Each week in our bulletin we include our mission statement and then we add these words. “We will engage our mission and strengthen our parish with four pillars: Sacramental Living, Joyful Discipleship, Radical Love, Gracious Evangelism.” These four pillars are what we seek to build into the culture of this parish and into each of our individual lives. Why these pillars? Because if I am continually receiving God’s grace through the sacraments of the church (Sacramental Living), if I am learning how Jesus means for my life to be lived and closely following Him (Joyful Discipleship), if I am loving others as He loves me (Radical Love), and if I am sharing the good news of His love and forgiveness with others (Gracious Evangelism), then I would be experiencing the living water that Jesus spoke about with the woman at the well. In fact we can see that Jesus perfectly represents two of these pillars in His engagement with her by His radical love and gracious evangelism.
We see Him model radical love. We can see that when we understand that there are at least three reasons why this meeting should have never happened.
First He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. The text even tells us in verse 9 that Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. And saying that they had “no dealings” was an understatement. It was more like the Hatfields and McCoys.
In case you are new to this story let me explain the animosity between these two people groups. In the 8thcentury BC the northern kingdom was conquered and taken into captivity. Not everyone was taken and those left behind eventually intermarried with non Jews and so were considered heathen. Further they developed their own off shoot of Judaism, which included rejecting the Prophets and the Temple in Jerusalem, and so they were also deemed heretics. Thus observant Jews would literally go out of their way to not even enter Samaria much less speak to a Samaritan.
The second reason that this conversation should have never happened was because she was an unaccompanied woman and he was an unaccompanied man. Jesus as a single man speaking with her was so beyond the pale that verse 27 reports that the disciples “marveled” that He was talking with a woman. The New Living Translation used the word “shocked.”
Remember that at that time religion was quite segregated. Woman worshipped separately from the men. Women were not invited to study and discuss Torah with men. It took a certain number of men to form a synagogue and women and children were not included in that count. Women could only go to an outer court when visiting the Temple. And since the sign of the covenant was circumcision, women did not have the status of men. This together makes the thought of a Rabbi talking theology with a heathen woman something that is unthinkable.
The third reason that this conversation should have not happened is because Jesus was a holy man and she was a woman of ill repute. She comes to draw water in the heat of the day to avoid the tongues wagging and the judgmental looks and the rejection that she felt from her community. Her spirit had been crushed by 5 failed marriages. She was burdened by nagging guilt because knew full well that it was wrong to be shacking up with the guy that she was with now.
But Jesus, who is love because God is love, did not care about customs and man-made traditions and what others might think of Him. Neither did He wait until she cleaned up her act before He loved her. What He saw was a prisoner that needed to be set free, a sick woman who needed a physician, a broken vessel that needed to be made new. He discerned a thirst much deeper than the thirst that brought her to the well and so in love He sprang into action. Brennan Manning reminds us that God’s love for us is so unconditional that He loves us as we are, not as we should be. As His children we must learn to love the same way.
Jesus’ radical love led naturally to gracious evangelism and here He gives us a number of wonderful examples to follow. First note that He is engaged very intentionally in one-on-one evangelism. Yes, He taught the crowds and called them to repentance but crowds ebb and flow. Some days they cry “Hosanna!” and some days they cry “Give us Barabbas.” Jesus’ most effective evangelism was person to person. Last week we saw Him with Nicodemus who evidently became a believer because at the end of John’s Gospel we learn that Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus’ body. Think of Jesus’ contact with Zaccheus, or His meeting Phillip, or of His calling of Matthew or His conversation with the Centurion or His healing of the man born blind. What we see again and again is that evangelism is best done person to person because at its core, conversion is not a head issue it is a heart issue. The prophet Ezekiel declared, “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” And one on one, face to face is how you reach the heart.
Second we observe that Jesus initiated the conversation. This can be the most difficult part especially for us introverted Anglicans but Jesus shows how it can be made easier. Jesus began where she was. He didn’t ask her if she had been born again. He didn’t ask if she believed in the Rapture. He didn’t even invite her to Church. She was there to fetch water and so He asked for a drink and then a conversation about water ensued.
Max Lucado writes that one of the best ways to build bridges with folks is to come to them in a way that in essence says, “Help me understand what it’s like to be you.” Max goes on to say, “Then sit back and listen. Really listen.”
