Getting to the Heart

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John the Baptizer had been arrested (Luke 3:19, 20). When Jesus heard about His cousin (Matthew 4:12), He and His disciples left Judea and headed back to Galilee. But He chose to return via Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along, but Jesus was on kingdom business and had a visit to make with someone with whom most Jews would not even pass the time of day.

They stopped at a well near Sychar. Jesus sent His disciples off to find food while He stayed at the well to rest—and to keep an important appointment. At noon, a woman arrived at the well. Normally women collected their water in the early morning or in the evening, to avoid the heat of the day. That this woman came at noon was a strong indication that she was not an accepted member of Sychar’s society.

In any case, most Jewish men would not have spoken to her. She was a woman and a Samaritan at that. But Jesus wasn’t “most men.” He asked her for a drink of water and so began the conversation about the living water that would refresh a soul that He knew was shriveled and sore (John 4:9-15).

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 13, 14).

The woman didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand (4:15) so Jesus changed His approach.

He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back’” (4:16). Some, not knowing the story, might think that Jesus had lost patience with her lack of understanding and hoped, by asking for her husband, that He would find someone more enlightened to talk to. But that wasn’t the reason for His request. Jesus knew that she was living with a man to whom she was not married. In confronting her with her sin He spoke plainly to her need of a Saviour.

What would she do? Deny her sin? Justify her sin? Rationalize her sin?

Perhaps she thought to avoid talking about her sin by saying “I have no husband” ( 4:17a). But Jesus would not let her off the hook. “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true” (4:17b, 18).

Caught.

But though she recognized that this man was no ordinary man, she wasn’t quite ready to face her sin, repent and believe. She tried to change the subject by asking His opinion on worship (always a good way to heat up a conversation). But Jesus pulled her back: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (4:24). Face the truth about your life my dear, if you really care about worshiping God.

She wasn’t quite ready yet: “The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes. he will explain everything to us’” (4:25). Perhaps a second opinion would help—later.

Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (4:26). This was the point where a shriveled soul felt those first drops of living water. She knew, and though the knowledge was not perfect, the Samaritan woman knew enough to believe.

Someday I’d like to ask her about the rest of the story. How difficult was it to leave the man she was living with (or to kick him to the curb)? Was she ever able to overcome her past and be accepted by the rest of the townspeople? A little of the story is given to us in John 4:27-42, but nothing more of the personal life of this amazing theological discussion with a despised Samaritan woman is explained.

Of the many lessons to be drawn from this story perhaps one of the most significant is the need to confront the sin in order to save the sinner. Sometimes beautiful metaphors like living water work well to open the conversation but eventually sin has to be exposed, talked about, confessed and abandoned.

Jesus was gentle, but He was also direct. Neither is easy but both are always essential.

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