How do we live out our faith in Jesus and invite others into life with Him?
This is a message that is designed to be re-listened to. I want us to consider the possibility of revisiting and reconsidering it. In other words, I’m hoping it won’t actually be just a one thought shot. It’s not really an express train, it’s more of a journey that’s filled with stops. Some of those stops along the way invite us to get off, stop, linger, and reflect. They invite us to ponder things. I’m hoping that some of us would consider revisiting this. In that regard, the online services are different from the replay. On the replay, you can stop it, go back, move, and discover things that you may have missed the first time through. That’s the purpose, and I want us to really take advantage of that. Let’s take this unconventional way of communicating and turn it into an opportunity. This is a message that has to do with “exhale.” I wanted to use that great exchange in John 4 between Jesus and the woman at the well as our focal point. I want to say a few things about Jesus and the way that He engaged people before I jump back in. In fact, some of you may or may not be aware, but you have a digital handout. There’s the ability to do notes as well.
That handout is designed to allow you to not only look at the scriptures but to see something I wrote. I wrote it as a reflection on the uniqueness of the method of Jesus with people. I want you to look at that with me. I’m just going to read it through. It’s a fairly large piece, but I just want you to listen to some of it because it captures a little bit of what was in my heart. I want it to be exactly as it came out of my heart, to help illuminate this moment. It says, “A large portion of the criticism that was leveled against Jesus had to do with the fact that He mingled with the unacceptable of his culture. Those who were on the social margin, the despised and the ostracized, the spiritually blind and the publicly maligned, the non-religiously inclined of His day, the ones we might call the outsiders, sinners, and tax collectors, rich men, poor men, beggar men, thieves, adulterers, and prostitutes. What’s remarkable is He was able to communicate love and acceptance without condoning destructive and immoral practice.” I’ll say that again. “He was able to communicate love and acceptance without condoning destructive and immoral practice.
In fact, change for the better always seemed to follow genuine interaction with Jesus. There was something about His way that made people feel simultaneously at ease and yet disturbed about their condition. Think about that, both at ease and disturbed. It’s something remarkable. He did not patronize people or subtly communicate disgust because He was unafraid. He was so completely confident in the purity of His character and the singleness of His mission, He could move in love with ease across borders and boundaries. He did so in such a manner that critics, casual observers, and even His own disciples were at times stunned, amazed, and in some cases aghast, at the boldness of His method. “It’s one of the reasons I love Him so much. I love the way of Jesus, and I love the way that He could do this. It’s just a stunning, remarkable, beautiful example of how to engage people, how to confront things, but in the most delicate of manners. I just find it remarkably beautiful.”
Let’s take a look because there’s probably no greater example of what I just referred to, than what we are reading about here in John 4. This interaction with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is everything. It encapsulates the very best of the way of Jesus. It models for us how to engage others. It says in verse 3, “He left Judea and departed again for the Galilee, and He had to pass through Samaria.” The older version says it so poetically, “He must needs go through Samaria.” The Lord had to do it. He had to go through Samaria because the Father had put it into His heart to do so. He didn’t literally have to pass through Samaria. On the map, you can see where Galilee is in the north. Judea is in the south. That’s where Jerusalem is and where we derived the word “Jew” from, Judea. But Samaria’s in the middle. It plays a big part in the Bible story historically, certainly at the time of Jesus.
We know that a lot of times most Jewish people and certainly the rabbis of Jesus’s day would tend to completely avoid the region of Samaria. That sandwich space in between Judea and Galilee. Instead, they would cross over on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Jordan River served as the eastern border of Samaria. They would’ve gone up or down, depending on which way they were going, and then cut back in. They would cut around. It was like a bypass. The reason for it was because there was this tension that everyone wanted to avoid. It was long seated tension and an abiding loathing of all things Samaritan by the Jews. The Samaritans, some of us may be aware, we’re mixed-blood people. Which resulted from intermarriage with Gentiles during the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom. The Jews of the Southern Kingdom had also been conquered by the Babylonians, but they had stubbornly refused to intermarry. They viewed the Samaritans as traitors. The Southern Kingdom held out. Even in captivity, they retained their identity, culture, and their devotion to God. They felt like the Samaritans of the Northern Kingdom allowed themselves to just be assimilated. So there was this tension.
In addition, the Samaritans had what we would call a truncated form of Judaism. A truncated form that was highly offensive to a true follower of the law and the prophets. It blends Jewish and pagan elements. Last, it should be mentioned that there was a tension in prejudice. That tension in prejudice or social discomfort actually did what is the case sometimes. It’s the same way today. It went in both directions. Samaritans didn’t get along with Jews and Jews didn’t get along much with Samaritans. They each segregated themselves from one another. It wasn’t enforced or anything. It wasn’t required. It was just the way. People assimilated with their own kind of people. Honestly, I don’t know if things have changed that much. It’s one of the reasons I love the church. I love our church because there are all kinds of different cultures and people from socioeconomic places and ethnicities. We’re all just coming together in Christ. I just love that. There’s great love and accommodation for one another’s distinctiveness because we share the most common thing, and that is Christ.
The fact is that when Jesus insisted to His disciples that they return to Galilee through the more direct route of Samaria it raised eyebrows. In other words, when He told them, “Hey guys, we’re just going to go straight through Samaria,” remember, they were in the south, in Judea, in Jerusalem. Jesus said, “We’re just going to cut straight.” I imagine that it may have actually raised some of the disciples’ eyebrows a bit. They had learned not to question the master. I imagine that they looked at one another, and said, “Well, all right, if that’s what He wants.” They decided to do it. There’s something for us to consider. Remember, I talked about how this is not a straight shot; we’re going to have some stops along the way. Here’s one of those stops. I want us to consider right now in this time, as we’re dealing with the whole virus, pandemic, and epidemic, the way in which it’s really requiring us to change our pattern of life. The Lord’s ways will not always make sense to us. They really do invite us into humility.
I’m talking specifically about the way in which Jesus decided to go through Samaria. The disciples probably were thinking we’re going to bypass it, which was the common move. Can you hear me when I say that this is a time also that is inviting us into humility? It really is, for so many reasons. One, I think we may understand in a very new and real way the truth of what Jesus said about where we place our priorities. Historically in America, we’ve been insulated. We tend to not be affected as much by the calamities that other nations face. We have been blessed in remarkable and unusual ways. We are protected on two sides by oceans and given tremendous wealth in terms of the land itself. It’s just a remarkable country. Having said that, this is something that has affected us. We’re not exempt from it. It’s a reminder of everything. What I am saying is to move with humility. This is a reminder about everything that Jesus taught us about treasure, what’s important, and about priorities. Remember what He said, “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” Think about this, “Where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves cannot break through and steal it away,” where things are essentially incapable of being taken.
Two, one of the things we’re reminded of is that if situations hit us like this, then we are more vulnerable than we realized. We are more fragile. Things are more fragile. We’re experiencing this right now. There’s no question to me that that’s what we’re experiencing. The reality of what Jesus taught us is coming in vivid colors in front of our eyes. How fragile things are and about the need to make sure that we are thinking through our priorities. What we build our life on and where our hope genuinely rests. We’re also called to be humble in our prayer. On our own time, we may want to check out 2 Chronicle 7:14 because it’s an amazing verse. It talks about the power of humility and prayer. Back to verse 5. It says, “He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son, Joseph.” It’s historically rooted. You can read about that in the Book of Genesis. Jacob’s well was there. “Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey, was sitting beside the well, and it was about the sixth hour.” We would say it’s about 12:00 noon. “A woman from Samaria came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Hey, can you give Me a drink? Can you give Me some water? Can you share with Me your water?’”
We’re told in verse 8, “Because the disciples had gone away into the city to buy food,” Jesus is by Himself. He’s sitting by the well at noontime. I imagine Him in my mind’s eye leaning in some way, in a reclined position. This woman makes her way. She’s got her water pot. It’s a lot of work to carry a water pot. Maybe she had more than one, we don’t know. Maybe she had a utensil to get water with, like a cup. But as she’s making her way towards the well, she’s caught off-guard by this man who’s there, which was not common. She realizes He’s a Jew. There were certain things that would’ve given that away. She’s caught off-guard again by the fact that He initiates a conversation with her. On top of that, He’s making a request. Jesus asked the question in part because He was thirsty. He was thirsty and wanted some water. He didn’t have any way to get that water. She did. We’re told that He was tired and weary. He was resting. Jesus in His humanity, wearied. I can’t ever see that image in my mind without reconnecting to what we’re told in John 1, where we’re told that the Word, God’s very thought, the Son became flesh. The Word of God took on humanity. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
There’s another passage in Philippians 2. It says, “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being. Human and divine, capable in the divinity of meeting His human needs and His desires. Yet He will work no miracle to His benefit.” Think about that. Human and divine, fully capable in His divinity. He did miracles. Fully capable in His divinity of meeting His own human needs, but He will work no miracle for His own benefit. I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is intense.” The one who could turn water into wine will ask another for water. The one who could feed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves would not make it happen for Himself. Instead, would send His disciples into town to purchase food. There will be no miracle self-provision. This is really good for us to consider and reflect upon. Especially in this time when we feel like sometimes God isn’t coming through for us.
