ENCOUNTERING THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
John 4: 5-26
Long before modern pop psychologists like Dr. Phil McGraw or even Eckhart Tolle, and long before classical psychiatrists like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung, people walked through life had to deal with moral burdens and the consequences of their ethical choices in a hit and miss kind of fashion. Perhaps one of the most helpful activities of the burdened soul was and is confession: confession of sin to one who is sometimes called a Confessor. The Roman Catholic Church gives that role to priests. Mystic Teresa of Avila had a confessor in whom she confided: Fr. Diego Yepes. About her he was later permitted to write: “[God] showed her a beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and brightening them all…. While she was wondering at this beauty, which by God’s grace can dwell in the human soul, the light suddenly vanished. Although the King of Glory did not leave the mansions, the crystal globe was plunged into darkness ….” These words were included as the introduction to St. Teresa’s masterpiece work called Interior Castle.
Certainly there are times when people plunge into emotional darkness, sometimes leading to clinical depression. And other times people just need to confess burdens, or even talk with a perceptive person such as a counselor or a pastor. For centuries through the act of confession, the Roman Catholic Church has done something that helped people transform their sin sick souls. The old spiritual declared: “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. The balms in Gilead were known to be medicinal, but healing a soul was the work of legend. Taking your burdens to Jesus, instead, can heal your soul! Encountering Jesus in a heartfelt prayer can change the trajectory of your life! To carry unconfessed sins for an extended period of time can overly burden your soul. Several years ago our Body, Mind, and Soul ministry had a seminar on posture. We learned that plenty of people go around with an unhealthy stooped over posture. Sometimes it is caused by genetic issues. But other times, the presenter suggested, such posture is an indication of emotional issues. Yes, emotional issues have a measurable impact on one’s body and mind too! We can be burdened by our inability to cope with the world around us; we can be burdened by unconfessed sins. Many people today think that if what they are doing does not break a law, or even worse, it breaks a law but they are never getting caught, then no infraction has been committed. They think it doesn’t hurt anybody. But unlawful activities, acts of emotional torment of family members or neighbors, bullying under the radar of a school, or tempting others to start down a dark path indicate, in biblical language, that the Tempter is at work in those person’s lives.
Today we will look at a woman Jesus’ encounters at a well in Samaria. The story tells about three ingredients that can have the power to heal the sin-sick soul: confessions, forgiveness, and unconditional love. John’s gospel and his letters are filled with the message of God’s unconditional love. Let’s look at our text today. Verse three says: “Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria.” Had to? When did Jesus have to do anything that was not part of the Father’s plan? It makes one think: did Jesus cut through Samaria as a geographical shortcut, or did he go for a theological necessity? We are made to wonder if this journey home for Jesus going through an area that might be called “the other side of the tracks” was an intentional choice that he made. People of Samaria were shunned and avoided by Jews. They believed that God lived on their mountain, Mount Gerizim, instead of on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jews thought it was blasphemy. The Samaritans, they said, also polluted their bloodlines by marrying people who worshipped other gods. If a Jew touched a Samaritan, a Rabbi would declare that the Jew was ritually unclean, and he would be cut off from communion with God. The story of the Good Samaritan throws us off because Jesus praised a Samaritan. But no Jew would have thought of a Samaritan as “good.” Nowhere else do we find this amazing encounter described of Jesus’ ministry.
