We continue with our study of the gospel of John this morning, and in just a moment, we’re going to begin reading in chapter 4 where Jesus has a conversation with a woman. We don’t know her name. We don’t know her age. But the fact that her conversation with Jesus is his longest one-on-one conversation recorded in Scripture tells us something about just how significant this encounter was.
But I want to begin by asking you a question — What are you tired of? And I realize that could be a dangerous question to begin a sermon with. As for me, I have a long list of things that I’m tired of. I’m tired of drivers in Fayetteville who turn right at red lights and stop signs without even bothering to slow down.
I’m really tired of people who park in handicap parking spaces who aren’t the least bit handicapped. I’m tired of people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking space I want.
But, here’s what I’m really tired of. I’m tired of people who spend their time shouting each other down on television and Facebook. I’m tired of politicians who are more concerned with their own personal agenda than they are the truth, and what’s best for the country.
I’m tired of the mistrust and the suspicion that has become so prominent in our society. I’m tired of being afraid to state an opinion without someone questioning my motives or my intelligence or even my basic worth as a human being. I’m tired of seeing such a lack of kindness and civility and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
More than anything else, I’m tired of all the fighting. I’m tired of the hatred and the division and the disrespect that seems to infest every level of our conversations these days. I’m tired of the racism that judges people solely on the basis of the color of their skin, or the language they speak. I’m tired of so many people who seem to have everything in the world figured out so that they won’t even consider listening to someone else’s viewpoint.
I’m tired of it all. And I know a lot of other people are tired of it as well.
So many people are tired of being misrepresented. Tired of being judged by people who don’t know anything about them or the lives they have to live. Tired of not being taken seriously. Tired of not being seen or heard. Tired of constantly being put down.
Then again, maybe you’re here today and you’ve picked your side in the conflicts of our time. And you’re sure you’re right, and they’re wrong, and there’s not a lot of daylight in between. And I get that. I’ve been there. All I can ask is that you don’t write off what I’m going to say this morning. Because if we ever get to the point where we’re so gung-ho over proving our “side” of things that we won’t listen to what God has to say — then what are we really fighting for?
Not to mention all the ways that our fighting can and does alienate people that God loves and that Jesus died for.
So if you’re tired of all the conflict and the rudeness and the bullying and the injustice around us, my prayer is that our story this morning will lead you to Jesus for rest and renewal.
It’s interesting that, in our story this morning, Jesus was tired, too. Let’s watch this video together. If you’re following along in your Bibles, we’re picking up in John chapter 4, verse 1.
As I said just a moment ago, Jesus was tired. John tells us that, around noon, “he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well.” (John 4:5-6). He was tired.
And along came a Samaritan woman with her water jar. So, Jesus asked her to draw him some water out of the well. And that opened up this conversation, where Jesus told her that he could give her water that would quench her thirst forever. And listen to what she said, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:15).
You see, the Samaritan woman was tired, too. She was tired of having to go out to that well every day or multiple times each day to draw water.
But I think that if you were to ask Jesus and that Samaritan woman what they were really tired of, it wouldn’t have just been a long journey, or having to come to the well to get water. I think they would have said, “We’re tired of all the fighting.”
You see, the Jewish people and the Samaritan people had been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone could remember. And you can catch hints of this tension in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
Like when he asks her for a drink from her bucket, she responds by saying, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). And then John adds a side note – “(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)”.
You see, there was a long, ugly, painful history between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews saw the Samaritans as an inferior and unholy people. And the Samaritans had experienced pain and rejection and exclusion at the hands of their Jewish neighbors, and over the years, they had often lashed out at them, violently. This had been going on for hundreds of years.
Now, neither Jesus nor this Samaritan woman had started this war between their peoples. Nor had their parents or grandparents. But both of them had grown up in an environment marked by hatred, mistrust, and suspicion between the two groups of people. Here’s a little bit of the backstory.
About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel and carried away all the Jews. They replaced the local Jewish population with all kinds of other people. And so, the Samaritans were a mixed-race people who were only about half-converted to Jewish law.
Several generations later, the Judean Jews returned home from their exile in Babylon. And they immediately got to work rebuilding their cities and communities and homes—and especially their temple in Jerusalem, so they could worship God. The Samaritans came to them and offered to help rebuild the temple. But the Jewish leadership, under Ezra and Nehemiah, rejected the Samaritans. They basically said, “This is a Jewish project. You guys are a bunch of half-breeds, and God wants his people to be pure.”
You can imagine how that rejection must have hurt the Samaritans. And they reacted by doing everything they could to delay the building of the temple in Jerusalem. And then they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. They said this was the mountain where Abraham offered up Isaac and so, it was the proper place to worship God.
Well, about 150 years before the time of Jesus, the Jews attacked the Samaritans and destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim. And then, when Jesus was a little boy, the Samaritans snuck into the Jerusalem temple just before Passover and filled it with human bones, which made the temple unclean, on the holiest day of the year.
