At the well in Sychar, the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman he’s asked for a drink begins to take on the feel of drama. I find it amazing that when Jesus talks to individuals, including this woman, he often gets right to the nub, the issues in their lives that seem (my impression, at least) to be a potential block in their relationship with God. Jesus talks to Nicodemus and gets right to what the Pharisee doesn’t know about God’s purposes and expectations. Nicodemus is a teacher in Israel, Jesus points out. The man’s supposed to be fully informed! Yet he doesn’t get the difference in kind between the sinful human condition and the righteousness that opens a person’s eyes to the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “If not born again, a person cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3: 3). In other words, there must be a life change, a change of nature. Nicodemus is mystified. Has pride or status blinded him? Is he complacent? The spiritual expert doesn’t know? Perhaps the grateful humility of a repentant, forgiven sinner is something he hasn’t experienced himself.
Later Jesus accosts Zacchaeus, who has climbed a tree to see him, and invites himself to the tax collector’s home as if they were familiar friends. He doesn’t treat Zacchaeus as a pariah. It appears to me that the problem spot Jesus touches in this person’s life is alienation from people, even from God. I’m guessing, but the facts of Zacchaeus’s life support the view: He’s a tax collector and tax collectors are hated. Everyone knows he’s a cheat and at their expense. He’s also a short man and as happens sometimes the small of stature are dismissed, if thoughtlessly. To be caught in a tree (a grown man?) is surely an additional hazard—lots of reasons to expect hostility, as if the world and the famous man looking up into the tree hate him. But Jesus ignores every barrier and treats him warmly, like a lifelong friend: “Hurry up, Zacchaeus. I’m coming to your house today” (Luke 19: 5). Zacchaeus repents immediately!
Jesus also nails the issues in the life of the woman of Sychar. Her personal situation runs contrary to biblical standards for intimate relationships and she’s shunned by her community. Further, she seems to understand all this. Draw water at the worst time of day? She wouldn’t do it except to avoid contact. All this is clear to Jesus, naturally and supernaturally. He puts her squarely on the spot. She wants that “living water” because he says it permanently quenches thirst. When she asks for it and he replies, “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4: 16), she has to dodge: “I have no husband.”
Jesus doesn’t fault her life choices, he doesn’t draw her into discussion or probe for a confession, and he asks no questions. He just turns up the heat. He says, “You speak truth. You’ve had five husbands, and the one you now have isn’t your husband.”
Imagine her shock! But she can think on her feet and diverts again by changing the subject. The way Jesus handles this actually pays her a compliment. He seems to be aware of her interest in spiritual things and to see something else, something admirable: Her interest isn’t academic and she values truth. When he puts her on the spot with the facts of her lifestyle, she changes the subject as any Samaritan might: On which mountain are we to worship, ours or yours? Again, Jesus doesn’t rebuke her dodge. He takes her seriously and answers her question: “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4: 21).
She must be thinking, What? Neither of us is right?
Jesus is playing her game, turning the conversation in another, completely unexpected direction, taking the Jews v. Samaritans controversy right off the table: “An hour is coming,” he says again then adds, “and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such people the Father seeks to be his worshipers” (John 4: 23, my emphasis). Worship is a deep subject, and Jesus is opening it with an unlikely person. She isn’t Nicodemus! Notice too that when Jesus says, “the hour is coming and now is” he’s focusing attention on this present moment. It’s a significant move. He will develop the point when he reveals to this Samaritan woman something even more amazing, more significant.
from the Edgefield Advertise, oldest news paper in South Carolina, December 7, 2021
with thanks for the image: waldemar-brandt-Vd0TZcjyBtg-unsplash.jpg