It’s true we are invited to ask. We should ask because Jesus reminded us, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask God to help intervene to do things. At the same time, we need to do it with humility, submitting our requests always to His larger purposes. This is partly what I believe we are doing when we end our prayers in Jesus’s name. Every time I end my prayer in the name of Jesus, I am essentially saying, “Your will be done, Lord. I’m submitting it under that name.” That’s why I like to end my prayers that way, “In Jesus’s name.” I often start off with “Father,” or “Lord.” Then I say, “In Jesus’s name,” as we were taught. That’s a way of saying, “I call in the authority of that name, but I also submit into that name. I submit this prayer under the umbrella of the name of Christ, so the will of God.” I just want us to see this. I think it could be helpful in such a time as this now, where we may wonder, where is God in this scary place and why is it happening?
I’ve thought about that. Those are two very different questions. God’s ways are not our ways, number one. We see things through a temporal lens. God sees things from an eternal one, which means there is no time, as we know it, in the mind of God. It is timeless. Eternity has no beginning and no end. You and I as time-constrained finite beings have a hard time grappling intellectually with timelessness. We know the beginning and endings. We don’t understand “no beginning” and “no ending.” It’s something we can describe but not understand, not really. Again, God’s ways are not our ways.
As for the latter, why is this happening, I think there are many reasons. I suppose the first reason that I always fall back into is that we live, as the scripture teaches us, in a sin-impacted broken world where bad things happen. The place that we’re in right now is a direct reminder that we live in a sin-impacted broken world. That’s just the way it is. Jesus said it will be this way until He returns. When He does return, He said He would alter the universe and the human experience. But between now and then, there will be times like this. We’re just facing what generations have faced for hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands of years.
But as for the other question, where is God in all of this? For those of us who know Christ, we know one thing. You know it, I know it. We need to remind ourselves of it. I know where God is at. I know where Jesus is. He’s right by our side. That’s just the fact. You, Lord, are by my side at this moment. Maybe some of us just need to say that. You are by my side. I have found that He is even closer in times of fear and suffering. In times of questions and pain, just as in a unique way, He was closer to us when He hung on the cross alone in the darkness, utterly forsaken. I don’t know if we were ever closer to His love than at that moment. That was the epicenter of the expression of God’s love as He hung there for us. He paved the way for intimacy. The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. God’s presence would no longer dwell in a house made with human hands, but in the believing heart of a man and a woman. That relationship is possible in a way that was impossible before God gave us His own Son as a propitiation, a covering for our sin. There’s so much beauty there.
Perhaps it would be helpful when we start to wonder where God is in all of this to see Him with us, sitting at the well, sharing in our thirst. I try to get my mind to think about it. In all of this, I just try to think of Jesus sitting at the well with us at this moment. Sitting and waiting, asking questions. and offering water. Inviting us to explore our lives, even as we’re going to see the shameful parts, to find our deepest purpose and truest selves in our interactions with Him. Is this not one of those times where we can sit with Jesus by the well and have this conversation with Him about our lives? Everything that’s happening here with the woman at the well is an invitation Jesus is making to us right now at this time and in this place. He’s inviting us into this conversation. He’s inviting us to know our true selves. Let’s use this time as a time to grow deeper in our souls.
But back to the Samaritan woman at the well. She seems to have been an outcast to her own people. She probably was a bit of a pariah. Normally the women would’ve come daily to the well. The time that they would’ve come to the well would’ve been in the cool of the evening. It was obvious why you would want to do that without the sun. You would carry heavy things. You didn’t want to have the sun beating down on you when you did it. Better to do it at dusk. Some of us may not realize this, it’s true in some developing countries, but well water was essential for ancient life. It is why I’m such a supporter of the whole well movement. It gives people the opportunity for clean water. It was critical, and that’s been the case for all of history. Typically that water was drawn with a clay pot or an animal skin. Imagine that being dropped in. It could be a pot that was dropped in a jar, as it’s sometimes called. It could have been an animal skin that could get filled up. Either way, it had to be dropped into the water. Usually, it was tied to a rope.
The well was a place of socialization because of that. Oftentimes, in a majority of the cases, it was the women who would come and hang out. In that culture and time, that would’ve been the case. They would’ve hung out and talked. Sometimes, the men would come, but most of the time it was the women who would come. Here we see that she has come at the sixth hour, which is at noontime. It’s in the heat of the day. We note that she came by herself. Maybe she preferred to come when the good women were absent because she had a reputation. We’re going to see this later in the passage. In the coming weeks, wherever we’re meeting, we’re going to adapt. We’re going to see that she probably didn’t go with the other women because she had a reputation as a loose and immoral woman.
That would’ve made it uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe she just wanted to avoid that whole thing, as sometimes we’re prone to do. Who wants to go into a place where you just feel like you’re going to be judged by everybody? Or maybe she had something come up that threw her off her normal routine. What we do know is that there was a divine appointment that had been set up. She was right on schedule for that divine appointment. From a Jewish perspective, she would’ve qualified as an outcast of outcasts for a Jewish teacher or holy man.
