Saturday, March 26, 2005

What Made The Outcast Draw A Crowd

by Keith Brenton

It was not a routine stop, because it was not a prescribed route. This jog in Jesus' first missionary journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (for Passover) and back was necessitated by the fact that His ministry was baptizing more in Judea than John's was in the trans-Jordan area. (Okay, His followers were; He didn't baptize.) The Pharisees - who were certainly not happy that Jesus had single-handedly toppled the temple marketplace in a day - had caught wind of His success. It was time to move on.

To make good time (and a good escape), they had to go through Samaria. Not your first choice for a route home; most folks took the bypass. Not Jesus.

They stopped for lunch at Sychar, near Jacob's Well, and Jesus rested there while the rest went to buy it. He was tired and must have been thirsty.

A woman came to draw her day's water. The heat of the day was not a great time to do this, but one could avoid other kinds of heat in the noonday solitude. Except that there was a man there, today. A Jewish man, no less. Did she smile to herself? Wonder if he was lost? Socially inept? On the lam?

"Could you give me a drink?" He asked politely.

"You're asking me?" she responded, a bit taken aback. "A Jewish guy asking a Samaritan woman for a drink?"

He knew that Samaritans and Jews - let alone men and women - generally didn't socialize in public. Not if they wanted to keep their reputations intact. He also knew that she had nothing to lose, there. And He had much to gain.

"If you knew the gift of God and who's asking you for a drink, you'd have asked him and He'd have given you living water."

She must have been smiling now. He was no danger to her. He was a kook. "Well, sir, I can't help but notice you don't have a bucket ... and the well's pretty deep. Where do you plan to get this living water? Are you a better well-digger than our father Jacob, who gave us this one - for himself, his descendents and their herds?"

Jesus was listening to her carefully. She said "our" father Jacob. She recognized a common heritage, even between Jew and Samaritan. There was no racial bigotry in her heart coming out of her mouth. "Anyone who drinks from this well gets thirsty again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never get thirsty again. In fact, this living water will give life that never ends."

It must have been the heat affecting him, she may have thought, grinning. "Then, sir, please give me some of your water. So I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here for more."

Did He detect in her words a genuine desire not to come to this well? To face the gossip and shunning and insult that might greet her there? To be reminded every day of her loose morals and outcast status? "Go call your husband and come back."

"I ... I don't have a husband," she replied.

"I see that you respect the truth," He answered. "You're right; you don't have a husband. You've had five husbands, and the fellow you're with now isn't married to you. You're quite right."

Well, this was awkward. Word gets around in a small town pretty fast, but she couldn't have imagined it getting around to a Jewish stranger in an instant. "Sir, it's obvious that you're a prophet. Maybe you can clear this up for me. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain. Your people claim that you can only worship in Jerusalem."

Was she trying to call his bluff? Or was she genuinely intrigued that Jesus might know the answer to something she'd wondered about all of her life? Or both?

When Jesus responded, He was emphatic: "You can believe this: A time is coming when you will worship the Father - not on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You'll worship what my people know and what will save them. Because the time is coming - and now is - when all people who really want to worship the Father will do so in spirit and in truth, for they are the people He seeks. God is spirit, and His people must worship in spirit and in truth."

Her jaw probably went a little slack. He took her seriously. Her took her yearning to worship seriously. It didn't matter what her life was like or the choices she had made, poor as they were. Could this wandering Jew be The One that Isaiah spoke about? She had to know: "I know that when The Chosen One comes, He will explain everything to us."

He was emphatic again: "You're talking to Him."

Right about then, His followers showed up with lunch. They, too, were a little taken aback that He was talking to her - but they weren't going to say anything about it.

Outnumbered, a little dazed, the woman left her water jar and ran back into town past them to anyone she could find, telling them: "You've got to come with me. I've just met a stranger who told me everything I've ever done. Could He be The Chosen One?"

There she was: possibly the most disreputable witness in town - if either Jewish or Samaritan culture had deigned to accept the witness of ANY woman - telling anyone and everyone what she had just discovered. Sharing her suspicion. Exaggerating the circumstances. (Could He really have told her everything she'd ever done in that short conversation?) Checking it out to see if someone had snitched on her to Him. Defending her conclusion.

And it was working. No one had snitched on her. They knew who she was. How did the Stranger know? They poured out into the street and followed her back to Him.

That probably didn't look good to His followers. It probably looked like a mob. Of Samaritans. It was time to eat and run.


So they urged Him: "Uh, Rabbi, eat something."

Perhaps He saw the townspeople coming. Perhaps He was smiling. Jesus answered: "I have food you know nothing about."

The followers looked around at each other. "Did you bring Him something?" "No, I didn't bring Him anything." "What about you?" "I was with you, doofus! Are you saying I stole a snack and ...."

"My food," Jesus interrupted, "... is to do what God wants and finish His work. You know when the harvest is four months out, but you can't see the fields God wants harvested! They're ripe, right now! And right now the reaper is being paid; right now the crop of unending life is harvested, so the sower and reaper are glad together. The old saying is true: one plants and another reaps. I'm sending you out to reap what others have worked hard to plant; and you benefit from it!"

It was a metaphor that may well have gone over their heads at the moment, even if He had been pointing to the oncoming harvest of townspeople.

Who in the world would Jesus have sent to Samaria to plant anything? they must have wondered.

Yet, the seed had been planted. The woman knew what God had promised to Isaiah. She had recognized it - even if doubtfully - with her own two eyes.

Then the crowd pressed in and wanted to know more and He taught them. And a lot of them believed, right there on the spot, because of what the woman had said; that "He told me everything I ever did."

The re-routed missionary journey had another change of plans, because they wanted Him to stay, and He did, for two more days. Over those next hours, many more came to believe He was The One.

Something important happened, too. Not important to me or you or Jesus' followers, perhaps. But it was important to the people of Sychar. They had a daughter among them. Someone who cared enough about them to be transparent; to put her faults on the line; to share with them the possibility of good news. They told her - fondly, I hope - "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we've heard it for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

Two big words: "just because." For even though their faith was affirmed when they heard Him, they had originally believed because of her:

The woman who drew water at noon.

Multiple divorcee, now living in sin, prone to exaggerate.

The first gospel preacher.

- from the account in John 4:1-42


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