A Look At The Samaritan Woman Religion Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
If I was asked to suggest one word which sums up John’s gospel, it would be the word encounter. The word became flesh and dwelt among us – encounter. Look, the Lamb of God – encounter. John goes on to record many of the people whom Jesus met in the course of His ministry. He constantly drew these people to Himself. He was the answer to the great spiritual needs of their life. Regardless of who they were, their basic need was to meet with Him, for an encounter with Jesus. In Ch 3 there is the encounter between Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, and Jesus, the redeemer of the world. And then in stark contrast here in Ch4, the women of Samaria encounters Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus’ meeting with this woman was at noon. Jesus was utterly weary, physically exhausted. He sat on the wall around Jacob’s well. Note in passing that, though Christ is the eternal Son of God, He was also truly human, the Word become flesh. He knew weariness, thirst, sadness, suffering and ultimately death. Two whole and perfect natures in one person. It is a comfort to us to know our Saviour is aware of our earthly lot. He is able to understand our needs as well as having the supply of grace to help us in our time of need. It is the grace of Jesus which is the first thing the woman experiences
1. The Grace of Jesus is displayed
We learn a great deal about Jesus from His dealings with this woman. The amazing fact is that He took the first step – the initiative was His. He made a simple request – give me a drink. It appears like a simple gesture, but it explodes the age old myth that God is distant and remote. In actual fact God is close and immediate, and this is so because He comes. He takes the initiative. What is even more remarkable in this first century culture was the fact that He spoke to a woman, and to compound it all, a Samaritan woman at that. Strict social and religious rule held sway among Jewish rabbis forbidding them ever to speak to a woman in the street not even his own mother would be acknowledged – some of the Pharisees had utter contempt for women, they would daily thank God that He had not made them a woman.
And in particular, Samaritan women – the bitter quarrel had gone on for 400 years, the Jews of pure blood despised the half-breed Samaritans who were heretics. Orthodox Jews travelling from Judea north to Galilee where Jesus had grown up went a roundabout way to avoid going the direct route through Samaria, even though it doubled their journey from three to six days. Even if a shadow of a Samaritan fell on an orthodox Jew, he was considered unclean. If a Jew did take the short cut through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans would not sell him necessities of bread and water. There was mutual loathing and distrust.
But there’s more. Not only was she a woman, not only was she a Samaritan woman, but also she was sexually immoral and promiscuous. She had had five husbands, and the man she was living with now was not even one of them. A bidey in. No wonder she was at the well at noon instead of the usual evening hour for drawing water. She wanted to avoid knowing looks and sharp tongues of other women who would despise her.
Yet despite all that, Jesus shows perfect courtesy and grace in asking her a favour. He knew all about her. If no one else in the world cared for her, He did, and He longed for her to know the peace and life He alone could give her. And to bring things right up to date, the reality is that He has the same sympathy for us in our sins and weaknesses. He longs to offer us His love and power.
He offers her water of a very different kind from that which he’s just asked her for – living water – that would satisfy her spiritually. “Water” elsewhere in John’s Gospel is a symbol of new life through the Holy Spirit into the heart through faith in Christ (e.g. John 7:37-39). The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14). This water which Jesus gives is so completely satisfying that whoever drinks of it will never be thirsty again.
These are words of Jesus that speak very directly to our deepest needs. How many of us, once the masks and disguises we wear have been taken off, can testify to the deep unsatisfied longing within our souls? How often when people talk about the change that Jesus has made in their lives do they speak of emptiness and dissatisfaction that was there before? How they tried everything to meet that need, but all in vain till they came to Christ. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” There was an old song which summed up the difference that Jesus makes
“Now none but Christ can satisfy.
There is none other name for me.
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee”
This is what Jesus is trying to get across to her. I can supply you spiritual needs, you spiritual thirst and longing by offering you water which will spring up within you – the life that Jesus gives is no tame or stagnant thing. It is abundant life, life in all its fullness, that sparkles, thrills and satisfies. This is the wonder of knowing Christ and the great blessings imparted by Him. If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink (John 7:37), says Jesus on another occasion. In Jesus they will be well supplied by an ever-flowing stream, which never runs dry.
Unlike the world, Christ offers a real and lasting satisfaction. If we drink at the world’s fountains, we are satisfied for an hour. If we drink at Christ’s fountain, we have perpetual satisfaction. It is not dependent on adversity or prosperity, fear or joy. This well keeps springing up, and it is all a free gift.
2. The need for Jesus is awakened
But we notice from John’s account that at first the woman misunderstood Jesus. She took Him literally, and replied that he did not have a bucket. The well was in fact 100 feet deep. Nicodemus had made the same mistake in taking Jesus literally (“How can a man enter his mother’s womb for a second time and be born again?”). In both cases, Jesus was speaking of spiritual things.
But it begins to awaken a sense of need in the woman. To show her how much she needed this new spiritual life He was offering He puts His finger on the weakness, failures and sin in her life – things that deep down she was aware of, but probably had never openly admitted to anyone before. She admitted to Him her current living arrangements. He knew her private life perfectly. He knew she had broken the seventh commandment. And now she knew it too. He didn’t accuse, nor did he wag his finger or confront her with her sin. He simply touches her conscience, and encourages her to name her own sin. And then she reacts. She’s suddenly faced with herself as she is, as God sees her, and she wants to change, she longs for this new life, a better life the full life, the clean life. She’s had enough of the wagging tongues and turned backs. She longs to belong, to be part of her community once again.
We never really see ourselves until we are in Jesus’ presence. The Christian experience begins with a sense of sin. We are awakened to ourselves, our need of God, of forgiveness and cleansing and life. Not till we see the beauty of Christ do we understand the ugliness of our lives.
But now she’s feeling uncomfortable. She tries to change the subject, but what a mistake. She enters into theological discussion with the Son of God. If Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel was out of his depth, what hope had she? But it was just a diversion. She entered an argument about the right place of worship. She hoped to divert from Jesus’ pointing out of her sin by showing Him she did have enough of religion to get by. It’s almost as though she’s saying, “well, I go to church, and at least I go to the right one – we Samaritans worship in the right place.” But Jesus’ reply pulls her back to His point. It does not matter where you worship, as long as you worship in spirit and in truth. Right back to the basic issues, it’s not about the forms of religious observance, it’s not about which church you go to or not, it’s the state of your heart that matters. Religion is not about outward forms and ceremonies. Jesus looks at the heart, the state of the inner life.
Yet still today people love an argument – how to interpret the creation stories in Genesis 1, where did Cain’s wife come from, (literalism!,) what hymn book should we use, how should the church be governed, what form of baptism, should we use set prayers or free prayerâ€¦. These are not the real issues. The question in the forefront ought to be – what is the state of my heart? Am I right with God? Do I have new life in Christ Jesus? Ultimately have you accepted the gift that Jesus offers – new and abundant life?
3. The gift of Jesus is received
It gradually dawns on the woman that she was in the presence of no ordinary person. He knew her private life and secrets. He knew all about God and His worship. And then He reveals He is the promised Saviour and Messiah that the Samaritans, like the Jews, were waiting for. He presents Himself directly as the answer to the woman’s problem. He is the One sent by God to be the Saviour of the world, of Jew, Samaritan and Gentile alike.
How ready Christ is to reveal Himself to the soul of sinners. “I am the one you are looking for.”
What is it you are looking for? The real question is, Who are you looking for? What is the state of your inner life tonight? Behind the façade, is there loneliness, emptiness, inadequacy, and hunger? Are you in search of satisfaction? Have you tried everything but still feel the same? Jesus reaches out in his grace to you tonight. He wants to awaken that need of Him in you tonight, and offers you the gift of life, which will bubble up within you like living water. Yes He must put His finger on the sin that has to be forsaken and forgiven. Sin has to be brought to the surface. But his desire is not to condemn you, he doesn’t want to reproach you, He simply longs to save you, and satisfy the deepest longing of your heart.
Hear His voice and respond to His invitation – If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
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