The idea that a Jewish rabbi would have a personal interaction with such a person was unconscionable. Bordering on scandalous. She was also aware of that divide. No question about it. In fact, she was caught off-guard by Jesus’s initiative. Look at verse 9. It says, “And the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, a Jew, asked for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?'” Whoa. “‘For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.’ And Jesus answered, and I love the answer, “‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you or asking you for a drink, you would’ve asked Him and He would’ve given you living water.'” If you really understood the opportunity, it wouldn’t be Me asking you for water, you’d be asking Me for water, but a different kind of water. You would be asking Me for a drink of that water because it’s the living water. “And the woman said to him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw water with. This well is deep. Where do You get this living water?” Now, “living water” probably had a dual meaning. For her, it would’ve meant fresh pure water. Jesus obviously had a different meaning. He meant something even much more profound.
Again, I just love the way He wraps that into her heart and begins to engage her imagination. She says, “You don’t even have anything to draw water from. How can you give me any living water?” Now they’re in a conversation. Would you give Me a drink? He had nothing to get the water with. Think about this. When Jesus asked the question, would you get Me a drink, He had nothing to get the water with. He had no cup, as far as we can tell, either. Could it be that the request He made was also for a drink of water from her cup? I don’t know for sure. We don’t know for sure, but it was not inconceivable that she would’ve had some type of a drinking utensil in addition to the water pot itself, and Jesus asked her for a drink. Would you give Me a drink?
If you really think about it, He was asking to share the cup of an unclean Samaritan woman. At the very least, He was asking to share water from her bucket. I was struck by a couple of things. It almost made me cry when I first thought about it. The idea that the Lord, the Lord of glory, would humble Himself to drink from a cup from someone like me, a cup such as mine, for it too is an unclean cup. I remember when I was writing this down, I thought, oh Lord, You’re willing to drink from my cup. All of us have unclean cups. It is true that He would be willing to drink from our unclean cups is astonishing to me. That He would be willing to cross such a divide to reach you and me is amazing.
What wonderful love that God could love, and I quote a hymn of days gone by, that “God could love a sinner such as me,” a sinner such as I. How wonderful is love like that? That He is willing to share my dirty cup overwhelms me. What I mean is that He loves us despite our flaws, willfulness, and shame, things that we’re ashamed of. Should I not, in response to that love, be prodigal and give Him back my love? That is, give Him the best that I have? Should I not also forgive as I have been forgiven? Is there anyone that is unclean that we cannot extend something of Christ towards if He who was beautiful and perfect was willing to engage us in our imperfections and sin and willfulness? I think if He forgives me, how can I hold back forgiveness for others?
His example reminds us to be aware of putting people into boxes. Instead, see them with grace-filled eyes, which is the title of this message. I remember reading something from Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. He said in his own social interaction Jesus was putting into practice what he called the great reversal heralded in the beatitudes. Normally in this world, we look up to the rich, the beautiful, and the successful. Grace, however, introduces a world of new logic because God loves the poor, the suffering, the persecuted, so should we. God sees no undeniable, neither should we. By His own example, Jesus challenged us to look at the world through what the ancient church father Irenaeus called grace-filled eyes.
Perhaps this is one of the gifts in this unwelcome time of ours. It allows us an opportunity, a choice, to see with either eyes of fear or eyes of grace. We have space to welcome His grace, to sow seeds of grace, to water them, and watch them grow. Instead of seeing only a calamity and dropping into negativity, let us see this as a time to model optimism and gratitude for blessings in the past we may have taken for granted. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the situation that none of us wanted, and by things that may not even happen because some of us are already imagining things not going well. Part of us needs to think about the future. Maybe we’re paralyzed by stuff that has not even happened and may never happen, but it’s happening in our minds. Instead of holding onto those things, may the Lord help us to look at things through grace-filled eyes, to be creative blessers and spiritual artists. Yes, life-givers and smile-makers. Yeah, that’s what I want to be. Instead of getting irritable, let’s get irresistible. Instead of getting irritable, let’s be irresistible. Remember this one: so good, so God. So good, so God. That’s what He does. I want Him to do that in all of our lives.
Let me pray. Lord, I want to ask for You to bless all those who are sharing this time together. Of course, we continue to pray for our nation. We continue to pray for our leaders. We continue to pray for the world that is in pain, and we continue to pray for healing at all levels, physically in the bodies of people. Yes, in the minds, in our minds. Also in our economy as well. We want people to have a sense of value. We don’t want things to fall apart in ways that would then hurt people in a different way. We welcome You in, Lord. In the meantime, we’re going to grow, we’re going to stay hopeful, we’re going to trust You, and we’re going to be courageous. Most of all, as we’ve settled into this day, remind us to keep looking at things with grace-filled eyes. We thank You for the time we’ve shared. May gratitude be our song, and may His blessing be yours this good day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.