The Woman at the Well (part 3)
There’s so much to learn from Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well near Sychar. Let’s keep going! When we stopped last week, Jesus was changing His approach with the woman. He had been talking about living water, but now he shifts to the far more personal issue of this woman’s love life. That statement, however, is just a segue into what He really wants to discuss.
John 4:16-26. Remember, I’m not including all the Scripture, so grab your Bible or pull up your Bible app in another window.
After the woman complains about her daily treks to the well, I think Jesus pauses for a minute. Perhaps he looks sideways at her and sighs. Then he suggests she go get her husband. In making another simple statement (an indirect question, really), Jesus reveals that He knows more about her than she thinks.
The woman at the well needs
to understand what Jesus says,
not just hear His words.
(click to tweet)
He already understood her reasons for getting water in the middle of the day. I probably would have said something like, “Hey, I know all about those husbands!” Instead, Jesus walks her along the path of truth so the revelation (here in a minute) about Who He is will be her own. She needs to understand what He will say, not just hear it with her ears.
How many times had she squared her shoulders and said, “I have no husband”? At her age, people were certainly surprised by that. In her time and culture, all women got married. (I’m sure there were a few rare exceptions.) We can assume she wasn’t young, since she’d had time to be married five times, so her single status was unusual, even remarkable.
Without condemnation, Jesus
presses into the full truth.
What did she expect from Jesus in response to her terse, incomplete response? Maybe she was hoping he’d just drop the subject. But he doesn’t. Without condemnation, Jesus presses into the full truth. Imagine the look of surprise on our heroine’s face when Jesus recites her marital history!
But now He has her attention. He’s not just some weird, counter-cultural guy with strange ideas about water. Is she scared? A little embarrassed? She scrambles for a diversion. If He knows so much about her, He must be a prophet. Prophets like to talk about religion. Maybe she could shift the conversation off herself and onto a safe (read: not personal) subject.
Hmm… They could see Mount Gerizim in the distance. The Samaritans had worshiped God there for more than two hundred years—until the Jews destroyed their temple. (That fact was in the study notes of my Bible. Read those, people!) It was still a sore spot between the two people groups, as you can read in my previous post. She points out the mountain and describes the accompanying issue, then she waits to see what He says. If Jesus will take the bait and start talking/arguing about the proper location for worship, then the she’ll be “off the hook.” That kind of debate wouldn’t affect her personally.
Talking about personal issues makes people uncomfortable. Religion isn’t personal; it’s more of a social issue, so it’s safe. Even today, people will wiggle out of uncomfortable Truth by mentioning church or religious groups or even religion-related politics. We have to stay on our toes to realize when that happens and redirect the conversation back to Truth…which is what Jesus does here.
The coming of the Holy
Spirit made temple
Jesus doesn’t take the bait. Instead, He declares the issue moot (that means no longer worth talking about). With Jesus’ coming death and resurrection, location would no longer matter (v. 21). What would matter? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.
When Jesus says, “You Samaritans” (v. 22), it’s the closest He gets to judging the woman. I think He felt about them much like He felt about the Pharisees: they were striving so hard in the wrong direction. The Samaritans had been away so long and diluted worship of Yahweh so much that they could no longer recognize true worship.
The woman’s shoulders knotted up a bit more tightly with that thought.
Very soon, only two things would matter in worship: spirit and truth.
I’ve heard/read these two aspects of worship defined in different ways. Let me just give you the way I’ve been thinking about it recently.
Worship in spirit (or The Spirit)
Worship is an emotional experience. When we sing out, raise our hands in worship, or fall before Him with tears in our eyes, we feel worship. God planted emotions within each of us, and authentic worship will reflect our emotional state.
Your emotions may arise in worship when you’re driving to work or walking in the woods, when you’re praying with your preschooler or grieving with an elderly person. It’s not contained by church walls or defined by some set of rules.
For who knows a person’s thoughts
except their own spirit within
them? In the same way no one knows
the thoughts of God except the
Spirit of God. -1 Corinthians 2:11
The NIV translates, “worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Notice the capital ‘S.’ It’s true that we cannot authentically worship God without the Spirit of God in us. Why? Because we don’t know how. Paul gave this some thought.
Worship in truth
Real worship also involves our intellectual side. God has revealed things about Himself so we can know Him. (The big word is Self-revelatory.) That head knowledge informs how we respond to Him. It’s why we’re moved by those old, theologically-rich hymns. It’s why we sometimes declare Who He is as part of our worship. It’s why we listen to sermons and respond with decisions in our weekly group worship time. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not “check our brains at the door” when we follow Christ.
I will come and proclaim your
mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous
deeds, yours alone. -Psalms 71:16
It may come from the Bible or from your own experience, but any time you think, say, or write something that is true about God, you are worshiping.
Whoa. Verses 21-24 are a thick chunk of Truth from Jesus. I suggest you take your time and read through them slowly. Try to put some inflection in your voice. Observe the punctuation. Pause between sentences and let it sink in a little.
What is our heroine supposed to say to all that? I can imagine she had begun to walk away, then when Jesus described her marital history, she stopped and turned around. Now, as He finishes this short but significant speech, she begins to walk back toward Him. The hard lines around her mouth have softened. The furrow of her brow has relaxed. The tension between her shoulders has eased. Now she’s curious, and she’s the one to make a statement that’s really a question. Could Jesus be the Messiah? It’s too good to be true.
For once, Jesus answers straightforwardly. No innuendo, no parabolic story, no form-your-own-conclusion questions. She couldn’t have misunderstood. She said, “The Christ is coming.” He said, “I am He.” Three times, He indicates Himself, as if He’s pointing His finger at His own chest. What a moment!
This immoral, unlucky, self-despised, pre-judged, middle-aged woman from the backwaters of Israel and the dregs of Samaria…this social pariah…this person who had done nothing to deserve Him and much to offend Him…this is the one person to whom Jesus reveals His identity most directly and clearly! Fantastic!!
Don’t you think they just stood there looking at each other for a minute? Jesus with a hint of a smile on his face, her with her mouth hanging open.
Oh, friend, have you ever felt undeserving? I have, and I think that’s part of the reason the Holy Spirit led John to include this story in his gospel. I don’t compare myself to her, thinking, “I’ve never done what she did.” Instead, I look at her unconditional acceptance and I think, “If He can accept her, then He will also accept me.” Please don’t let your background or sin history restrain you.
Today’s post is about intentional conversations, authentic worship, and unconditional acceptance. Which part did you need to hear? What will you do in response? Or what aspect of this story just really struck you as you read? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Want some more about this encounter? Check out Mary Felkins’ post: Me & My Five Husbands. She has a great application for us.