Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Woman at the Well: Sharing the Joy of the Gospel

    In today’s Gospel we heard about the Samaritan women who met Jesus at the well. After asking her for a drink and receiving a shocked response, Jesus tells her: ‘if you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink and he would have given you living water’ (John 4:10). At first she fails to understand the significance of this, but He goes on to explain that ‘the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). The promise of eternal life is evident, but the most incredible part is that the woman to whom it is promised doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes of someone who people in that time expected to get to Heaven!

    This woman came from a race that historically did not associate with Jews. In fact, simply by speaking with her Jesus would have been considered ceremoniously unclean by others of His religion. She’d had five husbands and wasn’t married to the one she currently lived with, which even today would draw judgement from many people. So why did He approach her? Why did He risk His reputation for her? Because Jesus didn’t live for safety or tradition. He lived to spread a message of love to all of humanity. He was fearless in His radical interactions with people who didn’t fit the cultural or religious ideal… and in His radical attitude towards women. In this story Jesus’ behaviour is radical for the time in several ways:

He ministered to an outcast.
He interacted with a woman.
He accepted a gift from a Samaritan.
He forgave her sins and made no judgement.

    I love this photo because it’s one of the only ones I found where the woman wasn’t kneeling at Jesus’ feet. Here Jesus is sitting with her, casually talking to her whilst she carries out her work, and I think that’s how their conversation would have been! Until the point where she leaves he remains just a man to her, so she would have had no reason to kneel at His feet - especially as her coloured past had likely hardened her to be independent and self-protecting. Jesus didn’t have airs and graces. He humbled himself in becoming fully human and didn’t lose any of that humanity by also being fully God. He spoke with the woman on equal footing, showed her nothing but love, and didn’t look down on her despite the counter-message of the society at the time. 

    Countless times in the gospels Jesus performs healing miracles and insists His identity is not revealed. In previous instances He hid His identity as the Son of God because faith would not be faith if it were forced rather than freely chosen. Yet in this seemingly simple interaction He readily admits to being the Messiah – ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he’ (John 4:26). They are alone with no witnesses, and He has performed no miracle so has not proven who He is. So by telling her He is the Messiah He still offers her the choice of faith. 

    That woman went on to become one of the first evangelisers. ‘Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony’ (John 4:39). Despite her past, her culture and her religion, she was not afraid to tell her neighbours about Jesus. The message of the gospel is a universal one, intended to be retold over and over again by people of every nationality, age, gender and background. Too often fear holds us back from telling it. 

    Like the Samaritan woman we, too, must find the courage to speak out. Once she had encountered Jesus she knew her life would never be the same again, and neither will ours. The compulsion to shout about the Good News is in all of us, we just sometimes stifle it. The temptation to fall prey to the lie that we don’t have the words is great, but we have a gift within us – the gift of the Holy Spirit who, if we allow it, will speak for us. 

    ‘A time is coming when worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23). That can be the time we live in. Today let’s receive the gospel and allow it to blossom within us so that the sheer joy of it is too great to hold in. 

Let’s share the joy of the Gospel!

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