Our Presbyterian Women are studying a book this year called Twelve Women of the Bible. In Session 11, author Lysa TerKuerst writes this about the woman at the well:
We never learn her name. She is simply called a Samaritan Woman. But this amazing individual whom we meet in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel teaches us a very important lesson. Three things are obvious, but very important to remember. First, she was a woman. In her world and time, this was one strike against her. Women were not trusted, invited into religious discourse, or even spoken to in public by rabbis. In addition to being a woman, she was a Samaritan—strike two! The Jews looked down on the Samaritans because they had intermarried with the nations around them and were no longer pureblooded enough to be considered true Jews. Finally, the woman had a sinful past … and her present circumstances were questionable as well—strike three! We learn that she had been married and divorced five times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. [p. 132]
First, confession is at work in this encounter. Without accusing, but by asking, Jesus gets the woman at the well to unburden herself. Jesus said “Go, call your husband, and come back.” Our Lord suspected more than he was letting on. The healing begins as she replies: “I have no husband.” He replies, “You are right; you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” In her confession she felt no condemnation, perhaps for the first time in her life. The pieces of her puzzle were coming together for Jesus. She was likely poor; wealthy people sent servants to get water. She was also likely judged and outcast by her town. It is widely believed she came at noon to draw water intentionally. Other women came in the morning, when it is cool. Perhaps her society led her to be the lone person at the well at noon. In those days a woman could not divorce a husband. That meant five had divorced her! If she had been arrogant she could have been beaten or killed. Instead her spirit may have been broken, burdening her heart as she was found unacceptable time and time again. Jesus did not attach a scarlet letter to her garment; there was no apparent sin, (sin would likely have ended in her death.) Others in her town, however, may have decided on her guilt. Perhaps someone you know is just looking for acceptance. They carry around the baggage of unforgiveness. They may long to meet Jesus at a well of living water. If you know people who are causing hurt, harm, or anguish to another person by their deliberate heartless actions, imagine how their lives might change if they knew unconditional love, like the endless supply of living water. If you are the one who is hurt, Jesus truly loves you endlessly; he will go out of his way to meet you, and to offer you living water.
Second, forgiveness is at work here. The disciples are astonished find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. [verse 27] Without even hearing Jesus say “you are forgiven,” the woman seems to gain the energy of a child and the message of a convert. This new evangelist goes back to her city, telling people that she had met a prophet, one who made her feel so different she wondered if he could be the Messiah! That encounter with the woman at the well was so profound that John says: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” [verse 39] Here’s the unbelievable thing the Samaritans did: They found Jesus and “asked him to stay there two days. And many more became believers.” [verse 40] Jesus had crossed a cultural line. Here’s a cultural line crossed in 2017:
In Victoria, Texas, on January 28th—
Early on that Saturday morning, members of the Victoria Islamic Center were notified that that their mosque had been destroyed by a fire overnight.
The small town of 62,000 immediately came together, with leaders of different faiths sharing their support.
Members of the one Jewish temple in the town, the Congregation B’Nai Israel, were the first to offer their house of worship. They handed their synagogue’s keys to one of the mosque’s founders.
“We were very happy to do this,” Melvin Lack, treasurer of Congregation B’Nai Israel tells USA TODAY. “You feel what’s happening in the community and everyone reacts.”
Soon, a how to order Pregabalin online page was created to raise money for reconstruction. Within only a few days, over $1 million
had been donated, far surpassing the initial goal of $850,000.
Grace still changes lives today, as it changed lives in Samaria.
Finally: unconditional love is at work here. Preacher Patrick Willson once wrote:
If we read the right stories, we know what kind John is telling. We have been to the well before. A man meets a woman at a well. It was at a well that Abraham’s servant, sent on a mission to find a suitable wife for Isaac, met Rebekah. At a well, Jacob met Rachel. Zipporah comes to a well to water her flocks and is rescued by dashing Moses….All the cues tell us that this is a love story, [but] certainly not the kind we expect. This isn’t the kind the movies give us, nor the kind in paperback novels. This love story has a different author…an author who loves people, but not because they are beautiful maidens or handsome princes by the world’s standards. No; this author, like a loving Father, looks at his daughter through the eyes of love. She is beautiful, no matter how she looks to the world; she is loveable, no matter what she’s done; she is redeemable no matter how many husbands said she wasn’t. This is a love story in many ways; about a Father’s love for his people, ….
We too have done things that need confession; we too need to be forgiven; and we too need unconditional love, not conditional love based on our performance, our bank account, or on what we give to get it. We need love, like God’s love, that is never withdrawn: not in judgment, not in disappointment, not in brokenness. The only way you may not experience God’s love and forgiveness is if you turn away from it. But God seeks us out, crossing over barriers of religion, culture, gender, and hostility, like a prophet who deliberately went by a well in Samaria…Samaria… and encountered that broken woman. Finally, finally …it was well with her soul.
Is it well with yours?
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 19, 2017