There was a class on evangelism at Gordon-Conwell where the final was comprised of pictures of classmates. You had to give their name, their spouse’s name, their kid’s names and their denomination. What does that have to do with evangelism? The point that Dr. Wilson was making was that if you don’t care enough about the person to learn about their life then you haven’t earned the right to evangelize them.
A third point is that Jesus kept to His message and did not get derailed because there were a couple of opportunities for that to happen. The conversation could have gone south at the beginning because instead of giving him a drink, the woman makes a comment and its not clear if it was shock or sarcasm or both. She says “How is it that you a Jew ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Instead of being insulted by this Jesus answers “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” His goal was to reveal Himself to her and so He stayed on point.
Then a little later she asks a theological question that seems completely out of context. She just admitted that she wasn’t married but was living with a guy and then she asks where is the proper place in which to worship God, on this mountain or in Jerusalem.
This reminds me of times when I have been sharing the Gospel with someone and just as they are coming under the conviction of the Holy Spirit they ask why bad things happen to good people or what about the folks in Papua New Guinea who never heard the Gospel. Most of the time those questions are rabbit trails to change the conversation and get the heat off of them. Follow Jesus’ example, provide a quick response and then get them back on track. She then says, “I know that the Messiah is coming….” And He says, “I am He.” Jesus stayed on message. Mission accomplished.
A fourth observation is that while the topic of her brokenness and sinfulness came up, Jesus did not lead with that nor was it the central part of His conversation with her. He did not come to condemn but to save.
When I was in seminary on weekends I would take the T into Harvard Square where it was like a circus with everything from very weird cults to street musicians to fundamentalist spewing fire and brimstone. I would join the crowd that was listening to and yelling at the fundamentalists and I would ask the person next to me, “What do you think about what they are saying?” After giving their critique they would often ask me, “What do you think?” I would respond, “Some of what they are saying I agree with but I hate how they are saying it. May I buy you a cup of coffee?” Quite often they would go with me and we would have a polite and respectful conversation about the good news.
St Paul says in Romans 2 that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Folks who don’t believe that they are sinners are like the Pharisees who didn’t think that they were sick and so they have no need of the Physician. But broken folks, like this woman at the well, don’t need to have a conversation start with what miserable sinners they are. They already know that they are broken. What they need is hope that they truly can be made whole. Often the part that is most difficult for them to believe is that God truly loves them. Of course we do not avoid the topic of sin but neither do we make it the main topic. Our job is to point them to the One who will forgive and heal them. This is a joint work with you and the Holy Spirit. You catch em, He will clean em.
Lastly look how wonderfully God used this woman. Verse 39 says, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” They even asked Jesus to stay with them longer in contrast to some Jewish towns that would ask Him to leave. And the Samaritans really got the message. They said in verse 42, “…and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” It is noteworthy that they recognized that He is not just the Jewish Messiah but the Savior of the world. That is remarkable. And remember that she had only been a believer a number of hours and look at the ripple affect that she caused. I hope that you could believe that God can use you in a similar fashion.
I got a call this week from a fraternity brother that I have not seen in decades. He is in an Anglican church that is having its problems and he wanted some advice but first he wanted to tell me his back story that I had not heard before. When I first met him he hated Christians because he saw them as weak and effeminate. So when I became his roommate he watched for signs of weakness without me realizing it. Then one day he thought he had found my weakness. He invited me to go with him to an FSU football game and I said, “No thanks I don’t care much for football.” Well since all real men love football he was about to label me a sissy but then I added, “I love rugby, that was my game in high school.” “What?” he said, “Folks get killed in rugby.” I said, “I know, I love being in the scrum with the mud and the blood, it’s wonderful.”
I don’t remember any of that conversation but I do know that he did not write me off. We began a conversation about the good news and after some time I prayed with him to receive salvation. He wanted me to know that all these years later he is faithfully following the Lord. And knowing Henry I have no doubt that he has had quite the ripple affect of his own since our college days.
The point is that if God can use a stupid remark about rugby to open someone’s heart, don’t be afraid that you don’t know enough Bible or theology or have enough knowledge to talk to folks. The Holy Spirit is with you. You have a story to tell so just tell your story. You are not a Philadelphia lawyer trying to persuade a jury. You are just a person who almost died of thirst telling a person who you see that is dying of thirst, where to find the water. Jesus said, “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”