When was the last time you had a heart to heart conversation? In this era of communication via technology and in 140 characters, it seems that face-to-face conversation is a dying artform. And if it can’t be tweeted, pinned, shared, or posted, it doesn’t happen. We communicate, but often what’s missing is the heart to heart connection that comes through hearing, seeing and being with someone.
One of the longest passages in the Bible is an exchange Jesus has with an unnamed woman from a different culture in a public place. It’s an interesting and powerful encounter, but not for the reasons we’re usually given in sermons and commentaries.
I know the passage is long, but it is worth a read (smile)!
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called sa, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” ~ John 4:1-42
The Samaritan woman has been accused of a lot over the years, but one thing this passage does NOT say, is that she is a sinner. In fact, it says nothing at all about a scandalous or immoral lifestyle. Many have assumed she is a prostitute because she comes alone in the middle of the day to draw water, but that is just an assumption.
People have also come to assume that she has questionable morals since Jesus does mention five husbands and that she is currently living with a man who isn’t her husband. Yet Jesus never mentions that she must repent or change or be saved. There is no, “Go and sin no more” command so common in many other encounters. This woman could easily have been widowed, divorced, or abandoned. The fact she is living with a man who is not her husband was common. It was known as a Levirate marriage. A childless woman was often married to their deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir. They were technically not considered married to their brother-in-law, although they were completely dependent on him. Focusing on the scandalous instead of the tragic, distracts us from the rest of the story and the real message Jesus has for us.
Here’s what I mean. Immediately after Jesus describes her past, she says, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” It would be easy to dismiss this comment as a diversionary tactic by the woman when Jesus mentions her past in such detail. However, if we’re open to re-thinking this passage, we see she has great faith in spite of everything separates her from Jesus. Her questions about where the proper place of worship is gets right to the heart of centuries of religious divisions between the Jews and Samaritans.
In Jesus’ world, everything was against this woman: she’s nameless, a Samaritan in this Jewish story, a woman in a male-dominated society, she’s had a tragic life and is dependent on others. Yet Jesus saw her and engaged with her. Regardless, she was a person of significance to him and treated differently than she was accustomed.
The transformative moment of the story comes when, surprised by Jesus’ answer that is both hopeful and penetrating, she leaves her water jar behind to tell her neighbors about this man. She leaves her water jar – perhaps symbolic of the of all she’s hauled in her tragic life – to a new life God has for her.
I wonder what holds us back from the life God has for us? What are we still hauling in the jars of our lives that can be replaced by living water God offers us? Perhaps there are tragedies or grief or sorrows. Perhaps it’s a dead-end job or no job at all. Perhaps it is an illness in your body or spirit. It can be anything.
Maybe it’s time to have that heart to heart with God or someone you makes you feel safe and valued. Naming our challenges or even praying about them won’t change everything. But it will give us an opportunity to invite God more deeply into our lives and practice connecting our faith more fully with the realities of life.
When the woman tells her neighbors about Jesus, she tentatively asks, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” She anxiously expects a negative answer. Her story, however, tells us otherwise.