All through elementary school, and junior high, I was the one who was usually chosen last when they would pick teams in gym class. I was the chubby, clumsy kid who couldn’t kick the ball far, and who still can’t catch a ball if you throw it to me. If a friend of mine was chosen to be the captain, then I might not get picked last, but I was never picked first. Have you ever felt left out?
In High School, the tuba player who stood next to me in marching band was… not kind. I could have used some other words there, and bully might be a bit strong, but let’s just say that he once tried to set my hair on fire during band class, and he once drove my tuba mouthpiece so far into the ground that I struggled to get the dirt out. He was able to do all of this without anyone noticing, so I had little to no recourse. I felt like I just had to take it. Have you ever felt harassed, or bullied? It happens more than we think in school, but it also happens at work, in our neighborhoods, and community. As much as we try to highlight bullying, and harassment, and we just passed a new law against hazing, and as much as we try to weed out attitudes, words, and actions that put other people down, it happens all the time. Sometimes we are the victims, and sometimes we are the bullies – whether we mean to be or not.
One of the things we have seen in each encounter with Jesus this month, is that Jesus always took the time to reach out to those who were looked down upon, or even cast out of society. Jesus was there for those who were bullied, abused, neglected and harassed. In fact, we can find so many times that Jesus cared for those who felt isolated, and alone, that we begin to see that he did this as part of his everyday life. It wasn’t a special occasion when Jesus reached out to acknowledge, and lift up someone who was hurting, it was what he did all the time, but there is one encounter with Jesus where Jesus did go out of his way to lift up a woman who had been bullied, shamed, and cast out of her community. John 4:-7a.
I want to stop here and make sure that we notice what is said at the very beginning. Jesus HAD to go through Samaria. If you remember from a few weeks ago, Jews would usually not travel through Samaria on their way from Jerusalem to Galilee.
Because Samaritans were considered unclean and inferior, Jewish travelers avoided this area as much as they could. They would often go to great lengths, travelling extra days if needed, to avoid this area, but it said that Jesus HAD to go through this region. Why?
The only thing that happens on this trip through Samaria is that Jesus meets a woman at a well. Was it this encounter that Jesus wanted to make sure took place? Was she the reason he HAD to go through Samaria? Or maybe it was to make a statement. Maybe Jesus had to go through Samaria so that his followers then, and today, would know that the kindness, love, and grace of God is for everyone. No one is left out. No one is excluded.
Think about the places Jesus went that others would not go. He went to Samaria when many avoided it. He ate in the homes of sinners, and tax collectors, he traveled in the small villages, and wilderness areas, and not just the big, important cities. Jesus went places others wouldn’t go, and he encountered people, and spent time with people, others tried to avoid. As we have seen during this series, Jesus spent time with tax collectors, lepers, and children. Jesus made sure that people knew he cared for them and everyone.
Through this Jesus and Me series, we have been asking, what do we learn about Jesus, and what do we need to learn about ourselves. Well, from this encounter we learn that Jesus went places others wouldn’t go. Jesus went to the places where kindness was needed most, where people needed to know they were loved, and cared for. This means that we need to ask ourselves, where are we willing to go? Are we willing to go to those places others may not want to go? Are we willing to go to places that others might find objectionable but where we know people need the love of Jesus? Are we willing to go where kindness is needed most?
When I was a pastor in Lewisburg, I met a Bucknell student who became a Christian and chose to live in a fraternity. While many churches in college towns might want to avoid contact with fraternities, this young man went in and did his best to care for those who were there, because he realized that they needed Jesus just like he did. Where do we choose to go in life? And are we willing to go to those places others might not want to go? And will we go to listen, to learn, and to love as Jesus did?
You see, that is what Jesus did when he went to Samaria, he went to listen, to learn, and to love. John 4:6-26
Jesus met this woman at noon. Noon was not the time of day women went to the well to draw water, this was work women did in the morning, before it got hot. That this woman was alone at the well, during the heat of the day, tells us that she was most likely not welcome at the well with the other women. Among her own people, she had been cast out. She was literally being shamed, and forced out among her own community, and the reason? She had been married and divorced 5 times, and the man she was currently living with didn’t even want to marry her. In the eyes of everyone around her, she was nothing.
And yet… Jesus not only sees her, but he speaks to her, which would have been unheard of in that day because men didn’t speak to women, AND Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, which is why the woman is so startled. This was unexpected, but Jesus sees her, and he values her enough to speak to her, and he honors her by asking her for a drink. Jesus was willing to take a drink of water from her. This was scandalous, but this was Jesus. Jesus was willing to go places others wouldn’t go, and reach out to people others would not reach out to, and because of this, Jesus lifted people up. He shows that they have dignity, value, and worth. This woman, whom everyone else treated with contempt, Jesus cared for with grace.