So by the time Jesus and this Samaritan woman met at Jacob’s well, Jews and Samaritans had been doing these hateful and awful things to each other for hundreds of years. And I think Jesus was tired of all this tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, between their peoples. And I think the Samaritan woman was tired of it, too. Which is why she was willing to keep talking, and keep listening to this Jewish stranger, Jesus.
But it wasn’t just their race, religion, and history that would have kept Jesus and this Samaritan woman apart. It was equally surprising at that time that a man would speak to a woman in public. And especially for a rabbi to speak with a woman. John 4:27 says that when Jesus’ disciples showed up, they were shocked that he was talking with a woman. You see, they lived in a culture where women were looked down upon.
Men didn’t talk to women in public unless it was their wife, their mother, or their sister. As a general rule, talking to a strange woman in public was considered shameful. That’s how ugly rumors got started.
But Jesus intentionally carried on a deep conversation with a woman he’d never met before. In public. He spoke to that Samaritan woman like she mattered to him. Because, of course, she did.
And he spoke to her with kindness. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10).
Water from the ground was common, but living water? Now he had her attention. But this woman had the same problem that Nicodemus had in his conversation with Jesus in chapter 3. Jesus was speaking to her on a spiritual level and she was only able to understand him in a literal way.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” (John 4:11-15)
Jesus is speaking about eternal truths, but she’s still only thinking about literal water. She wanted whatever it was he was offering, but only so she could avoid returning to the well for more water every day. Now, it’s hard for us to blame her. We often have the same motivation, coming to Christ only to satisfy our physical desires, while we are completely unaware of our spiritual needs.
But then Jesus took a sharp turn in the conversation. He said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (John 4:16). And we quickly learn one more thing about this Samaritan woman. She had been married to five different men, and she was currently living with a man she wasn’t married to.
Unfortunately, preachers tend to assume the worst about this woman. They sometimes talk about her like she was a tramp, jumping from man to man. After all, she’s had five husbands, and now she’s living with a man out of wedlock. So, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that she did a lot of bed hopping.
But, John’s gospel doesn’t tell us that. Remember that both Jews and Samaritans lived by the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 24 tells us that, according the laws of that time, women couldn’t divorce their husbands. And they couldn’t contest a divorce. If your husband decided he was done with you, and he gave you a piece of paper saying so, you were divorced.
Besides, Jesus didn’t say she had been divorced five times. He said she had been married to five different men. Because of warfare, famine, disease, and injury, men in those days usually died at an early age. A widow became either a beggar, a prostitute, or another man’s wife. Four times, this Samaritan woman had chosen the best option. Five marriages didn’t make her a sinner.
But sharing her bed with a sixth man who wasn’t her husband? That was a sin.
But that wasn’t something she wanted to talk about, especially with a stranger. So, she changed the subject. She started talking about worship, Jerusalem, the differences between Jews and Samaritans. And I get that. I have a lot of conversations with people where, when the subject turns to spiritual matters, they want to change the topic in a hurry.
And, finally, this woman did her best to shut Jesus down. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25). There’s really no need for us to argue about it. Because someday, the Messiah will come and he’ll settle this matter once and for all.
And that’s when Jesus dropped a bombshell on her: “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26). I’m the Messiah you’ve been looking for. And to her credit, this woman quickly accepted that truth and immediately went to share it with all of her neighbors.
It’s significant to me that, throughout this story, Jesus never referred to this woman as a sinner or told her she was wrong. Now it’s true that she went back to her village and told everyone that she’d met a man from God who, as she put it “told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:29). But that doesn’t sound like someone who had been scolded, or who had been told how wrong she was.
In fact, she seems to have been excited. Because she — a Samaritan woman living in questionable circumstances — had met a Jewish man who somehow knew her whole life story. And he saw her without judging her. He listened to her. He took her seriously. She mattered to him.
And for her, that was an absolute miracle. It was all the proof she needed that God had sent him.
Last week, we read that famous passage, John 3.16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That day, by Jacob’s well with that Samaritan woman, Jesus began to show his disciples (and all of us) just how big the world is that God loves. It includes everyone. Even people who are on the opposite side of the tracks than we are. Even people we don’t understand. People who don’t share our political views. People whose lives look a lot messier than ours do.
People like that Samaritan woman, who had been married five times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to.
We need to remember that there is nothing — absolutely nothing in all creation – that matters to God as much as people do — fallen, sinful people like you and me. In spite of our sinful actions, in spite of our constant rebellion against him, God still loves us and wants us to love Him back. Remember that’s why Jesus came. He came to “seek and save the lost” — lost people like this Samaritan woman.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that our Lord closes his eyes to sin. In fact, because he is perfectly holy and sinless, he is more sensitive to sin than you and I are. But when Jesus looks at your life, and at my life, he is able to look beyond our sinful behavior. To see us not as filthy sinners but as his precious creation. To see us as a priceless treasure that has been lost that he loves and desperately wants to get back.
