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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

March 19, 2017

 When Truth Hurts and Heals

Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

            Ancient Palestine was all of one hundred twenty miles long, and the shortest route from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north, ran through Samaria.  Many Jews making that trip took a longer route to avoid Samaria; Jesus, it seems to me, never misses the chance to travel right through Samaria.  There in the town of Sychar, was a field and a well that Jacob had willed to his son Joseph.  For some twelve hundred years before Christ and for two thousand years since, that well has served as a place where people could find water.  It is over one hundred feet deep, the kind of well into which water percolates and gathers.  Important relationships in Israel’s history happened at wells.  Remember Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at a well, and brought her home for Isaac?  Jacob met Rachel at a well.  It is one of the earliest stories we find of “love at first sight.”  And at a well, Jesus, “wearied as He was with His journey,” sat down.  It was high noon, and hot as blazes.  John says, “A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’”

            With Lent upon us, that request of Jesus, “Give me a drink,” bears some attention.  For from the cross, in John 19:28, Jesus will utter His fifth of seven last words, “I thirst.”  Jesus initiates this conversation with the Samaritan woman, with a word that speaks of His humanity, showing that in Jesus, God is sharing the lot of all of us who are human.  The New Testament does not picture Jesus as a conquering hero riding His way to a certain victory, but rather as a man, weary from a long journey, who slumps at high noon at the side of a well and asks a stranger for a drink of water.

            Thomas Carlyle once likened Ralph Waldo Emerson, living in the placid, idyllic village of Concord, to a man on the beach, who staying out of reach of the spray, throws chatty, cheerful words of advice to a swimmer battling for his life in dangerous, desperate waves.  In contrast, Jesus here is our companion, a word that literally means “sharer of bread.”  Jesus shares our bread, our thirst, our happiness, our sorrow, which means that if we walk with Jesus and talk with Jesus, as this Samaritan woman does, we can multiply our joys and divide our sorrows.  No Gospel among the four does more to glorify Jesus’ divinity, but never at the expense of His utter humanity, “Give me a drink.”

            Next, please make note of how different from Jesus, and different from Nicodemus, this Samaritan woman is.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, when he came to Jesus by night.  This woman is not even a Jew, but a Samaritan, whom most Jews looked down upon, when Jesus spoke to her at high noon.  And not only is she not a Jew, but we soon learn that she has a rather painful, maybe even shameful past.  Jesus shares a long conversation with this woman, perhaps the longest recorded conversation with an individual in the New Testament.  Yet you get the sense that we have only the highlights of the actual conversation.  The conversation is like Jesus’ with Nicodemus, in that Jesus says something, and it is taken in a literal, rather than figurative or metaphorical sense.  With Nicodemus it was birth, with the Samaritan woman it is water.  But in both conversations, and in many others, Jesus is asking people to face and discover truth for themselves.

            Jesus speaks to this woman over and above any social convention that would prevent a Jew from talking to a Samaritan, or a Rabbi from talking to a woman, or a righteous teacher talking to a sinful, broken individual.  Jesus understood what we all need to learn: God made us all different, yet all one, and Christ died to keep us that way.  This conversation is one of many places in the New Testament where Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Church that will follow, which is universal in scope, reaching across all social, racial, economic, cultural, gender, class or religious barriers.

            We will never build this vastly inclusive, embracing, harmonious home on earth unless we drink the living water of which Jesus spoke, the kind that remains fresh and satisfies our deepest thirsts.  Our deep thirst for God, for eternal, universal truth, may be our most profound longing.  Augustine thought so.  In The Confessions, he said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee.”

            Our high school kids are on spring break, building homes for the poor, living together in tents, but sharing life as disciples of Jesus.  If history is any teacher, they will experience a profound sense of oneness with each other that will give them a glimpse of our God-intended oneness with the whole human family.  And they will sense how close and dear God is to them in Jesus Christ.  They will taste what Jesus called worship “in Spirit and in truth,” a truth that Jesus said could “set you free.”

            Paul cried, “For freedom Christ has set you free!”  French philosopher Jean-Paul Startre once wrote, “We were never freer than during the German occupation.”  I think he realized, looking back, that the French were living close to the edge, close all the time to death, and were fully alive, in touch with all their feelings.  Everything they did was for real; life was full of meaning.

            I think that is what the Samaritan woman experienced in her extended conversation with Jesus.  He made her feel alive again.  Jesus allowed her to face the truth that alone could set her free.  She wonders out loud about the Messiah, the Christ who would come to deliver the Jews and Samaritans both.  Jesus says, “I am He, the one who is speaking to you.”  Note please that Jesus reveals Himself to the broken, to the hurting, to those who know how desperate their need for God really is.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

            The woman goes forth from her encounter with Jesus a new creation.  Twice she says, “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  I love that phrase, because it tells us that she has felt heard and known by Jesus.  What she does not say, what she does not have to say, is, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did … and loves me just the same!”  Jesus knows this woman, knows everything there is to know about her.  Just as Jesus knows us.  And Jesus, knowing everything we ever did, loves us, forgives us, and offers us the living water of the Gospel, that “water gushing up to eternal life.”

            One last word about this unnamed woman of Samaria whom we meet at Jacob’s well: she becomes a model for us all.  She shares the Gospel of God’s great love with anyone who will listen.  She cannot keep this good news to herself!  And of those who hear her, one confesses, “We know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”  This is the only time in John’s Gospel that the title “Savior” appears, and we hear it because of the Samaritan woman, the woman with a past that was nothing compared to the future Jesus was offering her.  I pray you will claim nothing less – a future that is full and rich and clear and bright – a future that is good because it is God’s.


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