“Good News Intentionally Shared”
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, “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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him……
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Our second indicator of a vital congregation is ‘Good News Intentionally Shared.” If our faith has something to offer, how do we share it? And, just what is it we are trying to share? The scripture is the narrative of the ‘Woman at the Well’ in John 4. It is the longest recorded conversation of Jesus in the bible. Contextually, it is written in counterpoint to Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemous in the previous chapter.
Nicodemous comes to Jesus in the night. He is a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews. He is named. He is someone of note. But he doesn’t get it. His response to Jesus is: “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? In contrast, the woman at the well is a nobody. She is a woman, a Samaritan and she is unnamed. She encounters Jesus in the full light of day and progresses from seeing Jesus as a thirsty man at the well that propriety demanded she avoid, to a prophet who sees her beyond the parochialism of both the Jews and the Samaritans, and ultimately as the Messiah—the one who welcomes all.
Jesus both lived and proclaimed the good news that every person matters. He treated the people who ‘should have been able to understand’ (Nicodemous) and the fringe members of society with the same respect. He was patient with their literalism, offered both a new way of understanding and ultimately radically redefined God. The conventional assumptions about who God is and where God is to be found were turned upside down for both Nicodemous and the Samaritan woman.
There is an irony to this story in that conventionally, the woman at the well is thought of as a woman of questionable reputation who comes to the well at noon to avoid the scorn of the village woman who would draw water in the morning. That interpretation could be true but the text does not particularly support it. There is no suggestion by Jesus that she was a ‘sinner’. There is no offer of forgiveness. Instead, there is a sophisticated theological discussion about what feeds us (living water) and where that might be found. Finally, the villagers seem quite willing to listen to the woman’s story— “ Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…” It is very doubtful the villagers would lend much credence to a reprobate—even a ‘spirit filled’ one. Perhaps it is the patriarchy, perhaps a desire to add more drama to God’s saving acts but these assumptions make it easy to miss other possibilities. The reasons why we make assumptions and act as if they are true is less important than noticing we can hardly help doing so. And that is what Jesus is challenging in us. Jesus saw this woman and her human predicament. He saw past the many conventional assumptions and met the woman. We all need to be seen with such clarity in order to be loved—in order to receive living water.
This was an ordinary woman, not necessarily a ‘bad’ woman. It may be more dramatic to describe her as a loose woman, saved by Jesus but it is more relatable to think of her as an ordinary woman that Jesus saw, engaged and respected. She asked good questions—Why do you ask me for a drink?—It was improper for unacquainted men and women to be alone together and much more so for a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman. What was this guy really after? Jesus’ reply suggests he is different from what she expects—and tells her a bit about himself. Then she asks: “ Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” —Are you claiming moral superiority over my tradition? Jesus answers that the day will come when it will not matter where worship takes place—that is a human construct, not a Godly one. What will matter is that we worship in spirit and in truth. Human divisions can be broken and overcome if we see and recognize one another as God’s beloved children—without our sinful need to categorize, rank and divide one another. That way of living was so different and so transformative, the woman left her water jar and her midday tasks to share it with her neighbors.
She could be seen and loved quite apart from secular assumptions about women, ethnicity or religious affiliation. Jesus could see what made her different and could see past those differences to see the woman. As the text reads: “He told me everything I have ever done.” Such knowing and being known is at the heart of intimacy and love. It is frightening—even terrifying—but it is also deeply transforming. It is living water.
The problem in real life is that this is remarkably hard to receive and equally hard to offer. It is one thing to hear and rejoice as we read about Jesus as Messiah but it is much harder to uncover our own daily prejudices. In FIRL, I mentioned a client who found herself judging her partner because of his fluctuating weight. She found herself losing respect for him. He was not the man she met. Why couldn’t he be more self disciplined? She felt uncomfortable and did not want to be seen with her pudgy partner. To her credit she was troubled and embarrassed by her attitude.
Her story evoked a raft of reactions in our group. Almost everyone could relate to judging themselves and/or others by their weight. Most of us admitted sharing my clients view—either of themselves or of others. How could he/she let themselves go like that? How could I let myself go like that? Whether it is five pounds or fifty, it is hard to see the person when we are focused upon their weight. It is really embarrassing to see how ordinary and human we are. Our prejudices around weight and appearance keep us from seeing every bit as much as the prejudices toward women and Samaritans kept people from knowing the woman at the well. It is embarrassing to realize how shallow we can be—but it is true of us nonetheless. When I asked if anyone in our Wednesday group could claim innocence on this point—no one volunteered.
A big part of the Good News is learning what is really important and such knowledge is the beginning of sharing that news. Jesus intentionally challenged ‘how it should be’ and ‘who qualified for salvation.’ He provided an alternative life based upon deeply knowing and connecting with one another. That was so exciting to the woman at the well, she left her water jar behind and rushed to share her experience.
As a practical matter, we must be willing to be challenged about what really matters. We must own up to the many ways our assumptions and certainties keep us from truly seeing another. And we must be willing to share our whole selves in relationships. This is actually something we typically hesitate doing. I have noticed when we travel, the process of getting to know our fellow travellers follows a familiar pattern. At first most people are trying to impress. Everyone has star children or they do not speak. The second week, we start to share the fracture lines in our lives—the children who have failed to launch, the conflicts about where to set boundaries, the disappointments in careers and in marriages. It is only then that the travel group coalesces. Intentionally sharing the good news is far more than talking the talk. It also requires walking the walk. There are many ways to do this. One size does not fit all. Here is a list our FIRL groups generated when asked how they personally shared the Good News.
- Sharing Hospitality
- Discussing values
- Someone I know that you don’t know is praying for you
- Intentionally suspending assumptions and prejudices
- Seek to see another—(see past the weight)
- Saying out loud—we do this because of our faith
- Speak up when our silence implies consent
Sharing the Good News begins with having something to share. Jesus proclaimed the Good News in words and in deeds. Jesus used words, parable and paradox to help create head space for new possibilities. But just as important, he consistently shared them with regard and respect for the people he encountered. He was invitational. This was a potent combination that left Nicodemeus confused and the woman at the well transformed. She rushed to share her personal experience and she did so with the invitation, ‘Come and See.’ Then we read they learned for themselves—“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
We all need to be seen. We live in the promise that God sees and cares for us. Taste and see that it is Good. Resist the temptations which blind us—our assumptions, prejudices and fears. Share what it is like to be fully known and fully accepted. And say, “Come and See.’ Let it be so.
Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life (FIRL) gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.