'THE WOMAN AT THE WELL' + MISSION.
Samaria, once part of Palestine: had most its Jews taken into captivity, at Babylon. Those left behind: became slaves of the Babylonians who moved south, to occupy Palestine.
Inter-marriage produced mixed-blood children who, when the Jews returned from Babylon, were considered 'foreigners': because they did not have Abraham as their unbroken-bloodline ancestor.
Jews going between Jerusalem and Galilee: hurried through ‘foreign’ Samaria, without stopping. Jesus not only stopped, but also began a remarkable ministry to the people there.
To come across someone who was both a Samaritan, and a woman, was doubly unacceptable to an adult, male Jew. The woman knew all about this: and was surprised that Jesus did not reject her.
Jews would never drink from a cup used by Samaritans: because they would consider the vessel and the action, to be ritually unclean. Yet Jesus asked for a drink: in a cup that the woman would supply.
Women usually fetched water together: but the woman in the story was alone; because the others would have nothing to do with her, because she was a known sinner.
Verses 17+18 state that she lived with a man who was not her husband; and had lived with five other men, in the past. Despite that: Jesus made no mention of sin; and, instead, showed obvious signs of accepting her.
At verses 11+15+20, Christ’s acceptance: made the woman relaxed enough to talk about history, place, tradition and practicalities. ‘Our ancestor, Jacob, dug this well, and drank from it …we, his descendants, always drink from it… you have no bucket ..we worship on this mountain, etc.
Jesus had sent the disciples to buy food from ‘unclean’ Samaritans. That might have been bad enough: but, on their return, the disciples found that he was talking to a ‘foreign’ woman, who was alone.
Verse 28 says: 'Leaving her water-jar, the woman went back to the town.’ It would take something very unusual to persuade a woman, in those days; on a water-fetching trip; to go off somewhere else, leaving her jar behind.
Something unusual had happened: and she was in too much of a hurry; to go home, and tell her story; to be slowed down by something heavy to carry.
Thus began, Christ’s extraordinary mission to the Samaritans.
Some of the main religious and spiritual points, that were important then, and are still so, include:-
In asking for a drink: Jesus put social and religious barriers to one side: and set the ground for all of the creative good that was to follow.
V.10. Jesus said: ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that asks you for a drink of water...’
In other words, he knew exactly who he was; and what he was about. Knowing just who we are, and what we are about, has great importance, in any outreach that we undertake.
At verses 10, 13 and 14: the woman raised some practical issues and objections; to which Jesus replied, with spiritual challenges.
His ability to ‘read’ her deep secrets: impressed her: and her response to him appears to have been very genuine.
At V.19, she, too, moved on to spiritual matters. She touched on worship practices: and created the context for Jesus to reply, in accordance with her spiritual needs.
He directed her mind away from history and tradition: and guided it to the Person of God, and to entering into a spiritual relationship with Him.
She was encouraged to say what she really believed: and spoke of her hopes of a future Messiah. In saying: ‘I who speak to you, am he’: Christ opened the way for her faith to be channelled, and her ultimate needs to be met.
The social and religious barriers that Jesus removed, at that time: foreshadowed the eternal removal of all such barriers between God and man, which was achieved at the Cross.
The woman arrived at the town: and gave an extraordinary testimony, and witness, to people who, usually, would not have listened to her. ‘Come; see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’
The townspeople, especially the men, not only listened to her (a woman; a sinner, and all the rest) but also responded in a very positive way.
V.31. Meanwhile, the disciples: who had not heard the spiritual debate; between Jesus and the woman, wondered why he had not eaten some of the food that they had fetched.
Jesus, still very much caught up in spiritual matters, rather than practical concerns: did not criticize them.
Instead: he moved from their practical concerns: and on to why they were there in the first place; outreach, witness and testimony: and then gave them a brief homily on mission.
V. 39- 42 show that, in the town, many Samaritans believed in Christ, through the woman’s testimony. They must have seen a real change in her: which validated what she said.
Following her ‘Come, see a man’ testimony: the men went out to meet Jesus. They urged him to stay with them, in their town: which he did, for two days.
Many more became believers; through the Lord’s presence and teaching: and could testify that: ‘We know that this man really is the saviour of the world’.
Some points of that story; are particularly relevant today: in mission, outreach, witness and testimony.
Jesus 'broke new ground, through the breaking of old, established, but unhelpful ground-rules'. He did so, through being fully involved with, and committed to, needy humanity.
At the cross; he finally broke down the barriers between God and man: but he had begun the process before that; including the event at the well.
The Church must never offer a cardboard cut-out of Christ, to the needy world; but the real Christ, who is caught up in the situations and events; and even in the ‘muck and mire’, of the world that he died to save.
The disciples had to unlearn a whole lot of things, in order to follow the Lord; and to have a share in what he was doing; and what he was bringing about.
Many of today’s churches, may have to unlearn some of their old habitual ways; and bypass some self-made ground-rules; in order to ‘break new ground’ in the service of Christ.
Because Jesus understood exactly who he was: and what he was called to do; there was a ‘holy boldness' about him; that even his enemies recognized.
There, by the well: Christ was surrounded by foreignness and rejection; by imperfect religious practices, and judgemental, attitudes; as well as plain sin.
Amid all of this: he dared to do what God had sent him to do.
What about today’s churches? Do they ‘dare to undertake’ what God has called and commissioned them to do?
At first, the woman's only response: was on the practical level of history and tradition. Pushing all such 'safe' talk to one side: Jesus spoke to her in spiritual terms.
There can be a life-and-death difference between ‘safe' talk, that no one objects to; and the spiritual witness, that can cut to the heart, and convert a life to Christ.
The woman at the well wasn't afraid to speak out. Going back to the town, she said: 'Come, and see a man': so, they went; and met Jesus for themselves.
Because of Christ's one-to-one mission to the woman: she became convinced and converted; and entered into salvation.
Through her 'one-to-several' mission, to some men of that town: they got converted to Christ.
Because of their 'several-to-many' mission, and witness; the men of that town reached out to far greater numbers: who also became converted to Christ, and then entered into the salvation-grace that God had planned for them.
The story of 'The Woman at the Well' illustrates, more clearly than most: the simplicity of God-given mission and outreach, and the widening-out joy of its fulfilment.
The story; and its developing outcome: is still relevant, today; and raises questions that cannot be ignored: such as:-
‘What sort of mission and outreach are we undertaking, from our churches; and what might be the outcome of it?
When did we last, say, to others: ‘Come, see a man…’ in the hope that they, too, will meet Christ for themselves? Amen.