half-breeds who were three-quarters pagan. Samaritans were deemed ceremonially unclean- just like lepers. As John’s account bluntly put it: Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
One more bit of background: the Samaritan village of Sychar featured an ancient well. The well was originally dug by Jacob nearly 2,000 years earlier. All those years later it still provided the villagers with the water they needed. By the way, that well still exists; it is over 100 feet deep with a convent built around it.
One day at high noon a woman came to draw water. To her surprise, a man was there. Usually it was women who did all the grunt work of drawing and carrying water. This man looked tired and hungry and thirsty after a journey. And what do you know! The man was a Jew! In this territory, that was passing strange!
Then things got even stranger. The Jewish man actually spoke to her: Will you give me a drink? The woman was startled and intrigued. It triggers the longest conversation recorded anywhere in the entire Bible.
In John 3 we listened in on the encounter Nicodemus had with Jesus. Here in John 4 we listen to another encounter. Notice the stark contrast between the two!
That was at night; this is at high noon. That one Nicodemus initiated; this Jesus initiated. There Jesus met a man; here he meets a woman. Nicodemus was a Jew; she a Samaritan. Nicodemus was a ruler; this woman was a peasant who fetched her own water. Nicodemus the Pharisee had high moral standing; as it turns out the woman- not so much.
And yet Jesus took an interest in her. He taught her God’s truth no less than Nicodemus. Jesus breaks through every social barrier: gender, race, religion, even sexual lifestyle. As Galatians 3 says: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.
How did Jesus do it? How did he overcome these age-old barriers that separated them? First, notice that Jesus begins with common ground- with shared needs. They both get thirsty; they both need water to drink. Finding common ground. This is a valuable principle in reaching out to our neighbors despite our differences.
I remember many years ago Ruth and I were at the police department. We were getting our fingerprints taken for a background check in our adoption process. Alongside us was a guy I’d never laid eyes on before. We had no prior connections. But it turned out he was also applying to adopt a child. That was common ground. Sharing that common experience led to quite an interesting conversation.
Today our society seems to have more diversity and more differences than ever before. There are immigrants, Muslim people, homeless people, NASCAR-loving people. Differences- lots of them. But we can build bridges to our neighbors on common ground: raising kids, paying taxes, a favorite sports team, a love for hunting + fishing, whatever.
People often come to know Jesus through neighbors and friends. So we need to cross barriers to connect with people. That often starts with common ground.
Jesus crossed social barriers. How? Second, he asked for a favor. Will you give me a drink? Usually Jews were aloof: they’d never stoop to ask a Samaritan for help, much less a woman! But Jesus reverses positions. He puts her in a position of strength- of helping him.
Most people are happy to help with a favor; in the process they put down their guard. I’ve often noticed that when asking for directions. Usually people are very willing to help. The only problem is: half the time they forget some crucial information and I’m still lost. So, Jesus crossed barriers- both by finding common ground and by asking for help. By now this woman is really intrigued: You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? Jesus answered her: If you knew the gift of God + who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.
Here Jesus makes the same move he did with Nicodemus. He presents a puzzler. I would have given you living water. What? Living water? What is he talking about? He doesn’t even have a bucket in hand. The woman is clearly puzzled. Sir, you’ve nothing to draw with+the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
Like Nicodemus, the woman misses Jesus’ shift from physical things to spiritual things. Still, she’s curious enough to probe his identity. Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well + drank from it himself? In other words: can you outdo our revered patriarch + provide better water than he did?
Her question provides a perfect lead-in for Jesus: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. The water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
A spring of water. I think of city fountains which splash and sparkle with water. Springs seemingly come from nowhere. They create streams. Their water is life-giving!
But- water from Jacob’s well was temporary in slaking their thirst. People soon became thirsty again. Women had to keep coming to draw more water. This daily task was a grind. It was back-breaking work. It wore people out.
So, being spared this tiresome task really grabbed the woman’s interest. Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water. But Jesus is teaching about spiritual life- about life that is permanently satisfying.
You know, underneath all our activity, we long to be satisfied; we want to be fulfilled. It’s a fundamental human desire. We’re all thirsty for fulfillment at the core of our being. And people seek fulfillment in all kinds of ways.
People seek fulfillment through acceptance from our peers. People seek fulfillment in gaining money and all the things money can buy. People seek fulfillment in popularity and fame. People seek fulfillment in reaching various goals- like climbing the highest mountain. People seek fulfillment in finding the right man or the right woman- our true soul mate.
Isn’t that the premise of The Bachelor? Isn’t that the story with the Samaritan woman? Over time she had five different husbands. Now she’s trying again- living with another man. Underlying all of our human striving is the basic longing for fulfillment- to be satisfied.
But in the end all these quests alone don’t satisfy; they still leave people thirsty. Listen to the testimony of Manny Brotman: I tried religion. I had a wonderful religion- Judaism. Both my parents were Jewish. I was born a Jew. I would die a Jew! But somehow, I didn’t feel I could live my whole life for only religion.
I tried academics. I had honors… both in high school and college. But I could not live my life only for a string of doctorate degrees after my name.
I excelled in sports. In Philadelphia, I was quarterback of the championship high school football team + pitcher for the winning city baseball team. I had awards in basketball. But I couldn’t live only for athletic accomplishments and the friends they brought.
I tried the business world. I worked my way up...to corporate president. I had a lovely ranch home. Our company had a twin-engine aircraft; a pilot who flew me wherever we wanted to go. But still, I couldn’t live my life only for business accomplishments.
None of my accomplishments could ever fill that God-shaped hole within me. All these quests left Manny Brotman thirsty- until he met Jesus and was satisfied.
Are you thirsty at the core of your being? Do you long to be satisfied- truly fulfilled? Ultimately you won’t find it by being the best student in your class. You won’t find it through a really great career. 0You won’t find it with enjoyable family vacations.
Jesus says: Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
What an offer! What an offer for that woman coming to draw water at the well! What an offer for each of us. It’s an offer I’ve found satisfying- for sixty years.
Friends: will you receive the living water that only Jesus gives? Every other quest will leave you thirsty- unsatisfied. Come to Jesus and drink deeply of his truth and his grace. Then share the living water- as the Samaritan woman did.