From Miserable to Missionary

I find the book of John fascinating. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible and my favorite Gospel. It is significantly different than the other Gospels, and that was by design. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic is a fancy word that more or less means “the same.” They were all written between the mid-50s to the mid-60s AD, whereas John was written somewhere around 90 AD. The dates are well-researched speculation by scholars who get paid to know these types of things. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give nearly identical accounts of the life of Jesus with only a few stories that don’t appear in the other Synoptic Gospels. John, knowing this, wanted to shed some light on many of the other things that happened during his time with Jesus. Because of that, John’s Gospel is unique.

One of the stories that only appears in John is the account of Jesus with a Samaritan woman in chapter 4. Jesus and His disciples were traveling back home to Galilee from Jerusalem after Passover. The Passover is one of three pilgrim festivals that required all the Jewish men to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The trip was roughly a 15-day journey each way for Jesus and His disciples. The quickest way for them to travel to and from Jerusalem was to go through the part of Israel known as Samaria. However, Samaria is a place that the most faithful Jews would avoid at all cost. In fact, many people would bypass this area by adding a couple of days onto their journey by going around it.

Why in the world did the Jews hate the Samaritans? This goes all the way back to a decision that the King of Assyria made when he conquered Israel. In 2 Kings 17: 24-31, it explains how he brought in people from other civilizations to live in Samaria. What ended up happening was that the Jews who lived in Samaria intermarried with the foreigners. This is a major no-no for the Jews. God tells them many times throughout the Old Testament to not intermarry with other people (Ex 34:16, Deut 7:3, Josh 23:12, etc.). Over time, the Samaritans became a mixed race. They were so looked down upon by the Jews that many of them considered the Samaritans to be in a perpetual state of uncleanness. Thus it would make a Jew unclean before God to even step foot in their land.

A good, faithful Jew would know better than to walk through Samaria and would never do something audacious like drink from their wells. However, that’s precisely where we find Jesus. It’s about noon, and Jesus is alone at the well. He presumably has sent His disciples into the nearby town called Sychar to buy some lunch. As He is relaxing at the well, here comes a woman to draw water. Something isn’t right about this situation. Why would she be going to the well during the hottest part of the day when everyone else would go in the cool of the morning?

We find out during their conversation in verses 16-18 is that she is a woman who has a bit of a past. Jesus tells her to go get her husband to which she replies “I have no husband.” Jesus knows this and says, “You’re right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” We don’t know for sure what happened to her previous five marriages, but it’s safe to assume that most ended in divorce. Divorce wasn’t necessarily uncommon in that time, but it was viewed differently. It would bring great shame on a woman if she was divorced and the fact that it happened multiple times to her means that it would have made her a social outcast. Not only that, but she is now living with a man who isn’t her husband. This was majorly looked down upon in those days.

We can now see why she was coming to the well at the worst possible time. She didn’t want to see or be seen by anybody which I’m sure that’s how she lived most of her life. She was an outcast to a people who were considered outcasts to the Jews. Take a second to imagine her life. I’m sure it’s not quite what she dreamed of as a little girl.

Jesus was defying every social norm by being at the well that day. He had willingly gone into Samaria and drank some of their water. Now He is talking to a Samaritan woman, which would never be acceptable for a Jewish man. Not only that but He’s talking to a woman of ill repute who wasn’t even accepted by her own people. He is risking His entire reputation by being there, and many of the Jews would now consider him to be “unclean.” Jesus didn’t care. He was there to offer hope and love to this woman whose life was devoid of both.

In verse 10, Jesus offers the woman “living water.” She doesn’t understand what He is saying and thinks that He can give her a drink of water and she will never be thirsty again. Things become clear to her when she says, “I know that Messiah is coming… When he comes, he will tell us all things.” At this point, Jesus decides to no longer speak in metaphor but tells her “I, the one speaking to you, is he.” Jesus plainly states to her that He is the Christ.

It’s what happens afterward that has always amazed me. The woman leaves the well and goes into town and tells the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” She goes to the very people that she had been avoiding to tell them of her encounter with Jesus. Verse 30 tells us that the people then left town and see Jesus for themselves. I find that verse 39 is one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.”

The very same woman who was an outcast changed this entire town. She went from pariah to preacher, from reviled to revivalist, and from miserable to missionary. Her whole life turned around after she encountered Jesus. She was no longer afraid and ashamed but instead, she became bold and excited. She had to share the good news that she had found the Messiah. She shed off her old self and ran into town a new woman. She no longer cared about who she was and only cared about who He is.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is precisely what this Samaritan woman was experiencing. She embraced the freedom, love, and hope that Jesus offered her that day, and she had but one desire, to tell everybody. That is how we should be as well. If we have had that encounter with Jesus, we should be chomping at the bit to tell everybody about Him. This woman shows us that there is no one who is not qualified to share the Gospel because it is God who does the qualifying. Don’t let your past hold you back. You’re not that person anymore! That part of you is dead. It died with Christ on the cross, and you have been resurrected with Him into a new life. A life that is built on the foundation of the freedom, love, and hope that is offered to you by the Messiah.

We need to embrace our new life and run to tell everybody about our savior. This woman changed an entire town and who knows how far it went after that. What I do know is that Samaria was never the same because of one woman’s testimony. Your testimony has the same power. Forget who you were, embrace who God has made you, and run to tell everybody about His love.

Published by smith1626

I am the Director of Youth Ministries at St. John United Methodist Church in Scott Depot, WV. Mostly, I am a sinner saved by amazing grace.

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