We begin our scene at Jacob’s well, as two people discuss what God desires. One of those people is the Son of God. This story is told by Mark Buchanan in his book Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down. -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
“Will you give me a drink?” Jesus asks.
The voice, the question, the man: they startle her. They startle her out of her silence and avoidance.
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” [See John 4:1-42]
And then unfolds a remarkable encounter, a life-turning exchange. But not at first. At first, her speech is as cagey as her silence, a series of diversions and evasions. Jesus offers her living water, “the gift of God.” She’s puzzled and intrigued, but when Jesus exposes her condition, she scurries down a rabbit trail. She wants to talk about worship. That might be a good thing, but as so often happens with talk of worship, it bogs down quickly into hairsplitting and argument baiting. Is this style better than that style? Is old better than new? Is tradition better than innovation?
When Jesus exposes her condition, she scurries down a rabbit trail.
Jesus cuts through all that with a clear word about the heart of worship: it’s about the heart in worship. It’s about a heart that longs for God and seeks him wherever he might be found. It’s about a heart that wants truth in the inmost parts, and opens itself wide as a bird’s mouth to receive it, and steeps in it until it works its way to the outermost parts. Worship is not about a style or a form or a place. That’s not what God’s seeking. He’s seeking not a kind of music or liturgy or architecture but a kind of person: humble, hungry, wide awake, who comes in spirit and truth, bold and beseeching both, ready to live toward God out of their depths.
Which is all fine and well. But the woman, either overwhelmed or underwhelmed, tries her last dodge: “I know that the Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” And then Jesus pulls out his showstopper (with a kind of Yoda syntax): “I who speak to you am he.”
That changes everything. She runs back to town, “leaving her water jar” (a lovely and revealing detail: she’s distracted in all the right ways now), and does something that, in the telling, flies by so swiftly we could easily miss the revolution at hand: she goes back to her town and says to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
And they heed her.
She “said to the people.” That’s the revolutionary detail. That’s the shock wave of the story.
[The Story's Shock Wave: "She said to the people"]
We have little background to this encounter. We know, from the text at hand as well as from other places, biblical and historical, about the mutual hostility and suspicion between Jews and Samaritans. We know — John tells us straight up — that Jews don’t talk with Samaritans, and at the story’s close he tells us again, less directly, that her gender is a cultural problem as well.
[We know] women in the ancient Near East never went tot he well [at] high noon. [And they] never went to the well alone.
[We] can also, with a bit of sleuthing, shade in a few more details about this particular story. We know that in general women in the ancient Near East never went to the well at “the sixth hour” — high noon. It’s too hot. And we know in general that women in this culture never went to the well alone. The trip to the well was done in the cool of the day and in the company of others. There must always have been exceptions to these customs. But the fact that this woman has lost at love so often — five ex-husbands — and has become so cynical about or damaged by that that she’s given up on matrimony altogether — the man she’s with now is not her husband — is a significant clue about why she’s at the well by herself at noon…
She’s ashamed. She’s estranged. She’s probably outcast — scorned by her community, distrusted by the women especially. Villages have names for women like this. Tramp is one of the nicer ones, and it just gets worse from there…
She “said to the people.” … “They came out of the town.” The encounter with Christ has healed the rift. Whatever’s kept her apart from the rest of the town, Christ has mended. Whatever authority she’s lacked, Christ has restored. Whatever shame’s kept in the shadows, Christ has removed.
That she describes this as ‘everything I ever did’ says a lot about how these things weigh on her, how completely they define her.
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” All we know for sure that Jesus told her is that she’s had five husbands and she’s shacking up with her current guy. That she describes this as “everything I ever did” says a lot about how these things weigh on her, how completely they define her.
But it also says a lot about Jesus. It tells us the tone with which he spoke. There couldn’t have been a single note of condemnation in it. There couldn’t have been even a shadow of scolding or shaming. She heard the voice of love. She heard the voice of acceptance. She does the math: the Messiah reveals himself to me, teaches me about God’s heart for worship, and offers to me the gift of God — and he does it knowing full well everything I’ve ever done. My past doesn’t disqualify me. My past has not forfeited my future.
He doesn’t hold my past against me.
- Mark Buchanan
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