Jesus reminds me of an ad that was placed in the lost and found section of a newspaper years ago. It read like this : “LOST—black and tan dog of poodle, German shepherd, and dachshund descent. Flea-bitten, left hind-leg missing, no hair on rump, and recently neutered. Answers to the name, ‘LUCKY.’ $50 reward.”
Now, a lot of people might consider themselves lucky if they LOST this dog! And who would be willing to pay $50 to get him back? I mean, it’s only a dog—a mutt at that! You can get all the mutts you want for free at any dog pound. But to this family, Lucky was more than a mutt. They saw this flawed little pooch as something precious, something valuable, something they loved very much and would go to any lengths to recover.
And I think that gives us a picture of how God sees us. In spite of the fact that we all bear the scars of our own sinful choice, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our failures, God loves us. And that’s the way we need to learn to look at other people if we’re ever going to lead them to Christ.
I don’t think this quote originated with him, but Mr. Rogers used to say: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” And I really do think there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Because I believe that we do learn to love people by getting to know them. By listening to their stories.
Now, one of the things that makes Jesus Jesus is the fact that he knows our stories without us having to tell him. That’s what happened with him and the Samaritan woman. But it’s also true that even though he knows our story, he still wants to hear us tell him our story. To tell him what hurts us. What scares us. What confuses us. He wants to listen. And he wants us to know that we are deeply loved by God. That each one of us truly matters. I think that’s what that Samaritan woman got from Jesus that day. Which is why she felt so safe and comfortable with him.
That was also something that Mr. Rogers was good at. Reaching out, welcoming people, and letting them tell their story. That was the way that he drew people in, and helped them to imagine a better, more hopeful story. For their own lives, for their communities, and for the world.
Let me share with you something that Mr. Rogers did in 1968. If you lived back then, you remember that that was a time when racial divisions in this country were very deep. We were coming off two decades of Civil Rights struggles. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. There were riots going on. And for years, people watched on television as police in the South attacked black Americans with clubs and fire hoses and angry dogs.
It was during that time that Mr. Rogers invited a young, black gospel singer from Alabama, named Francois Clemmons, to come and be the police officer for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. For Mr. Rogers, this wasn’t just a part that needed to be cast on his television show. It was an opportunity to invite a deeply divided nation to come together and imagine a different—and better—story.
Mr. Rogers introduced Officer Clemmons to America by inviting him to come soak his feet in a tub of cool water on a hot afternoon. In 1968, seeing Francois Clemmons’ black feet and Mr. Rogers’ white feet side by side in the same water was shocking to many television audiences. It was even more surprising to watch Mr. Rogers use his own towel to dry Officer Clemmons’ feet.
For many Americans, seeing Rogers and Clemmons sitting and talking, with their feet resting in the same water was a moment like Jesus’ disciples coming back to find him talking with that Samaritan woman by the well. It was shocking. In a good way. They never would have imagined it, if they hadn’t seen it for themselves. But once they saw it, they could begin to imagine a better story.
So for the next 25 years or so, Francois Clemmons patrolled Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. And he had many opportunities to share his story. But that first encounter, when they soaked their feet together, was such a pivotal moment that they recreated it shortly before Francois Clemmons departed the neighborhood to teach music.
Let me ask you this morning — aren’t you tired of all the fighting? Wouldn’t you prefer to hear, and see, and live out a better story? Mr. Rogers and Francois Clemmons showed us the way. And in our story this morning, so did Jesus. He showed us that it begins by reaching out. By listening to other people’s stories. Maybe putting your own story on hold for a bit so that you can listen. That’s what Jesus and the Samaritan woman did at Jacob’s well. And it made such a difference for that woman. And for her neighbors. Just to know that they mattered to Jesus. And they mattered to God.
My prayer this week is that we will tune out all the voices that divide us and distract us. Maybe turn off cable news for a while. Don’t comment on or share that meme on social media that’s only purpose is to put somebody else down or to score a point for your side. Let’s pray that God will open up opportunities for us to sit and listen to someone we don’t understand. Someone from the other side of the fence or the tracks. So that we would learn their story. And learn to love them where they’re at. And let them learn that they are loved by you, and by God.
I’m not suggesting this morning that you’ll get an instant miracle out of it. But I am saying, if we don’t start doing those kinds of things, we will never see miracles like what happened that day so long ago at Jacob’s well.
So, may we go from here and create moments like Jesus did with that Samaritan woman. Like Fred Rogers created with Francois Clemmons in that tub of water. And if we can’t imagine or figure out how to create those kinds of moments on our own, let us pray that God will create those moments for us. And pray that we’ll have the courage to embrace them when he does.