Encounters with Jesus: The Woman at the Well
“Healing Where it Hurts”
Today I want us to read a familiar story to some of us found in the Gospel of John about Jesus and the woman at the well of Jacob. [Read John 4:1-26]
When you paint an physical image in your mind of Jesus, what does he look like? Does he look like this a 17th century depiction known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For me, I can’t imagine a Jesus like this. For one thing, HE’S WHITE in 1st century middle eastern Palestine! He also has soft feminine hands with no dirt under his nails. There are no scars or wounds from his struggles among us. THIS Jesus can’t help me overcome my addictions. THIS Jesus can’t redeem me from my anger issues, unforgiveness, resentments, regrets.
When I think of an image of Jesus, THIS image is more accurate. THIS Jesus knows the weight of life’s burdens. THIS Jesus identifies with human suffering and pain. THIS Jesus is no wuss. He’s tough, determined, and committed. THIS Jesus can save me from myself!
In this morning’s story we read that Jesus is on a journey from Jerusalem to Galilee that takes him from Jerusalem in Judea through Samaria…ultimately to be called the “Savior of the world” by the town folk of Samaria. Where have we heard that geographic trajectory before? Acts 1:8à “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Anyway, it says that Jesus HAD to go through Samaria to get to Galilee. True, it is the most direct route to Galilee. Remember, Capernaum is home base for Jesus. But a KEY factor in this story is that Jesus, a Jew, was interacting with a Samaritan. Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans because Samaritans are half-breeds: part Jew and part Canaanites who intermarried after the destruction of the Northern kingdom. When the full-blooded Jews from the Southern Kingdom returned from exile by the Babylonians, they encountered these half-breeds who, among other things, rejected the Jerusalem Temple site as the central place to worship God in favor of their own Mt. Gerizim. Jews would actually curse Samaritans during worship in the Temple, asking God NOT to answer their prayers.
It’s also significant that Jesus, a respectable Jewish Rabbi, is having a conversation alone with a woman he doesn’t know. Not only that, but we will learn later in the story that she is a woman of questionable, moral character, for she has had five husbands and is currently cohabitating…a nice way of saying she was shacking up.
She was the kind of woman that other mothers and their daughters crossed the street to avoid. I can imagine the stairs she must have endured. That’s why this woman of questionable character waited until the hottest part of the day to come to the well…to avoid the stares and whispers.
We don’t know what we don’t know. We DON’T know what led her to take the path she did. She could have been sexually abused before marriage, making her undesirable in her culture. Used goods. And if you’re a woman without a husband in 1st century Palestine, you had no means of support. Perhaps your only way to survive is selling your body. Maybe she compromised her integrity just to stay alive.
The thing is…Jesus KNEW this woman before he even asked for a drink of water, and KNOWING her checkered past, he offered her living water by asking for drinking water first. Jesus is saying, “Woman, I know the reputation you have around here; and I STILL want to be your friend.”
There are many people around us in Marshall County who, through a series of choices and events, have found themselves in what seems like a never-ending downward spiral. Unfortunately, they often get no compassion from the church. Instead, they get stares and whispers.
What some folks hear the church say is this: “Get yourself cleaned up…get your life right and then you can be a part of our church.” One of the primary reasons unchurched people avoid church is to avoid feeling judged. If Jesus waited until folks got their act together before he offered grace, healing, and forgiveness, he would still be waiting in Galilee!
Instead, Jesus is eager to offer her (and us) living water, a fresh bubbling spring within her, giving her eternal life. Even in the midst of human hunger in the heat of the day, Jesus is ready to set aside his own basic needs in order that great needs can be met in this half-breed.
Jesus is talking about spiritual water that never runs dry and that offers eternal refreshment of our thirst for God and salvation. The woman is thinking only of the wet stuff…and who can blame her. We all need water to survive, don’t we? She wasn’t looking to quench any other kind of thirst that day. So she asks for this magical water to keep her from coming to the well day after day. She’s missing the point.
Jesus then gets her attention by reading her mail. “Go get your husband,” knowing she didn’t have one. It is here that we need to remember that our circumstances, nor our choices as a result of those circumstances, don’t give us license to sin against God or others. Jesus doesn’t excuse her behavior. He simply told the truth: “I know you have no husband. The truth is, you’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with is NOT your husband.”
Jesus does not compromise on the truth, but neither does he judge, condemn or reject the Samaritan woman because of her lifestyle or social position (cf. Mark 2:17; John 8:10–11).
There’s a difference between wounds and scars. I’ve had five surgeries on my feet and the SCARS to prove it! Those scars don’t hurt anymore. But right after the surgery, the incisions were WOUNDS. They were sensitive to the touch. I avoided my feet making contact with other objects for fear of sharp pains running up my feet and legs.
This woman at the well had WOUNDS. I can imagine, based on her five husbands, that she had lived a life self-pity and regret. She NEEDED a man in her life to survive…either physically or emotionally, EVEN if those men abused her or ultimately discarded her. She likely felt worthless, rejected, and alone. Then Jesus comes along and—with the divine intention of healing her where it hurts—He presses on those wounds!