Picked last for the team? Bullied by others? Harassed? Shamed? Cast out? Never a problem for Jesus – he will be there. This is simply how Jesus chose to live his life.
Seeing that Jesus HAD to meet this woman reminds us that Jesus deeply cared for all women. In his day, women were treated with contempt. They had no rights, no standing, and no recourse when bad things happened. I know that right now there is a lot of conversation about the #metoo movement. Some people feel that it may have gone too far, and we do need to figure out how to balance #metoo with due process, but what we need to acknowledge is that the value of this movement has been to empower women to come out of the shadows and share their stories. For too long, women in our own day have been treated with contempt, not been given dignity, rights, or recourse, and if Jesus were here, he would be the first to say that this needs to change.
In many ways, Jesus was an original #metoo advocate because he honored women’s life experience, and stories. Jesus took the time to listen to what they had to say, he honored them, he valued them, he lifted them up among others, and cared for them. Now, I want to be clear that Jesus also challenged them at times to change and embrace new attitudes, actions, and lifestyles, but even that was a sign that Jesus saw them as individuals who were loved by God and who would be more, and do more, with their lives.
Think of all the women that Jesus listened to, honored, cared for, and even lifted up as an example for others to follow.
• Woman caught in adultery
• Demon possessed woman who becomes a follower
• Sick woman who was healed
• Widow whose dead son was raised to life
• Foreign woman who Jesus helped
• Poor woman in the temple who gave her offering
• Sinful woman who anointed Jesus
• Mary on Resurrection Day was first to see Jesus
And here, a Samaritan woman, divorced five times and now living with a man who won’t take her as his wife, who has no friends, and has been shamed by her own community. And what does Jesus do? He listens to her, he loves her, he challenges her to live in the fullness of God’s love, and grace, and be everything God desires her to be. By telling her to go bring her husband back, Jesus is also making her an evangelist, and part of his ministry team. And she did this over, and over, and over again. In fact it says that many people believed in Jesus because of her, and she was not alone. Many women who followed Jesus made an impact in their families, and communities, because Jesus took the time to first listen to them, learn about their lives, and love them.
What turned this woman’s life around was that Jesus offered her living water. So what is this living water and how can it turn our lives around? Living water is simply living in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. So the living water is living with God instead of trying to live on our own. This woman had tried to live on her own. She tried finding her value in a man, and while she needed to do that as part of her culture, Jesus wanted to show her that no matter what was going on around her, she was cared for by God. No matter how people treated her, God honored her, and gave her dignity and value. When we try to find our identity in ourselves, and in our own actions, and lifestyle, we come up empty. Living water, a full life, is found when we are willing to come to God for his grace, acceptance, and love.
Living water is found when we come to Jesus and hear him say,
I know everything about you, and I am still willing to come to you, honor you, and accept you. I know all there is about you, and I am still willing to listen to you share your heart, and life, and I am always willing to step into an honest relationship with you. If we will acknowledge the truth about ourselves, and receive God’s grace, and be willing to sit with, and walk with Jesus, we will find living water – and that living water is a life filled with joy, purpose, and honor.
Every encounter with Jesus has the potential to provide us with living water. Every time Jesus comes to me, and every time I reach out to him, the potential is there for living water to flood my soul, because Jesus is kind, and Jesus accepts us for who we are, heals our hearts, and lives, forgives our sin, makes time for us in his life, and leads us into the fullness of love, peace and joy. Every encounter with Jesus, leads us to becoming the people God created and desires us to be.
Jesus and Me – Woman at the Well
1. Share with God a time you felt:
• Isolated or left out.
• Bullied or harassed.
• Put down or cast out.
2. When have you been the bully, or the one putting someone else down? Confess this to God and ask for forgiveness.
3. Where do you need living water in your life today?
Spend time with Jesus this week, and ask him for all that you need. This time can be in silent reflection, prayer, scripture reading, fellowship, or worship.
4. The woman at the well brought others to Jesus.
Who can you bring to Jesus? How can you pray for those in need of God’s love, and invite those who need living water, to come to Jesus?
5. Jesus went places others refused to go.
Where is Jesus asking you to go? To whom is Jesus sending you? Ask God for the courage to go and to share His love and grace with those who are thirsty.
6. Reflect on this statement:
Jesus says, I know everything about you, and I am still willing to come to you, honor you, and accept you. I know all there is about you, and I am still willing to listen to you share your heart, and life, and I am always willing to step into an honest relationship with you.
Invite Jesus into your heart and life this week.