An Ordinary Message
If you think that your last week was ordinary; if you think your next week will be ordinary; if you think that ordinary is a word that sums you up, this message is for you. You are important. It’s not your ordinariness, or your extra-ordinariness that makes you important. Rather it is the presence of Christ in your life. He comes into ordinary lives, like yours, and transforms them into something special.
An Ordinary Samaritan
We are doing a series on the people that Jesus met. This week, it’s the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42). If there is one word to describe her, it is ordinary. Yet, she has an extraordinary encounter with Jesus that changes everything.
An Extraordinary Conversation
I believe that the best way to make sense of the conversation is to understand that both Jesus and the woman are talking metaphorically. They both use things in the immediate situation (the well, the water, the husbands, the Temple) as metaphors for something bigger. Without this metaphorical view, the conversation looks disjointed and Jesus and the woman appear to the talking over each other’s heads.
So much of what we think is evangelism involves us saying what we want to say without actually engaging in the concerns of the other person. That is not evangelism, according to the Biblical model.
Time prohibits us from looking at more than one of these metaphors, so we will only look at Jacob’s Well, and the woman’s reference to it in John 4:11-12
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 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?”To understand what the woman is saying, we need to understand the history of the Samaritans and the Jews, and how they viewed each other at the time of this encounter;
• The Jews thought the Samaritans were “half-bloods”, who had been faithless to God by inter-marrying with the surrounding nations. The Samaritans thought the Jews were apostates, and that they (the Samaritans), not the Jews, were the true inheritors of the “well” that was dug by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
• The Jews had their Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans had had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans had desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by throwing dead men’s bones all over it. The Jews had marched over the border and had destroyed the Samaritan Temple in about 110BC. To the Samaritans, the Jew’s destruction of their Temple would have felt like someone ripping the heart out of their community.
• The Jews had been sending missionaries into Samaria to convert the Samaritans to their religion.
The Woman’s Expectations of Jesus
I believe this woman would have thought that Jesus was another missionary. She expected him to say something like;
You need to become like one of us, so that we can prepare you for entry into the Temple, where you can make the connection to God. Your well is no good, and you need to come to oursThey were saying that she could find God in the Temple. However, God was already standing next to her at her well.
In response, she says something like
I don’t believe that you can draw from the True Well that was dug by our father Jacob, from which we draw our water, and I’m not interested in coming to yours
Jesus’ Remarkable Response
If Jesus’ mission was to set up a new religion, or Temple, we would expect him to launch into a sermon about how much better his new “well” was than hers. But, he doesn’t.
So much of what we think is evangelism involves us trying to persuade people to come to our well. So often, we are concerned with telling people that they are going to the wrong well. Again, that is not evangelism, according to the Biblical model.
Jesus hits the nail square on the head. He observes that even when the woman is drawing from a good well, she does not get “living” water from it. She has to keep coming back, and the water she drinks requires continuous upkeep. The well does not sustain her; she sustains the well. Only Jesus can offer her the “living water” that will ultimately sustain her.
Change the Message
There are good wells, dry wells and poisoned wells. It is important to try to explain why some wells are poisoned, and why people should not draw from them. However, good well or bad well, only Jesus can offer the living water that we seek. In other words, what people truly seek in their wells is truly found in Jesus. The basis for our evangelism is not simply “stop going to the wrong well and come to ours”, but “what you are looking for in your well can truly be found in Jesus”.
Change your perspective, not your circumstance
When Jesus comes into a person's life, it will change. He will deal with sin. Notice, though, in this story, that she starts out a Samaritan Woman, and ends up a Samaritan Woman. Her external circumstances have not changed (at least, not to start with). Even so, Jesus transforms them. The most insignificant person in the community becomes its first apostle, and the whole town comes out and walks towards Jesus (John 4:30). At the end of the story, they do something that they were not doing at the start; they talk to each other.
Christ beings salvation to individuals, and he reconciles communities to themselves. This is His work, to work with people in the circumstances that they are in, to bring the best out of them. He is interested in redeeming real people in real situations; and so should we be.
The Importance of Being Ordinary
Too often, we weigh our importance on how extraordinary we try to be. We might mistake our commitment to the church, or our “spiritual” achievements, as a way to qualify for God’s attention. We might think that the super-heroes of faith are more important than us. We might think that our Christian brothers and sisters might be falling short of the mark unless they become super-heroes.
The Bible teaches something different. James 1:9 says
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.Why? Because He is the Lord of all; the ordinary and the extraordinary. If He can bring life into an ordinary person’s life, that's good news indeed for the rest of us ordinary people.
Thank God for the extraordinary people and the high-achievers in His Kingdom. Most of us, though, are ordinary. Being ordinary is living proof that God loves to come into our ordinary world, and transform it into something special. That is why being ordinary is so important.
• Clements, Roy “Introducing Jesus” Kingsway Publications, ISBN 0 85476 321 X, 1996
• Guthrie, Donald, Commentary on John in The New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, Inter-Varsity Press, ISBN 0 85110 648 X, 2002.
• Kruse, Colin G “The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – The Gospel According to John”, Inter-Varsity Press, ISBN 0 8511 327 3, 2003
• Wright, N.T. (Tom) “John for Everyone, Part 1, Chapters 1-10), Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, ISBN 0 281 05302 2, 2003