The woman did what most of us do when we’ve been touched in sensitive areas…we RECOIL…we WITHDRAW. In this case, she DEFLECTS. “Sir, I see you’re a prophet. So tell me, why do you Jews say we Samaritans have to worship in Jerusalem?” What does THAT have to do with the price of Tea in China? Nothing. She’s not really interested in His answer. She just wants him to stop pushing on her wound. So, she deflects.
Truth matters. Jesus rightly answers her that salvation comes from the Jews. Why? Because Jesus is a Jew! He then goes on to give a more complete answer about worship. Worship of God is in a relationship with Jesus the Son of God, who offers streams of LIVING WATER bubbling out of every believer welling up to eternal life.
It’s not the denomination…it’s not the rituals…it’s the relationship with Jesus the Savior that matters. It’s always been the relationship that matters! The woman then seems to get on board with Jesus by saying, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declares the first of seven “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John. “I, the one speaking to you—I AM HE.” Later, Jesus will declare to his disciples and to religious leaders, and to great crowds: “I am the way the truth and the life…I am the gate…I am the bread of life…I am the light of the world…I am the great shepherd.”
But Jesus CHOSE to reveal himself as the great I AM to a serial adulterer and fornicator. He CHOSE to reveal himself to a hated Samaritan, and he CHOSE to reveal himself to a WOMAN. Any one of these characteristics in Jesus’s day make this person on the lower rung of society at best and an absolute outcast at worst!
God’s grace toward sinners is evident in this story, where Jesus is offering salvation to a woman, a Samaritan, and one with a questionable lifestyle. God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus—of streams of living water welling up in us to eternal life—is a free gift. completely independent of gender, nationality, or merit. God is offering the free gift of salvation independent of our past or even our present.
Jesus is the Son of the Living God sent to bring salvation to ALL who will repent and believe the Good News. We can ALL drink from the well and never be thirsty again! We can experience “Rivers of living water flowing from our hearts!”
At this the woman runs off to tell all her friends, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” The town KNEW everything she ever did and they REJECTED her for it. Jesus KNEW everything she ever did and LOVED her in spite of it.
The “rest of the story” is that many of the Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony. When we encounter the living Lord, what is our response? Do we run tell everyone we know about how our lives have changed because of Christ? This short passage nestled in chapter 4 is one of the greatest nuggets on evangelism in the Bible.
She drops her water jars—forgetting her physical thirst and the reason for her visit to the well in the first place—and runs to tell her friends and family about this new relationship with the one who really knows and understands her. Her WOUNDS are now becoming SCARS. “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”
Yesterday at a Kairos training event, I was reminded of a powerful illustration of God’s relentless love for us found in a true story of a young boy in south Florida. On a hot summer day the little boy decided to go for a swim in the lake behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore!
His mother, in the house, was looking out the window and saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son as loudly as she could. Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.
It was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much too passionate to let go. A neighbor happened to drive by, heard her screams, raced from his truck with his rifle, took aim and shot the alligator. Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived.
His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved.
The newspaper reporter who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs; and then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my mom wouldn’t let go.”
We all have wounds where others have deeply hurt us…or where WE have hurt ourselves by the choices we’ve made. But JESUS WANTS TO HEAL US WHERE IT HURTS. He wants us to give him those wounds of resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, self-hatred, addictions, and the like. He wants us to acknowledge our hurts, habits, and hang-ups and TRUST that Jesus’s work on the cross is sufficient to take away all of it.
He wants to turn our WOUNDS into SCARS. We can’t erase our past, but we can let Jesus heal us so that all that remains are the scars. The don’t hurt anymore. We don’t have to recoil or deflect. We can then say, like the woman at the well, COME AND SEE! Jesus healed me. I am free from pain, free form addiction, free from self-pity and hatred, free from unforgiveness!
The world is thirsting. More “stuff” won’t do it…more self-gratification won’t do it…more food or booze won’t do it…more digital channels won’t do it…more technology won’t do it…MORE RELIGION won’t do it either.
What will quench our thirsts? A real encounter with the living Messiah, the Christ…an encounter with the one who knows everything we’ve ever done or even thought, or believed…and loves us in spite of it.
Maybe someone here has been standing by the well a long time but has never taken a drink. Today that Living Water can be yours today. Or, maybe YOU’VE taken that drink, but look with judgmental eyes at others who want a taste and think they aren’t the right kind of folk to be drinking alongside you. Today is a great time to let God change your heart to be more inclusive of those on the margins of our society.
Lastly, maybe there are some of us who recognize that we have not offered the Living Water to others like the woman at the well did. Perhaps we know we should be talking with our neighbors and inviting them for dinner and hopefully to worship with us. The fields are ripe for harvest…the Well is running over…now is the time.
Regardless of what you are wrestling with, I invite you to respond to what God has laid on your heart. [TRANSITION INTO COMMUNION]