Third Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2017
“The Samaritan Woman: A Well-Known Story” (John 4:5-26, 27-30, 39-42)
Does God really accept me? I mean, I’m able to hide my faults and shortcomings from people–well, most of my faults from most people, at least. And I’m able to do it well enough so that there are people who do accept me–well, sorta, or at least they put up with me. But what about God? There’s no hiding things from him. He knows the real me. He knows my inner thoughts and my secret sins. Will God accept me? And if so, why? And what difference does that make? That’s what we’ll find out this morning as we consider the case of “The Samaritan Woman: A Well-Known Story.”
It is a well-known story, and it’s found in the Holy Gospel for today, from John chapter 4. It’s a well-known story because of the fascinating dialogue that takes place between Jesus and this Samaritan woman. And it’s a well-known story in another sense also, because it’s a story that’s known for taking place at a well. At a well, a place where people come to draw water.
That’s what the Samaritan woman was doing. She came there to draw water. But the man she meets there, Jesus, has something even better to give her. He offers her living water. And he accepts her. He offers her God’s acceptance. And in so doing, we see how God will accept us and give us, likewise, the same living water.
This story is often called “The Woman at the Well.” But it could also be called “The Man at the Well.” Because that’s who this story really is about: this man, Jesus, who meets the woman at the well. God accepts the Samaritan woman–God accepts you and me–only because of this man at the well. Because this man Jesus, “this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
In his encounter with the Samaritan woman, we see very clearly that Christ accepted her. And he accepted her in spite of some rather significant obstacles. Racial and religious obstacles, moral and social obstacles–these were the barriers that stood in the way.
For instance, we see that Jesus accepted her even though she was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed bag, both racially and religiously. They were a mixture of Israelite and heathen elements. And so the Samaritans had gotten off track from the accepted norm. Their religious beliefs and practices were in need of correction. The Jews looked down on the half-breed, semi-pagan Samaritans and would not associate with them. But Jesus did. He, a Jewish teacher, struck up a conversation with this woman–a Samaritan woman, no less. He even asked her for a drink, which meant that he would have to receive water from her water jar.
Jesus accepted the Samaritan woman. But he did so without compromising the truth. Jesus never expressed approval of the faulty teachings of the Samaritans. In fact, he even began to correct them: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we Jews worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” But that didn’t stop Jesus from accepting the woman herself. And not only did he accept her, he pointed her in the right direction, in the direction of the truth, the Truth who was sitting right there in front of her: Jesus himself, the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is that salvation come from the Jews.
Now does Jesus accept you? Yes, he does! He accepted the Samaritan woman, in spite of her faulty theology that needed correction. And he accepts you, even if you do not have all your theology perfectly straightened out yet. Maybe you don’t have all your ducks in a row yet. Even though you belong to a church that teaches the gospel in its truth and purity, perhaps some of your personal religious beliefs and practices need some correction and strengthening. By the way, going to Bible class will help with that. And you yourself may have doubts and uncertainties in your faith. Nevertheless, take heart. Jesus accepts you. And he will guide you in the way of the truth. Jesus is as committed to you and your salvation as he was to the Samaritan woman.
Jesus accepted the woman even though she was a Samaritan whose racial heritage was mixed. He accepted her even though her religious views were in need of correction. And what’s more, Jesus accepted her even though she had led a sinful, immoral life. This woman was living with a man outside of marriage. She was “shacking up” with a guy. And she had had five marriages before that, all of which apparently had failed. So this woman had a load of sin and guilt as she stood there before God. She knew it, and Jesus knew it. Yet Jesus accepted her.
But at the same time, again, just as he did not approve of her wrong theology, so also Jesus did not approve of her immorality. It wasn’t like he said: “Divorce? Adultery? Living in sin? Oh, that’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” On the contrary, by telling her he knew all about her sin, Jesus was leading her to repentance, so that she would see her need for forgiveness. His acceptance of the woman did not mean ignoring her sins. Instead, it meant confronting them and dealing with them effectively.
How about you? Are you a sinner? Do you have a checkered past? Or a checkered present? Do you bring your own load of guilt before God? Then take heart. Jesus accepts you. “This man welcomes sinners.” And he does something far better than just tolerating your sin or excusing it. He forgives it.
Now when the Samaritan woman was confronted with her load of sin and guilt, perhaps she wondered where she could go to have her sin forgiven and her guilt removed. Perhaps that’s why she brought up which mountain to go to. The Samaritans said that their mountain, Mt. Gerizim, was the place to make sacrifices and sin offerings to God. The Jews said that Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, where the temple was–that was the place to go to get your guilt taken care of. “So which is it, Jesus? You obviously are a prophet sent from God, so you must know.” But Jesus doesn’t send her to either place. For the solution to her problem was sitting right there at the well, in front of her. Jesus himself would remove her guilt from her.
You see, Jesus not only accepted the Samaritan woman, he did something much more. He would even die for her. This same Jesus would go to “Calvary’s holy mountain,” where he would make the atoning sacrifice for her sins–and not for her sins only, but also for your sins and mine, for the sins of the whole world. As we heard in today’s Epistle: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Again, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us sinners. The holy Son of God shed his blood for us. That’s why God forgives us and accepts us.
Sitting here by the well, Jesus was tired and thirsty at about the sixth hour. Sound familiar? It should, because there would be another day, also at about the sixth hour–only now Jesus would be hanging on a cross. Once again he is tired and says, “I thirst.” Friends, Jesus suffered that thirst in order that you and I would never be thirsty.
Jesus satisfies a thirst that water from a well can never quench. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” he tells the woman. Where do you look to quench your thirst? People look in many places to try to satisfy their thirst. The Samaritan woman bounced from man to man, trying to find meaning and satisfaction in her life. Where do you look? People look in many places–sex, alcohol, drugs, a new boat, a bigger house–always trying to satisfy their thirst, but nothing ever seems to fill the bill. In the end, all you’re left with is a dry and dusty taste in your mouth.
Are you thirsty? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus gives you what you need. He gives you what he gave that woman at the well: living water. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Eternal life. The new and abundant life that Jesus gives will last forever: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This man Jesus gave the Samaritan woman the gift of God: acceptance, forgiveness for her sins, living water, and eternal life. The gift he gave was so great that it changed her life. It was so exciting that she left her water jar there at the well and went back to the town and started telling people about what had happened. Her testimony then led others to believe, to receive that same gift of God. So it is for us. You and I have received such a wonderful gift from God that we want to tell others about it and share it with them, too. There’s plenty of living water to go around.
So this is the well-known story of the Samaritan woman. It’s really the story of the man she meets there at the well: Jesus, the one who does all things well. And this same Jesus is here with us, right now, at this hour. He gives us what we so desperately need: acceptance, forgiveness, living water, eternal life. So we too have a testimony to share with the people we know. For we know this man Jesus, and we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.