In Part I we discovered that in many of Jesus’ encounters with people their conversation evoked tension. In the gospels some of His encounters are messy. Some are confusing. Most of them are fraught with tension, a tension between grace and truth.
In the story of the woman at the well in John 4, the encounter begins with tension. Tension between a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman, the Savior of the Word and a sinful outcast. In the story Jesus offers the woman His grace, the “living water” of eternal life. But His grace is balanced by His truth when He tells her to go get her husband and come back.
BAM! Grace and truth collide head on! She has had five husbands and the man she’s living with is not her husband. Grace is wonderful, but sometimes truth is like a kick in the solar plexus.
His disciples returned from town where they went to buy food. When the woman saw them she knew it was time for her to hit the road. She didn’t need any condemnation from His friends. What would they think of her, a Samaritan woman associating with a Jew, their Teacher and friend?
Many folks glaze over what happened next. But it’s the meat of the story. It’s the thing we must all do sooner or later. Verse 28 begins with an adverb and a short participial phrase, “Then, leaving her water jar . . .” Did you catch that? She left her water jar. She probably dropped it, feeling dread at being ridiculed by these arriving Jewish men. And feeling excitement from what she had just heard.
Her water jar represented her life. Water was a vital commodity in Jesus’ day. Every household had to gather water every day. They used water for cooking, washing, cleaning, bathing and drinking. Remember, this is Samaria. It’s a desert climate. Hot. Dusty. Gritty. Uncomfortable. Gathering water for the man she was living with was probably the highlight of her day. Gathering water was probably the only thing that gave her a sense of contentment. It was her duty. Her happiness. Her worth.
It was her life. And SHE LEFT IT.
Now she had a glimmer of hope that her life may be worth something. Now she had met the Savior of the world and He offered her “living water welling up into eternal life.” She was a social outcast with a miserable, shameful past and nothing to look forward to in her future.
But Jesus had given here a second chance at a life. He had been kind to her. Respected her as a person of worth and promise.
Now, with no water jar, look what she did. “The woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?‘ They came out of the town and made their way toward him.” (4:28) And they stayed for two days listening to Him teach them. “And because of His words many more believed Him.” (4:41)
WOW! What a testimony. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ ” (4:39).
But she was a sinner, you say. Five husbands. Committing adultery and living in sin. Couldn’t Jesus have used a pastor or a deacon or a lay speaker, or a Sunday School teacher to tell the people in the town about Jesus? Wouldn’t one of them have been better than this harlot? This sinner? This social piranha?
Probably. But He didn’t. He used someone less than common. He used an outcast to transform the lives of hundreds of people to belief in Himself.
I love to read this one story. A couple of things stand out in my mind:
- God can use anyone, regardless of their character or their past or their race or their “religion” to bring others into His kingdom.
- Jesus loves sinners. Sometimes we get angry at sinners. We don’t embrace them. We don’t feel compassion. Our heart doesn’t break for their sin. We do to sinners what the women of the town did to the woman at the well.
- Jesus loves me. He found me at a well one day, showed me His grace in Truth and Love, opened His arms to me and embraced me for who I was, not what I’d done or not done. Praise God and thank you, Jesus, for loving me.