Jesus is staring into the eyes of the Woman at the Well, and he’s seen her before. In hundreds of blank stares and dead eyes, he’s seen her stare back. Hurt, pain, despair … feelings of unworthiness and inability to reach an impossible standard that the people around them are propping up as “God’s way.”
She’s Samaritan, which means that Jesus’ instinct should be to turn his back and scoff because of his own lineage. Jews would even cross through the River Jordan to avoid having to go there. Through it, not even around it. She is at the well at the sixth hour, and she is there alone, which shows us that her own people didn’t even want to be around her.
Jesus later reveals that the reason that she is an outcast is that her life is unusually chaotic. She has allowed herself to be discarded by men over and over again. I heard one pastor speculate recently that she was probably barren because that would diminish her cultural value and cause men to abandon her over and over again. She must feel worthless.
Here is Jesus dealing in an interpersonal way with someone that nobody else sees fit to talk to. She is astonished when he asks her to share a drink from the well with him. Maybe she’s afraid that’s she’s on some early version of a reality show – Jesus is setting her up to draw a drink so that he can refuse it to the delight of a hidden audience. Surely a Jewish man won’t risk becoming unclean to have a drink from Jacob’s Well.
Jesus has been walking all day. We know he’s thirsty, we know he’s hungry, as his disciples have been sent for food. But he’s not too tired or parched to tell the woman about the Living Water, the true life that God offers, and the way he describes it rules. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
To a woman who is beaten, broken, abandoned, hurting, dying right where she is … refreshing life that will not only cure all that ails her, but will spring out from within her to change the lives of those that are around her, too. A rejected woman, not only by the religious elite, but by her own people becomes a healing force for others. And it’s even better because she doesn’t get it. Jesus, it seems to me, would have gotten tired of people not getting it, but he doesn’t. He presses forward instead, seeking to bridge the misunderstanding.
Even after recounting her tough relationship past (and present), Jesus still invites her to realize God’s love. He tells her what worship will look like in the immediate future (“when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”), and he leaves her with a piece of information that he tells nobody else until his trial before his death. He declares himself as the Messiah – not to crowds of thousands or to important leaders that can wield influence, but to a lonely, beaten, outcast woman in the “wrong” people group.
Maybe it’s significant that they are sitting at the Well of Jacob, famous for being the one who overcame his past as a deceiver to grab a hold of God’s best for his life, and subsequently the generations to come. The Samaritan woman is afforded this same opportunity by Jesus’ willingness to sit down and talk to her even when the constructs of society said not to. He didn’t see a Samaritan, a woman, a shady past, a sexual sinner, a poor person, an outcast, a mission field, a charity case, a beaten down shell … he saw a child that God loved and wanted to redeem no matter what the story of her shortcoming may be.
And I’m challenged by that idea. The Christian movement of today is more interested in bickering over who’s version of the truth is the best, or whether having too many candles lit means you’re a Emergent. Or if being granted the gift of tongues makes you Pentecostal or weird or a fake or more holy. And we are famous for things that would absolutely repulse the man who sat on that well and drew a drink of water from a marginalized person.
More than eight of ten people see us as a people of hate – gay haters, liberal haters, movie haters, some kind of haters. And the age-old rhetoric about being a person who loves the sinner and hates the sin doesn’t fly for me. It’s an excuse. Maybe someone actually believes that motto and lives by it, but I doubt it. I haven’t seen it anyway.
Jesus is doing something fascinating here in my opinion, though. He has sent his friends off that probably need to see this interaction so that their won behavior can be redeemed. But Jesus isn’t preoccupied with a teaching moment, he’s intent on embracing a life and changing it in a meaningful and lasting way.
When his friends get back they offer him the food that they brought, and he says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” And I’m thinking, how mad would I be? Jesus sends me to get food after a full day of walking around and now he doesn’t want it? But the braintrust instead wonder what he ate. Maybe they even blamed the Samaritan woman in their minds for wasting their time.
But Jesus ends the suspense, explaining, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
He is fed spiritually by serving.
Not by a great sermon series, the best worship leader, or the most polished program. He is fed by serving those who are most in need of God’s touch. By discovering God’s will and seeking to fulfill it. He fed himself with action instead of waiting for a rabbi to fill him up with the latest series of teaching.
If we were more obsessed with getting out and serving people than with arguing over who’s version of the truth is best, we would change the world. If we spent a few extra hours talking to hurting people instead of trying to get them saved, we’d change the world. If we actually loved people that we defined as children of God instead of sinners, we’d change the world.
Since Jesus never saw a sinner, but instead saw God’s precious child, loving a sinner and hating a sin is not a task for a little Jesus (Christian) to undertake. It doesn’t make any sense. As Paul said, he himself is the chief sinner. I am the greatest sinner out here, and I certainly don’t want others to identify me that way. I want to be identified the way that Jesus identifies me – as his possession, bought and paid for with his blood. Imperfect, but perfecting. Broken but mending. Unlovable but loved. Hateful but loved anyway in the most powerful, mind-bending, limb-numbing way possible.
Many Samaritans believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world by his act of love and by words that spoke the same love to them over the next two days. Not a scathing assault on lives of sinners. Jesus loved the sinner and never even saw the sin. What will I do?