Sermons > 2014 -2013 >When you have nothing…
The woman at the well. It is an iconic story in John's Gospel. We see many things here including forgiveness and outreach to an outsider, our Lord's Omnipotence in knowing the history of someone's life and the grace to invite her to Himself anyway. And we see talk of truth and spirit and we hear Jesus confess His identity as the Messiah. There is so much here and even more so than what I have just mentioned.
It is interesting, for instance that the King of the Jews would even go to Samaria. It was a whole country of outcasts. If Andrew asked what good can come from Nazareth, it would've been far more so in Samaria. In fact, it wouldn't have even been spoken of as a joke. The Jews just didn't go there. Now you remember hearing about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how surprised everyone was that he turned out to be the good guy. And also how when Jesus cleansed ten lepers only one returned to thank Him and Luke made a big deal of letting everyone know he was a Samaritan.
Samaria was where the resettled people lived following the war with Assyria several centuries beforehand. The Samaritans were the descendants of mixed marriages between the remaining Jews and the foreign nations. They were such outsiders they even developed their own alternative version of Judaism. You see today when the woman is asking Jesus on which mountain to worship. So the Samaritans were just very foreign to the Jews in their ways and in their identity. Now in our story today, it's not so surprising that Jesus would ask a woman to draw water for Him. What was surprising was that a Jew was interacting with a Samaritan and we see that specifically mentioned in verse 9.
It's hard for us to understand all this separation because we don't live in a world like that. Whatever your political views or your religious views in America, equality is just an accepted Western value for everyone. But It didn't used to be that way and it's still not that way in many places in the world. Thankfully it is here and that's very likely because of what you see Jesus doing today. He is speaking to someone else that society considered to be less than Him…and not because He was the Messiah, but just because He was fully Jewish and she was not.
But the notion of inequality doesn't end there. For instance, do you think it's strange that none of the disciples are with Jesus today at the well? Where are they? Why did they leave Jesus alone? Well, the answer will surprise you. Verse 8 says that the disciples went off to buy food. But here's the question – why would they all go? Why not just send one or two of them and have the rest remain with Jesus or else send 9 or 10 and have 2 or3 remain with Jesus? Do we really need all twelve disciples to go and buy food?
Well, this might come as surprise, but again, we're talking about understanding cultural notions of equality. If you split the disciples up, then which ones would remain with Jesus and which would go for food? Because this is the teacher we're talking about and if two or three disciples get to remain with Him, it would be saying to the others that they weren't equal in status. So if one goes for food, they all go for food—at least at this point. Later, there will be two or three that go away with Jesus. But for now, Middle Eastern cultural norms remain. No one stays with the teacher. To do so would be presumptuous and arrogant --- both in the eyes of the others and in the eyes of the teacher. And so Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman alone.
But this opportunity will be an important one for John's Gospel and for us. During this encounter, Jesus draws out from her a certain confession. "I have no husband," she tells Jesus. "You are right, for you have had five husbands," says Jesus. "And the one you have now is not your husband." So, not only is she a Samaritan, but she's not even a committed one at that.
And so, her life is now laid bare. She is a Samaritan; she has left several marriages and now she is living with someone to whom she is not married. And I didn't mention this, but she's also drawing water from the well. Who gets to do that in an hierarchical society? The men? No. The older women? No. The younger women? Maybe. The younger women who may have been living lives outside of the community norms? Yes.
But Jesus doesn't go to the man she lives with or her father or her older sister. Jesus comes to her. Why? Because her situation is bleak and her life is undesirable. She is unequal; she has made choices that have given her a reputation. She is also alone today, maybe coming to the well at an off time when no one else would be there to shame her. But in this ancient world of humiliation and disgrace, there is Jesus. There is Jesus coming to the woman who is very likely tired of drawing water and tired of being surrounded by inequality.
And to this sinner who is locked into a life none of us would want, Jesus says, "Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Now this woman has nothing. She is desperate; her life is worse than anyone you know. But this is exactly the kind of person living exactly the kind of life that will cheerfully take hold of exactly the kind of message Jesus preaches. See, because it's when you have nothing that the Gospel means everything. When you have nothing, a new life with water that quenches and promises freedom and deliverance truly is the Good News.
I wonder if we value that Good News as much as this woman. I don't think so. We have so much more than she does and we don't live in a society where there really is such a thing as shame and inequality on that scale. Is it possible that our luxuries and comforts sometimes get in the way? How much value do we see in our new life with Christ when our old lives would seem pretty good? See, if you want to understand the Gospel and redemption, put yourself in this woman's shoes and look at life from where she stands. Look at life as though you are unequal, as though you are poor, as though you have nothing but the shame of others. Look at life as though you are the one who has to go and draw the water.
Before the end of this interaction, you are led to see this woman on the basis of her limitations, her disappointments, her failures and her sins. But when Jesus is finished with her, you are invited to see the work of God in the life of an outsider and to celebrate her inclusion into the kingdom. On Good Friday, Jesus will be treated like an outsider. He will be crucified outside the walls of the Holy City because the Jews ironically don't want His death to make their city unclean. Upon that cross, He will be stripped naked, be ridiculed and shamed. He will be treated far worse than any Samaritan in a culture where honor is everything and shame reduces you to nothing.
Jesus will not only embrace the sting of death on Good Friday, but also the sting of inequality. But in this moment when He makes Himself nothing, you will be made everything in the eyes of the Father. You will go from being the Samaritan woman at the well to standing with the King of Creation. Jesus' death is a role reversal between Him and you. He will embrace and wear your identity as a sinner and you will inherit His identity as righteous and sinless before God.
The Messiah comes to Samaria today to talk with an outcast. If the question is what good can come from Samaria would've been asked, today we find out. At the beginning of our story, the woman at the well makes before Jesus a confession of sin. But after her encounter with Him, her confession will be one of proclamation as she tells the city about this very encounter. And after hearing Him for themselves, John 4:41 would later say about Samaria, "And many more believed because of His Words." And that is still our prayer today. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich