If you haven’t lately, I would suggest that you read John 4 before reading this.
I’ve been thinking about this woman lately. I’ve preached on this before, but this is an account that floats around the mind and hits you in the heart.
The traditional interpretation is that Jesus sits at the well, confronts the woman with her fornicating ways, she tries to change the subject and then he talks about worship.
With that interpretation, it is rather difficult to get from point A to point B. How does living water fit in with her 5 husbands, her living situation and worship in spirit and in truth?
And this got me thinking about their first exchange together, which sets the scenario for the entire discussion.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”
8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
A hot, dusty afternoon. Jesus is tired. He is sitting by the well. It is clear that he is Jewish and that he is a rabbi.
A woman comes alone to draw water. She is tired. She is an outcast in her own community. She knows what it is to be unwelcome, unwanted, unloved. And then she sees Jesus.
You can just see the roll of her eyes. “Great. A Jew. All I need today.”
She knew that in a Jew’s eyes, she had three strikes against her. First, she was a Samaritan. An unclean race, mixed-blood, idolatrous worship – most Jews would go all the way around Samaria rather than risk being defiled by contact with all of the unclean people there.
Second strike against her, she was a woman. A Rabbi would pray, “I thank God that I am not a Gentile, not a woman, and not a slave.”
And third strike, she was a sinner. Everyone knew it. She was living with a guy without marrying him. She had been divorced 5 times. She was probably used as an example to scare children into proper behavior.
And then she sees Jesus. “Ugh. I am so not in the mood for this today!”
And he astounds her with a few simple words. “Give me a drink”.
She is stunned. Even touching this woman would make him “unclean” according to Jewish thought. Even the dust on the ground is unclean. And he wants to drink out of MY vessel?
When you see the scenario for what it is, you realize that something far deeper is going on.
This story is about shame. Shame is universal. We all dread and fear being cast out, being despised. No one dreams of being stupid and unwanted and on the outside looking in.
I am one who knows that feeling. As a child, the congregation would gather in circles after the service to talk (watch how people do that. It is fascinating). I would try to join a circle, and my brothers would move in front of me slowly to make it clear that I wasn’t welcome there.
I know that feeling. It is called “Shame”.
You don’t belong. Get out. You aren’t one of us. You are filthy. Defiled. Unclean. Dirty. Just go away.
And people deal with it in all kinds of ways. We shame others, thinking it will take away our shame. We lash out in anger, or we boast arrogantly, or we exaggerate our successes, depending on them to give us that elusive feeling that maybe our lives aren’t useless and wasted, that maybe we are accepted and loved…
But our shame has a reason. We were cast out of Eden. We used to be in God’s presence – welcomed and loved. But then we fell. We turned our backs on God, and learned that we were naked. And then we knew what shame was. We tried to sew fig leaves together. We hid from God and from each other.
Shame makes us lonely, for we hide our true selves, terrified that someone will find us out. And at the same time, we long to be known. Longing for intimacy and terrified of it at the same time.
It is a horrible way to live.
And it is exactly what Jesus came into the world to free us from.
“Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, greater far than all my sin and shame…”
This woman knew what shame was. She had been rejected five times, and now is trying to belong by simply living with a man who doesn’t respect her enough to marry her.
She is cast out in her own village. And she is a Samaritan woman. She knows what it is to be rejected, despised, thrown out like garbage.
And now, something astounding. “Give me a drink.”
He then talks about living water, and the thirst for belonging and purpose, the cleansing of the Holy Spirit…
But something else needs to happen. “Call your husband and come here.”
She says, “I have no husband.”
And he says, “I know. You have had five husbands. I know who you are, I know what you have done. I know what has been done to you. I know your shame. I know your fear. I know you. And I want to be with me. I want your service. I want to drink from your bucket. I want you to come with me into my father’s house.”
She isn’t changing the subject. She knows that this conversation is about cleanliness. She is unclean, meaning that she is not fit to enter into God’s sanctuary. But this man is talking about drinking from her vessel. Is she clean, or isn’t she?
“Our fathers taught us to worship on this mountain. But you say Jerusalem. Who is right?”
And he answers her. Worship isn’t about performing the ritual right in the hopes that God will be coerced into doing what you want. Both temples are going away. (But, as it turns out, the Jews were right about Jerusalem). But now, the reality has come.
Jesus is here. He is sent by the Father to seek and save that which was lost. He was sent to gather the sheep together into one fold. He came into the world to save his own.
And he had a woman that he loved in a little village in Samaria. The whole world might think she was nothing, but the Father was seeking her.
And Jesus found her and brought her to himself, taking her shame and giving her glory.
“The father is seeking such to worship him.”
There is much more to say here. There is a lot about thirst, about water, about cleansing, about the Holy Spirit, about the Father.
There is a lot about worship, about Spirit and truth. There is a lot about how Christ makes us acceptable.
But the whole passage is about shame and belonging. Jesus came to bring us to Himself. He desires us to be with him where he is. He seeks and saves his people because he wants to.
He took this woman, cast out as a sinner, unclean, unwelcome, alone – and gave her purpose, gave her meaning, gave her glory. In other words, he gave her himself.
Glory, you see, is the opposite of shame. And glory is belonging to Christ. We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Earthly glory fades away and is replaced with shame. In the end, those who seek glory on this earth hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Depart from me, I never knew you…” the ultimate shame.
In the world, you might be like this woman. Outcast, lonely, shamed, unwanted. Insignificant in this world. But take heart. This world is not the last word. We have laid in heaven for us a crown of glory that can never be taken away. Significance, beauty, cleanliness, the proper clothing (!), and we are accepted in the beloved.
Because Jesus took our shame upon himself, and was raised from the dead. Crowned with glory and honor, for us – just as it was for this woman.
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Wherefore hath God highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name.
He is our glory, our crown, our purpose. When we know him and he knows us, we belong. Even though belonging to Christ means that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, often times outcast and scattered, yet he gathers us together.
The father is seeking us.
How astounding is that??