We are all very familiar with the passage in John’s gospel which details Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well in a place in Samaria called Sychar; it’s something I speak of in more detail in an earlier blog post (https://ableshepherd.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/the-water-of-life/ ).
This is also an encounter which I’ve preached on before, and you may remember I shared with you a picture of a piece of artwork at Chester Cathedral which graphically and very powerfully recreates that encounter. Our Gospel reading today is if you like the ‘what happens next’ after that encounter. It’s good to be able to speak into that context.
We know from that encounter that the disciples were not with Jesus – they had “gone to the city to buy food” (John 4:8). Today’s Gospel reading begins by telling us about the return of the disciples, at which point they find Jesus concluding his conversation with that woman. We are told they were astonished, probably for 2 reasons:
- Jews avoided speaking with Samaritans, and
- A male would not usually speak with a female stranger.
Yet here was Jesus a Jew speaking to a female Samaritan – and incredibly this was something they accepted without question.
When we are a stranger in a strange land and grappling with uncertainty, we must heed the guidance of the one leading us. It’s like going on holiday in a foreign country we’ve never been to before and having a tour guide. We follow their lead. That keeps us safe, avoids us breaking cultural taboos, and gives us the best experience possible. The one we seek to follow as disciples as we navigate through this strange land is of course Jesus. And the leadership of this Church seeks at all times to keep our eyes and focus on Christ as we seek to live out our faith and witness in this community.
We then hear about the woman’s response to her encounter with Jesus. She left her water jar and immediately began to witness and testify to everything that Jesus had done. When we hear the Good News, we can’t bottle it up and keep it inside – we’ve got to tell others. Perhaps significantly, we are told she left her water jar behind; at that moment in time having had that encounter with and the opportunity to drink of the Living Water, her water jar was not needed. The only thing we need to drink of that Living Water is faith; we are justified by faith. We must be prepared to leave behind our water jars – which might be represented by shame about the past and our old ways and habits, all those things that impede us, so that we can drink, deeply and freely of the Living Water.
The fact that the woman had come to draw water from the well at “about noon”, a time when people would not usually get water because of the intense heat, indicates that she was seeking to avoid people. She had every reason to be ashamed of her life, but her encounter with Jesus prompted her to speak very publicly about her experience. Those she shared with “left the city and were on their way to him”; their curiosity had been piqued.
At the moment of an intense and significant spiritual encounter, the disciples urged Jesus to eat something. Sometimes though we need to allow ourselves to savour the spiritual experience rather than turning to the mundane. We’ve got to get the balance right. Jesus’ reply was to speak about the “food” that provided his spiritual nourishment. In our walk of faith, what nourishes us spiritually is Bible study, prayer, and being in fellowship. Spiritual nourishment also comes from doing God’s will as we seek to serve those around us and in our community. We are nourished not only by what we take in but also by what we give out for God.
Jesus knew that the time for harvest spiritually was upon them – “see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” We must be ready and prepared for harvest, and avoid missing those opportunities. Think about opportunities we have to share our faith, with our families, our friends and those we encounter in our community.
The Samaritans said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” As he has done before, John points out that to “believe in him” is the required response when a person encounters Jesus. As a result of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, her bold witness in town, and the people’s curiosity, many became believers. The choice is a significant challenge to the whole person—mind, will, emotions, experience. The response is profound, but not complicated. At some point people have to step from unbelief to doubt and from doubt to belief, or simply walk away. Jesus’ proof was compelling. John was convinced and believed; the Samaritans were convinced and believed; we are convinced and believe; so have millions of others. The unavoidable questions each person must ask are, “Do I believe in Jesus?”, and if so “What difference has my faith made to my life?”
Faith bears fruit. Faith brings peace, an encounter with grace and a realisation of hope. Faith develops resilience, helping us to weather the storms of life and in and through Jesus, the Living Water from which we might drink, we are once and for all reconciled to God. No wonder we can and should boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.