Grace, Like Water, Flows Downhill (John 4:1-26)

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. (John 4:1-9) I [Karl Meszaros] have always felt a certain kinship to woman at the well. Like her, I was once very much on the outside looking in at a proper relationship with God.Let’s set some history. For our purposes, I think it’s necessary if we are to get a good idea of what’s about to transpire here at the well.

We often think of the Samaritans in terms of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that parable, you kind of get the idea that the Samaritans are basically good but, misunderstood people. I often assumed that the Samaritans and the Jews basically had a religious misunderstanding. I thought that both groups were Jews and that they were divided by some small points of theology. As it turns out, I was very wrong.

When Solomon dies, Israel splits into two kingdoms. The southern kingdom which consists of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom which consists of all the other tribes. The Samaria consisted of the tribes of Ephraim and Mannasseh. The northern kingdom placed temple on Mt Gerizim. They also have their own bible. At one point, the northern kingdom including Samaria is taken into captivity by the Assyrians. The Assyrians forced them into intermarriage. This caused the northern tribes to lose their heritage.

Samaria would be passed between conquering nations, eventually landing in the hands of the Greeks. Antiochus IV Epiphanes will eventually force all Jews everywhere into Zeus worship. The Samaritans agree, the Jews don’t. The Samaritans will have their temple dedicated to Zeus. The Jews have it forced upon them. The worship of Zeus in the temple along with the sacrificing of pigs pushes the Jews into a revolt. During the revolt, the Jews would sack the Samaritans, burn their temple, and forced them into slavery. All this to say that they didn’t get along.

Now, let’s set the stage for what we have going in this particular story.

It’s the middle of the day. Jesus is tired, thirsty, and in enemy territory. Mt Gerizim (home to a temple that was built in defiance of Jesus) stands in the distance. He goes to rest at the well and there he meets the woman. Most times Jews would cross the Jordan to avoid going into Samaria, yet verse four says Jesus had to go through Samaria. This is a matter of mission, not geography.

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:10-15)

“Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again.” This is an interesting statement. Notice it’s all- inclusive. Though his comment is directly addressed to the woman who had a thirst for love that left her thirsty, I believe Jesus is saying this about any appetite. The Samaritans had an appetite for spiritual nourishment that they tried to fill in their own way, and it left them wanting. This is true for all kinds of things: food, love, money, sex, power, reputation - the list is extensive. These things will never fill us like we wish.  One of the things that struck me with Prince’s death was how he seemed to bounce between sexual promiscuity and a deep desire for more spiritual things. He was thirsty; he just didn’t fill it like God intended. Jesus offers us a salvation that doesn’t leave us wanting is because it’s based not merely on our desires  but on our actual need.

Henry Nouwen tells a story of working in an AIDS clinic. He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death. “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories. So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.” Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week. As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched. From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:16-26)

This well isn’t the normal one for drawing water, nor is this the normal time to draw water. Odds are she’s here because she is embarrassed by her lifestyle; perhaps she is somewhat of an outcast in her own town. She is clearly confused about this kind and insightful stranger. She is thinking about her desire for water and not her need for a savior. Jesus’ question forces her to consider her need. She tries to change the subject to anything else, but even that works in Jesus favor.

Jesus contrasts the Jews with the Samaritans by saying that the Jews KNOW who they worship, and the object of their worship is the true source of their salvation. Jesus has gently made a crucial point: there can’t be true salvation and the accompanying grace outside a gospel message that is centered on the person and work of Jesus. God loves us and offers us grace not because of who we are, but because of who God is.To experience the true grace the comes from Jesus, one must actually worship Jesus. Right theology and true grace are connected. Sometimes we think of grace as excusing or overlooking sin. We can also mistake grace with getting along with people. People who try to extend grace without proper doctrine and Godly understanding can often times do more harm than good.

On that other hand, it is a beautiful thing when done properly.We see thisat work in the life of Norma Leah McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case of 1973.

After the court case, she converted to Christ, got baptized, and joined the pro-life campaign. Most astoundingly, it was the director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who influenced her. As she tells the story, the change occurred when that director stopped treating her like an antagonist. He apologized for publicly calling her “baby killer” and started spending time with her during her smoking breaks in the parking lot that, oddly enough, their offices shared. In time McCorvey accepted an invitation to church from a seven-year-old girl whose mother also worked at Operation Rescue. Pro-abortion forces had dismissed McCorvey — her dubious past of drug-dealing, alcohol, and promiscuity made bad public relations — but Christian leaders took the time to counsel her in the faith while keeping her out of the spotlight for some time.

Grace, like water, flows downhill. The director extended to McCorvey the grace he had received, and in so doing he pointed toward the source of it all: Jesus.