This week we’re looking at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and what we can learn from him about raising people’s interest in his life-giving message. (You probably want to start with Monday’s short post to get the framework.)
Today, we see how Jesus models witness that creates intentional interactions.
2. Witness that creates intentional interactions
Take a look at Jesus’ strategy: he has a plan, and that plan is to engage in dialogue. He doesn’t just start by whipping out the two-ways-to-live pamphlet in his back pocket. (“In the beginning, God created us to live under his rule. Hey look, that’s me there, that little crown above the earth – not a great drawing, I know, but at least it’s an improvement on the ones in the Good News Bible.”) He doesn’t start with a pre-packaged presentation.
By the same token, he doesn’t just chat about the weather, either. He asks leading questions. Questions he knows will go somewhere. ‘Will you give me a drink?’ It’s not just because he’s thirsty. Jesus knows what his follow-up question will be.10 ‘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.’
Living water? What’s all that about? She can’t help but be intrigued, and Jesus knows that.11-12 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’
Again, someone takes Jesus literally when he’s talking spiritually. So Jesus takes the opportunity to clarify, which you suspect is where he’s wanted to go all along:13-14 Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks 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.’
She’s really interested now: although she still thinks he’s talking about a source of running water – a stream, rather than a well.15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’
We’ll look at the rest of the dialogue tomorrow, but let’s pause here and see what’s happened. In a few short questions Jesus has moved from a mundane social interaction with a complete stranger to having her hang on his every word. Although she doesn’t fully realise it, she’s basically asked him to tell her the gospel. All because Jesus had a plan; he created an intentional interaction.
A few years ago, I had this kind of experience – not when I was hanging around at a well (what kind of guy do you take me for?) – no, when I was talking to my hairdresser. She’s Muslim. And she asked me about when Easter was that year – and why the date always seemed to move around. I explained that it’s got to do with the old Jewish Passover feast, which is linked to the phases of the moon – much like how Ramadan moves each year.
Now I could have left it at that. Normally I would have. But this particular time I had an inkling of where it might go. In a single instant I saw in detail the entire trajectory this conversation would take, if I simply said one more sentence. All I had to say was ‘”but Christians don’t all agree on when the date of Easter should be.” And we were away.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, Catholics and Protestants calculate it one way, and the Orthodox churches work it out another way”, I replied.
“Yeah, so what is it with all the different types of churches. You’re Baptist aren’t you? How’s that different?”
So I explain that it’s a bit like Sunnis and Shiites, the different branches of Islam. Baptists are Protestants, and when it comes to the important stuff we tend to agree. But we have some important differences with the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
“What do you disagree on?” she asked.
And there’s the money question. I get to explain the gospel: how as Protestants we believe that Christ has done it all for us, whereas, say, the Catholic church has traditionally seen a role for our own good works in our salvation. And then came the bonus – the bit I didn’t expect. She says “that’s more like my religion,” referring to my description of traditional Catholicism. I’d been allowed explained salvation by grace to a Muslim without explicitly having to critique Islam; she’d joined the dots all by herself. All because of one intentional question.
Now I know you’re probably thinking: it’s OK for you, you’re a reverend. Things like that happen when people know you do God-stuff for a living. And I agree, I’ve got it a bit easier. Nothing’s more infuriating than hearing your typical world-famous evangelist trying to explain to the rest of us how it’s done. Cause his examples usually involve sitting next to a business traveller on a plane as he heads off to speak at a Christian conference.
By the time the first round of drinks has been served, he’s answered the ‘where are you off to’ question and smoothly transitioned into talking about Jesus. By the time the wheels touch down, he’s led most of business class to Christ, as well as three cabin crew and a would-be terrorist who has now vowed to use his remaining Semtex for good and not evil. “See how God can use an ordinary person like me!,” he exclaims.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we’re left wondering how the rest of us can move beyond talking about sport, the kids, and the current body shape of celebrities.
But what’s interesting about Jesus is that here, with the Samaritan woman, he doesn’t use the God card. He just asks leading questions. Questions that work whether you’re the Son of God, or a full-time evangelist… or you. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes you don’t get beyond square one. But if you go into interactions with people who don’t know Jesus with a plan, at least with the intention to start spiritual conversations, on the lookout for opportunities to arise – then something will happen more times than you might think. Just like it did for Jesus at a well in Samaria 2000 years ago.
Jesus models the kind of witness that looks to create intentional interactions.
Pray that God will open your eyes to the opportunities around you. Go into each interaction you have today on the lookout for ways to start gospel conversations.