River City Spokane

Dying For a Drink: John 4

Hello, friends.

Welcome to Gospel Home Brew, a resource of River City Spokane.

May the words of our Messiah flood us with his love as we drink deeply the Living water that he offers us today, tomorrow, and forever.

I would like to tell you a story. Some of you may recognize this story, and others may not. The story can be found in John chapter four. Given the breadth of the narrative, I will not read the text verbatim, tell you a story. My goal is for you, the listener, to enter into the scene and stand in the shoes of the woman so to experience this encounter with Jesus as if you were there yourself.

With that said, let’s get to it.

The Unusual Encounter: John 4.1-15

Imagine that you’re heading for Jacob’s well — it is just ahead, there’s no one in sight. “Sweet relief,” you thought to yourself. But just as you get there, you hear someone calling out to you, and, suddenly, your body is flowing with anxiety; you lower your head to hide your face. “Excuse me.” As you turn to look, you see a man — a Jewish man — and not just that, but he’s that new holy leader, the one everyone has been talking about. “Would you mind sharing your glass with me?” he asked, “I am parched.”

“Who, me?” you answer, “but you’re a Jew — you’re a man! And yet you (of all people) are talking to me? A woman?! A Samaritan?!” And, though you don’t speak it, you think to yourself, “Does he know who I am? I really hope he doesn’t ask…”

“You know,” he said, “if you knew who I was – who I am, I should say – and if you were to have asked me this very question, even if it were in this very moment, I would have given you refreshing, running, river water — living water.”

Puzzled, you think, “what in the Sheol is this crazy Jew saying? He’s asking me to give him a drink, but then he tells me if I were to have asked him that same question, he’d give me fresh river water … ? That doesn’t any make sense.”

“Sir, you don’t even have a cup, nor have you any water yourself. How then could you give me water? For God’s sake, we are standing at Jacob’s well! Are you suggesting that you are better than he was? Jacob had to dig deep for this water, he had to work hard for this water, and it seems as though you are saying that you can make running water magically appear — here and now.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“Everyone who drinks Jacob’s water from Jacob’s well will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks my water — my running, river water — they will have a forever well within their very person, a well which springs up within them heavenly life.”

“Sir,” you say, “I want this water! I don’t want to be thirsty anymore, and I especially do not want to come to the well everyday.”

Let’s stop for a moment. Do you see what’s happening here? If you didn’t quite catch what is going on in this story, we see an encounter, a unusual encounter, between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Seems harmless, right? Well, when we come upon this encounter, we need to bring to a couple of considerations to the table…

In this day, men didn’t interact with women publicly, let alone speak to them (unless it was to “rent a stable for an hour,” if you know what I mean); Jews didn’t engage with Samaritans without weapons in hand; holy leaders didn’t mingle with the “unclean;” in fact, one could make the case that Jesus’ entire ministry reputation could have been shipwrecked before it really even began simply by initiating this dangerous encounter. Nevertheless, the Jesus that John wants us to experience is a Jesus that intentionally encountered a woman of this walk and invited her to drink the refreshing, ever-running, river water — the Living water — a water which will forever satisfy her needs and longings. This water, the special water that Jesus is offering, is a water that he offers to all of mankind.

Before we move on, let’s talk a look once more at the woman’s last words in this first section…

Sir,” she said, “I want this water! I don’t want to be thirsty anymore, and I especially do not want to come to the well everyday.”

What exactly is going on with this water? Our English translations tend to translate Jesus’ water as “Living water” to emphasize the spiritual undertones that he is intending to inflect — rightly so; however, as my shotty-attempt of storytelling suggests, Jesus is literally speaking of running water. Can you see it? Running water? Moving water? River water? Living water? It is one in the same. But, as our English translations propose, Jesus insinuates a double-meaning to this water he speaks of. It is kind of like how Jesus invites fishermen to become fishers-of-men — he hooked them! Throughout this gospel, John presents several instances where Jesus says things that normally have a very clear, literal meaning, but as the audience reading this gospel, years later after the event, we are well aware that Jesus is speaking in a dual sense. Whenever we see these “misunderstandings” among those who Jesus encounters in the gospel of John, that’s a clue for us to stop, to slow down, and to pay close attention to what Jesus is saying…

What Jesus says about this ‘living water’ makes it clear that he’s talking about something quite different. Not only will the water he’s offering quench your thirst so that you will never be thirsty again, the water will become a well within you, bubbling up, refreshing you with the new life that is coming into the world with Jesus (v.14). By drinking from the Fountain of Living water, you too will become a new source through which the Fountain of Living water flows through.

