have no bucket and the well is deep
ince we are each individual souls created one at a time by God we all come by a different pathway from different places in time to join in relationship with Him. Last week we dealt with Nicodemus, a wealthy, well educated leader of the Pharisees, who had upheld every letter of the Law. Today we focus on the opposite type of person. As most of you have heard all of your lives, the woman that Jesus encountered at the town well of Sychar was not a Jew, but a Samaritan. Typically, Jews did not travel through Samaria because the whole ethnic group was considered unclean by supposedly clean people. She was an outcast from her own people too because she had flaunted their moral codes by having had five husbands, and was currently living with number six without having married him. This unnamed woman even had to come to the well in the heat of the noonday to avoid the rest of the women who drew their water, and socialized around the meeting place, in the morning.
It seems that John, the best friend of Jesus, included these highly contrasting characters in the same section of his biography to underscore the core doctrine that we all need to experience a friendship with the Christ, no matter what our situation is in life. John's hope seems to be that each of us will be able to identify with the spiritual needs of this outwardly sinful woman of Samaria, and with some aspects in the life of Nicodemus. These two came from far distant spiritual backgrounds, but the point is that they both needed to come, as do we.
In the story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well, as with Nicodemus, we have a glimpse into how Jesus went about making disciples. In this high noon story the Samaritan woman immediately accepted Christ as Lord and became a witness to her neighbors, many of whom also came to faith. We have heard of spontaneous combustion when a fire explodes from heat, or a spark, here we have an example of what we might call "Spontaneous Conversion," as this woman immediately accepts Jesus as Messiah.
Augustine had lived a life of sin prior to his conversion as a young man. Soon after his change he ran into an old friend from the bar rooms. She called out in a familiar voice, "Augustine, it is I!" He responded, "Yes, but it is no longer I." He felt that he was no longer the same person. He was a changed man, in fact we know him today as "Saint" Augustine. His experience contained characteristics of both Nicodemus' story and that of the woman at the well. We have all known individuals who have had an instantaneous turn around in their lives.
You may recall the story of Velma Barfield, a young woman from rural North Carolina, who in 1978 was convicted of murdering four people, including her mother and fiancée. She never denied her guilt, but told a chilling story about her drug-crazed life. She had been the victim of incest and rape. One night, desperate and alone on death row, a guard tuned in an evangelist that she could hear down the long gray hall. For the first time in her life she understood that Jesus had died for her and she opened up her heart to forgiveness and acceptance. She began to tell her story to other inmates and soon she had a large following. The outside world got hold of her story and she developed a most unusual pulpit. Her conversion was genuine, but so was her conviction and she became the first woman executed in the United States in many years. In one of her last statements she said, "Just as the Lord has given me saving grace, and living grace, he has given me dying grace too."
Is it any wonder that Velma's favorite biblical character was our nameless woman that met Jesus at the well so long ago?
Basic to our understanding of Christianity is that all persons, no matter how outwardly pious they may appear, are born separated from God by Adamic sin, but can come to experience Grace as the Spirit draws them. Persons often run into Christ, seemingly by accident, along the way. Oftentimes, as a result of adversity, persons discover that they do not have spiritual resources to handle what life has dished out. Many seek God in troubled times. Sometimes they turn to books, perhaps the Bible. Others seek out a trusted friend, in whom they have felt a resonating strength. Nicodemus sought out the Rabbi at night. The woman in today's text had what seemed like a chance encounter at the town well. Every story is different but there are usually threads of sameness.
An intriguing aspect of today's story is how Jesus used the analogy of water as a way of entering into a spiritual conversation with the woman. "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'. The woman said to him, 'Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?' Jesus said to her. 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water" (text, NRSV).
Note that the woman left her water jar and went back to the town to tell everyone about the Messiah who had given her spiritually fulfilling water. Many Samaritans believed in Christ because of the woman's testimony and later any others believed that he was indeed "the Savior of the world." (v.42). I have drunk water out of Jacob's ancient well in the town that is today called Nablus. There are many Christians still there who trace their faith back to the formerly outcast woman to came into town after noon, long ago, to tell them the good news that she had met the Lord.
In the stories of Jesus' encounters with these two characters, The Pharisee, and the Samaritan woman, we have contrasting paradigms in which we can identify our own stories of how we came to salvation, and also of how we have been introducing others to Christ. My hope is that I can find a way to bring someone this week to become thirsty for Jesus' Living Water.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor