Monday, February 25, 2008

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

February 24, 2008

John 4: 7-26

Jesus and the Woman at the Well

I want you to take just a second this morning to think about the person who knows you best out of all the people in the world. Maybe it’s a best friend that you have known since you both were little or maybe it’s one of your parents. Maybe your brother or sister knows you better than anyone in the world, or maybe it’s your beloved spouse. Who is it that knows you better than anyone else in the world?

I would love to have the time to hear from each one of you who that person is, so I could go and ask them to tell me some really embarrassing stories about you! When you thought about these significant people in your lives many of you got smiles on your faces. It is nice to be known deeply by another person- it fulfills our basic human need to be loved and accepted. There are probably a few parts of you that this person is not too crazy about, but they love you just the same, faults and all.

Did you know that as well as that trusted friend knows you, God knows you just a little bit better? God knows each one of us fully, more fully than any human could know us. God’s knowing us so deeply means that God loves us more deeply than we could ever know. King David was aware of how deeply God knew him and loved him as he sang Psalm number 139. David wrote: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”

Talk about being known! To know what you are going to say before you say it, to know when you will rise up and when you will lie down- it is apparent that God knows us very deeply and intimately. I think this business of being so thoroughly known was intended to be a word of comfort- but if we are honest- isn’t being fully known by God a little scary as well? If God knows everything about us then that means our faults, mistakes and weaknesses are known by God. You know what I’m talking about- I’m talking about those negative parts of us that we try to hide from everyone. It’s possible that the person you thought of earlier knows some of this about you- but maybe even the person that knows you best in the whole world doesn’t know all your fears and weaknesses. I think we can safely say that it is both wonderful and truly terrifying to know that God knows all about us- every part, there is nothing we can hide from God.

If this thought that God knows is so deeply is a little scary to us, then what better story to look at this morning the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The story goes like this; Jesus leads his disciples on the most direct route from Judea back to Galilee, which was through Samaria. As you have no doubt heard before the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along well. A bitter rivalry existed between the two groups- so many Jews might have chosen to bypass Samaria altogether, but Jesus decided to take the shortest route, not avoiding Samaria in the process. In fact verse four of John four says that he had to go through Samaria. Did he have to go through Samaria because it was the shortest route or because he needed to talk to the woman? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Jesus is sitting by the well in town, around noon when a woman approaches by herself. Being more concerned about relationships with people, than about the taboo of a Jewish man talking to a woman in public, Jesus engages the woman in conversation. He simply asks if she would get him a drink. The woman is surprised and quickly points out all the social rules that Jesus is breaking. Not only is he talking to a woman, but a Samaritan woman at that. Then Jesus begins to share the message of the kingdom of God with her in this beautiful metaphoric language of living water. When Jesus offers living water the woman takes him literally, which makes sense because she is there to draw water from the well- so they have a bit of a circular conversation. Jesus offers her living water from God, and tells her that those who drink it will never be thirsty again. He is offering her a different life, a life of knowing him and knowing the love of God that comes through him.

Still thinking literally, she is on board, she would love to not have to return to the well each day to draw water- where can she get some of this living water he speaks of? Jesus tells her to bring her husband and come back. From her response, a different conversation ensues- one where the reader can see that even before Jesus made the statement about her calling her husband, he knew her fully. He knew, even before she admitted to it, that she had in fact had five husbands, and the man she was now with was not her husband. Jesus knew this woman fully. The story doesn’t say so, but I’m guessing he knew that she would be at the well at noon that day, and that she would come alone and not in a group with the other women. He knew perhaps that she would be willing to talk with him, and that she might be receptive to his message about living water. Jesus knew the Samaritan woman fully, just as God knows us fully.

Being known so deeply by Jesus had some serious implications for this woman’s life. First, you might have noticed that even though Jesus knows about her five husbands, and the man she is currently with, he does not pronounce any judgment about her situation. Readers and scholars have been quick to point out the scandalous-ness of the woman’s marital past, but Jesus says nothing about it. I imagine finding out that someone you know had been married five times might make you raise an eyebrow. But to be truthful, we don’t know the circumstances of these marriages- and we probably shouldn’t be so quick to jump to moral judgment about her. Jesus certainly doesn’t judge. Jesus lets the woman know that he knows all about her by telling her what he knows about her life. Instead of being scared or put off by Jesus- the woman draws closer. Jesus knows her fully and is not afraid of her, he is not afraid to travel to a hostile territory, to talk to a woman with an eyebrow-raising past, alone in the middle of the day. I think to Jesus, none of that really mattered. What mattered was that this woman be given an opportunity to know God more fully through her interaction with Jesus.

She allows herself to be known be Jesus, and in being known she is able to know him more fully. Because she allows Jesus access to her life, she realizes that he is a prophet. Before their conversation is over, she is able to know that he is the Messiah that she has been waiting for. The Messiah, revealed to a single woman, of questionable background at a deserted well, in the middle of the day. The more I read the Gospel stories, the more I am surprised at the way Jesus goes out of his way to bring the kingdom of God to individual people. Time and time again the good news of God is carried to people that we might not automatically think worthy of such a gift. The woman at the well allowed herself to be fully known by Jesus, and in so doing, she was able to know him fully as well. What a gift! Perhaps if we open up our lives to be fully known by God, we can know God more fully in the process- and what a gift that would be for us.

Opening ourselves to be known by God, and making ourselves vulnerable to God can be extremely rewarding. One of the rewards of knowing God deeply is to be able to worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus and the woman have a conversation about this type of worship. As soon as she realizes she is in the presence of a prophet, she asks him a religious question that has been on her mind. You see part of the dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans involved where the worship center was located. So the woman says to Jesus, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is Jerusalem.” Now that she has an expert, she wants to know who is right! Jesus responds that the place of worship, the location is not nearly as important as the attitude with which one approaches worship. To worship in spirit and in truth is much more important than whether we worship at one church or another.

As Jesus would later say, loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength is the most important thing we can do. Worshipping together with a spirit and attitude of love is important. In fact I would say that the most important thing that we can bring to church is our attitude. And that attitude should be a love of God and a desire to see the kingdom of God continually coming into the world. A true love of God is a lot easier made manifest when we allow ourselves to be fully known by God. When we open wide the doors of our hearts and say, “come on in God, come in to all my faults and flaws, along with all my gifts and strengths and love me fiercely, as only you can.”

I pray that each of us would allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God. I hope that we would open our hearts and allow God full access to our lives. If the woman at the well is any example, then we should not fear any judgment from God, but instead know that God’s love is big enough to handle anything that might be in our past, or even what is happening in our lives today.

When we allow ourselves to be fully known by God, then we will know God more fully in return. We will not be judged and ridiculed, but instead we will be freer to love God and to worship in spirit and in truth. Let God love you. Let God know you.

As we close, I would like you to hear the words of Psalm 139 again, this time as a prayer. Here these words as your words to God this morning:

(v. 1-4) “O Lord, you have searched me

And you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise,

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

You know it completely, O Lord.”


“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Sunny! Wonderful message about loving and not judging each other. When you get a chance go check out my most recent post on my blog at The title of the post is "Let Us Love One Another." Have a great week and I look forward to your next post.