The Familiar Deflection: John 4.16-26

The next part of the story is quite intriguing. Jesus, knowing the situation this woman was in, inquired about her husband, asking her to go get him to come and drink this water with her. It is the response to Jesus’ question where we see the woman begin to run, hide, and deflect the conversation that Jesus was pursuing — sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman said.

To this, Jesus jolts the woman awake by his prior knowledge of this reality, and, not just that, but of her past, too. Jesus reveals that he knows that she has had at least five husbands, and many other lovers — one of which she lives with now. This is where the deflection begins… Ironically, the woman chooses to deflect by pressing down on the wound which separates the Jews from the Samaritans — the way of worship as the ‘true people of God.’

Don’t be fooled by this deflection! The woman isn’t inquiring about the “true mountain of worship” because she seeks truth to this Samaritan conspiracy; she is trying to throw Jesus off the scent of her personal affairs (literally). This is not mere speculation; by taking a look at what the woman said in verse fifteen, we begin to see what is motivating this woman to drink the Jesus water: “Sir, I want this water! I do not want to be thirsty, and I especially do not want to come to the well everyday.” The walk to the well is the walk of shame the woman is seeking deliverance from. So much so that the woman went to the well during the hottest, most impractical time of the day because she is deeply filled with shame and rejected by all. But check this out! Watch how Jesus responds! Jesus rolled with the punches; he wasn’t discouraged by the woman’s deflection.

Jesus saw straight to the heart of what was going on. This woman has had a life composed of one emotional upheaval after the other, with enough husbands and lovers alike coming and going to keep all the gossips in the village chattering for weeks. Simply put, she knew her life was a mess, and she knew that Jesus knew. And in her knowing of Jesus’ knowing of her messy life as a Samaritan harlot, she did what she knew to do best — she deflected.

But, again, Jesus rolled with the punches; and in doing so, he brought about a new and refreshing insight to controversial topic:

“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you won’t worship the father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You worship what you don’t know. We worship what we do know; salvation, you see, is from the Jews. But the time is coming — indeed, it’s here already! — when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth. Yes — that’s the kind of worshippers the father is looking for. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

“I know that Messiah is coming,” said the woman, “the one they call ‘anointed.’ When he comes he’ll tell us everything.”

In essence, the woman’s stance on the conspiracy goes something like this:  “Some worship here; some worship there; we’ll have to wait until the Messiah sets us straight. Until then, until we know truth, let’s not talk about morality…”

We know this argument far too well, don’t we? Well, watch how Jesus responds to the woman’s deflection:

“That is me,” said Jesus. “Me, the one speaking to you.”

The Unexpected Harvest: John 4.27-42

At this moment, a transition occurred: the disciples came and the woman scurried off.

When the disciples arrived, they were dumbfounded at the sight of Jesus’ encounter with this woman — and rightly so. They knew full-well the kind of scandal this could bring to Jesus’ ministry and reputation; but, on the other hand, they were genuinely surprised that he would waste his time speaking with a Samaritan, let alone a Samaritan woman.

If I had to speculate, I think the disciples would have perceived this as a righteous / just moment for a “fire and brimstone” kind of rebuking, probably like how we would see today. It is important to keep in mind that in the same way that we are learning Jesus in and through the gospels with Spirit-eyes and Spirit-ears, they too were learning Jesus in real time.

Choosing not to pursue the topic, the disciples offered him food that they had purchased.

Shockingly, Jesus responded with yet another cryptic message containing a double-meaning:

“I’ve got food to eat that you know nothing about — my food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to finish his work! Don’t you have a saying, ‘another four months, then comes harvest?’ Well, let me tell you, look up and see! The fields are white! It’s harvest time, boys! The reaper earns his pay, and gathers the crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can celebrate together. This is where the saying comes true, ‘One sows, another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t work for. Others did the hard work, and you’ve come into the results.”

Meanwhile, just after the disciples found Jesus at the well, the woman scurried off with her water and went into town. *Check this out*  “Come on!” she said. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! You don’t think he could be the Messiah, do you?” And those who heard came with her to find Jesus.

Wait, what?! What just happened? Something must’ve happened with this woman at the well, but what? This Samaritan is flip-flopping worse than a politician, first by asking for Jesus’ water, then deflecting the awkward conversation Jesus had initiated, and, when the potential for scandal started coming about with the disciples arriving at the scene, we see her flee to her town … to preach … ? Something doesn’t add up.

