Sermon 17 February 2019

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET, 17.02.19

ENCOUNTERING JESUS, 2: THE SAMARITAN WOMAN, John 4.1-18 (edited)

Listen Here; https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/st-columbas-church-sermon-17-february-2019

 

Last Sunday morning I began with you to look at three encounters that Jesus had with three different people, as recorded in the early part of John’s Gospel. They were three occasions when people met with, or encountered, Jesus, in such a way as changed and transformed their lives, and for the better.

 

I said that, as we look at these three different Bible stories, I hope we will all be encouraged to see how we, in our own faithful encounter with Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, can be changed: we can know him better, we can love him more, and we can follow him more faithfully as we serve others in his Name.

 

Last Sunday we looked at Nicodemus, from John chapter 3, Nicodemus. This morning we’re going to look at the account of the Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well outside the town of Sychar, recorded for us in John chapter 4. We’ll look and see how her life is transformed also, what we can learn from that.

 

Let’s take up the story from verse four. [4-10] It’s a dramatic story, with lots of good things for us to learn.

 

It’s the sixth hour, that is to say, 12 o’clock midday, noon, so it’s the hottest part of the day. And Jesus is tired and weary and thirsty from his journey. He comes to the well, and sits down to rest.

 

Perhaps the first thing to say is that John, who more than any of the other Gospel writers records the divinity of Jesus. For example, “I and the Father are one,” John records Jesus as saying (10.30). But here we see the humanity of Jesus. He’s just like us, he gets tired, and weary, and thirsty. Elsewhere John records Jesus as very angry when he drives the traders out of the temple. And He records Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. Here is the humanity of Jesus.

 

I draw comfort here. Jesus is just like us, save without sin. So I can turn to him, I can go to him, I can meet him knowing that he knows all about my human weakness and sinfulness and need. What a Friend we have in Jesus!

 

All the commentators agree that there are two features to this story which, in this context, are truly remarkable.

 

First, Jesus is speaking in the open air, in a public place, to a woman. Secondly, this woman is a Samaritan. Let’s take each of these in turn.

 

In the Jewish society of Jesus’ day, no man would ever speak to a woman whom he did not know, and particularly when she was on her own. This was, quite simply, forbidden, a taboo. And to do such a thing would usually give great offence, and provoke criticism. Now, in 2000 years, we have made great progress in promoting equality and freedom for women, though, as we know, there are some parts of the world where women are still severely restricted and curtailed in what they can do.

 

Let’s remember, and give thanks, for all that Jesus did for women. Here, in this encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, we see him establishing a deep and personal, yet and easy and friendly, relationship with her. He is treating her as no one else has ever treated her. Look closely at the gospels, and see how much Jesus brought women into his own wider ministry. Jesus’ attitude to women was nothing less than radical and revolutionary in its day and in that culture. I think we can take pride that the Church of Scotland in recent years has been particularly active in promoting gender equality in various parts of the world where there is still great need.

 

Secondly, this woman is a Samaritan. The Samaritans have a long history. Go back into the Old Testament and you will see that they are the remnant of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel who were overrun, and taken into captivity in the eighth century BC . Over the years they intermarried other tribes, and so lost that racial and religious purity that was so dear to the Jews. So, in Jesus’ day, at the Samaritans were seen as different: they were foreigners, outcasts, half-castes, who provoked suspicion and hostility. No wonder John comments in our passage, “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”

 

Think of the story of the Good Samaritan, perhaps the most famous parable that Jesus told. The point of it is that it’s a Samaritan, the hated and suspected foreigner, who is the good neighbour to the man in his need. And think of that story in Luke‘s Gospel where Jesus heals 10 lepers, and only one of them comes back to thank him. And Luke tells us the one who comes back to thank Jesus was a Samaritan.

 

My friends, I don’t need to tell you that, in the confusing fallout from the Brexit referendum which our politicians and parliamentarians are wrestling with so painfully at this very time, the issue of immigration continues to be central for many of our fellow citizens. So, how do we regard immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, people who are different from us but who come among us, often looking to us to help them in their need? As Christian men and women, who say we want to follow Jesus, and be his disciples, this is a story to challenge us, and make us think deeply about our own attitudes and actions.

 

Jesus speaks openly and freely to a woman, and a Samaritan. Thus he confronts, and breaks down, the barriers of ignorance, suspicion, and prejudice. There is lots for us to think about here.

 

But let’s move on in the story.

 

Jesus is tired from his journey, he comes to a well, there is a Samaritan woman there on her own, and he asks her for a drink. She knows that Samaritans and Jews don’t associate together, so how can he ask for a drink? Jesus replies, memorably: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 

“Living water”, a striking phrase. Last week, when we looked at the encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus, we had that strange phrase “born again”. Now, with the Samaritan woman, we have this phrase “living water”. What does Jesus mean?

 

This picture that Jesus gives is of water as the life-giving Spirit of God. We all know about water, and the importance of water, if we are to stay alive and healthy. Access to clean, safe, drinking water is probably the one resource beyond all others that contributes to our health and our well-being. So the Spirit of God brings us spiritual life and health.

 

I was much impressed at a story which I heard some years ago. The headmistress of a posh, independent, girls boarding school, on Christian Aid Sunday, got every one of the girls in her school to carry two full buckets of water around the playing fields, which was quite a long way. The girls were all puzzled by this rather tedious and exhausting chore. Afterwards, the headmistress explained, “ I asked you to do this so that you could experience what very many women and girls around the world have to do every day.” Water is so important, and the picture that Jesus gives of the Holy Spirit as water is a powerful one. Living water!

 

If we read on in the story we will see how the dialogue between the woman and Jesus develops. She is clearly increasingly curious about, attracted to, and impressed by him, and by what he says to her.

 

We learn more of her own situation, why she seems so isolated, why she has come to fetch water from the well, not, sensibly, in the evening, when it’s cool, and when the other women would be there, but she comes alone, in the heat of the day. Her domestic and personal life is chaotic. She is immersed in a series of immoral relationships. [16-18]

 

Jesus does not condemn her. But in the course of this encounter, as we see from their conversation together, Jesus reveals more and more to her of who he is, and it comes to a climax at the very end.  Jesus reveals to her that he is the Messiah, he is the Christ, he is the source of living water and eternal life.

 

There is a lovely little detail towards the end of the story. We’re told the woman is so overwhelmed finally by her encounter with Jesus that she leaves her jar of water, the very thing that she came to get, and returns to her town to tell the people about Jesus, this man, this prophet, that she has met, and what he has done for her. John records that many Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because of what the woman told them.

 

So the story ends with this remarkable example of true evangelism. And what is it evangelism? Telling people of our encounter with Jesus, who he is, and what he has done for us. And we know what that Samaritan woman did not know. Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, is our Saviour, who for our sins goes to the Cross to die for us, and who for our salvation is raised to everlasting life, and who gives us living water, his Holy Spirit, that we might live new and transformed lives.

 

And so, what about us? Will our encounter with Jesus make a difference? Are we making a difference, for good?

 

My friends, we meet, we encounter Jesus, in his word the Bible, through prayer, in the life and service of the Church. Sometimes, without looking for it, he confronts us. The Samaritan woman at the well met Jesus, and her life, and those around her, were profoundly changed.

 

So let her example be for us an inspiration, a motive, and a hope.

 

Amen.

 

Andrew Anderson

February 2019

1700 words