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 look at three more ways in which is our model witness:.
3. Witness that offers satisfaction to those who thirst
The reason Jesus engages with this woman – despite his exhaustion (v6) – is that he knows he’s bringing the offer of satisfaction to those who thirst. We’re not just part of some marketing campaign looking to recruit people to buy something or join something or vote for something. We’re not engaging in intentional conversations for our own gain – far from it! We bear witness to Jesus because we know that we bring satisfaction to those who thirst. Unlike the rest of the world, we have the answer to the meaning of life! As Jesus said:
13-14 ‘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.’
Jesus knows that he’s bringing the offer of eternal life. It’s what makes him take such a risk in starting the conversation, across cultural boundaries. It’s what makes him intentional about his interaction. And it’s what stops him avoiding the difficult questions, as we see in what happens next.
4. Witness that doesn’t avoid the difficult questions
Because so far it’s been pretty upbeat – the offer of living water that brings eternal life. Who wouldn’t want that? But we still have the issue of this woman’s past; her sin. And Jesus doesn’t shy away from addressing it, by making yet another leading statement:16 He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’
Jesus knows full well where this is going to go:17-18 ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘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.’
Ooh. Awkward. In life, how often do we avoid the openings people give us because they’re awkward? Opportunities to talk about difficulties in their life; to listen to their reasons for rejecting ‘religion’; even if it means experiencing the awkwardness of some raw emotion that we’d rather not have to deal with. But I’ve often found that the most fruitful gospel conversations are precisely then; precisely when it gets awkward. When people let their guard down and open up in a meaningful way. We need a witness that doesn’t avoid the difficult questions.
Now although Jesus hasn’t avoided them, we can’t say the same for the woman. She tries to change the subject. She tries to sidetrack Jesus by bringing up an age-old religious dispute between Jews and Samaritans:19-20 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
This is the first century equivalent of saying ‘so, how about this weather we’re having…’ But Jesus isn’t that easily distracted. In fact, he uses her attempted diversion to carry the conversation forward. He uses it to get to the heart of the issue. Because true witness takes every opportunity to point people away from religion and toward an authentic relationship with God.
5. Witness that points people away from religion and toward authentic relationship
Have a listen to how Jesus answers her question about religion; about whether they should worship in the temple in Jerusalem or on the mountain nearby – a mountain that you can actually see from the well, if you visit it today.21-24 Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’
That is, it’s not about religion. It’s not about rules on where you worship or how you behave. It’s worship itself – in spirit and in truth. It’s about the heart. It’s about relationship.
You suspect the woman is starting to get the fact that this is no ordinary conversation; that Jesus is no ordinary person.25-26 The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah… is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.’
In place of religious rules, Jesus offers himself. The Messiah. The one, as John said in the prologue, who has come from God in order to make God known. God himself who became flesh and dwelt among us.
To think about
If we’re to follow Jesus’ example, we need to be prepared and equipped to point people away from mere religion, and toward a relationship with him. I find it gets people’s attention when I tell them I’m not religious; OK, so the fact that I teach at a bible college probably makes that line work better for me than it would for you. But be creative. Blow away people’s preconceptions. Think of how you can give even a throwaway line that points people away from that mortal enemy of the gospel: religion.
You’d be surprised at the power of an unexpected statement. Something that causes people to rethink their prejudices, their preconceptions about Christians. Many non-Christians love to rail against religion. Try joining them in it – they’ll be intrigued, at the very least. Just like Jesus intrigued our Samaritan woman.