Whatever happened during the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, she no longer feels the need to walk in the shadows, ashamed of the skeletons in her closet, or even of her current affair with her lover; this chick is straight preaching to her people — the very people who had rejected her! She doesn’t know who Jesus is (at least not yet), nor does she know what he is planning to do; but, what the Samaritan woman does know is that Jesus is a gracious, loving man.

What did we miss? Well when Jesus revealed himself as God’s Messiah to the woman — when he said, “That is me, the one speaking to you” — the woman had already experienced the radiating kindness and gentleness Jesus embodied, so when he, the Messiah, the chosen one of God, the foretold redeemer and restorer of God’s kingdom and God’s people, showed himself to have concern and compassion for someone like her — and, might I add, someone like you and me — she was hooked! The liberating love that Jesus conveyed with such grace and such truth freed her from the sour shame that had bound her for what likely had been decades. The shameful Samaritan shadow-walker had now become a herald of God’s healing and hope!

Instead of receiving shame, condemnation, and ridicule, this woman was given grace and truth— the Samaritan woman was given Living water. And what’s crazy is that she had no clue… When Jesus revealed the truth of his identity, embodied in the grace of the encounter, he simultaneously gave her the Living water — for he himself *is* the fountain of Living Waters (Jeremiah 2:13). Jesus’ water was enough for the woman — it satisfied her thirst, and she’ll never have to walk in shame to the well again — and we can see that play out in the woman’s actions immediately after this unusual encounter: for she went into her hometown, a place where everyone knows her dirt, and she passed the word of the encounter she had with this man, despite the scandal that could’ve arisen. And by sowing this seed, the seed of grace, John highlights the reality of the ever-present harvest that Jesus spoke of. Just take a look!

“Several Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of what the woman [shamelessly] said in evidence about him, ‘He told me everything I did.’ So when the Samaritans came to where Jesus was, they (without weapons in hand) asked him, a Jew, to come stay with them. And Jesus stayed there with them two days.”

“Many more believed because of what he said.”

“‘We believe, too,’ they said to the woman, ‘but it’s no longer because of what you told us — we’ve heard him ourselves! We know that he really is the one! He’s the savior of the world.’”

The way the passage ends is worth pondering deeply. Here is a woman who, a matter of an hour or so before, had been completely trapped in a life of immorality as a social outcast. There was no way backwards or forwards for her; all she could do was to pass the day and hope that no one saw her on her walk to the well. Now the woman has become the first evangelist to the Samaritan people — even before Jesus’ own followers!!

Encountering this scandalous woman was quite the risk, but as Jesus shows us, it was a risk worth taking. As I mentioned in the beginning, imagine yourself in the woman’s shoes. At first this might seem strange, but if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t need to imagine being in her shoes — we are in her shoes. All of us. Think about it. We all have our affairs. We all have skeletons in our closet. We all have experienced shame and rejection. Are we really that different? When confronted with the truth of what lies secretly hidden, when having everything that we are completely and utterly exposed, would we not deflect? Would we not justify? Would we not make excuses? You bet we would. And, in fact, we do. If it wasn’t for the Living water of Jesus, the refreshing river water of the gospel, the gospel which springs forth new life, the gospel that brings about a new birth, the gospel which frees us of who we once were and creates for us a new identity as sons and daughters of God, we would doomed like the Samaritan harlot.

This story empowers us to drink and be free: to drink from the Fountain of Living water and be freed from sin, commissioned to the telling of our encounter with Jesus the Messiah in the community around us, just as it did for the Samaritan woman.

The story of this Samaritan woman is our story, or at least it can be… What if we allowed the grace and truth of Jesus to free us from our shame and our chains? What if we swallowed Jesus’ life water and confronted that which enslaves us? What if we, like the Samaritan woman, boldly and recklessly spread the word of our freedom-encounter, and, in doing so, what if our friends and family and neighborhood and city flocked to Jesus as the men and women of Samaria did? Jesus’ life water rescued an entire community of people in Samaria from dying of thirst simply by an unusual encounter with an average woman. It is important to notice that Jesus didn’t invite the woman to the synagogue and preach at her — he graciously and truthfully spoke to her, caring for her needs and loving her for who she was, where she was, and just as she was in her everyday walk of life. What would Jesus’ life water do to the city of Spokane if we were to meet our neighbors and the passerbys at their wells?

Here’s my charge to you, listeners: drink deeply from the well of Jesus; drink and be free! During this Lent season, be resolved to drink and not hide when Jesus encounters you. Whether you are at the well, or walking in the shadows of shame, or heralding the hope of our Messiah Jesus in your community — drink deeply and live.

Who knows? Perhaps you will be the first evangelist to bring Life water to those dying of thirst around you.

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