Summary: Effective evangelism will only happen when we meet people at their point of need, just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman
Morston/Field Dalling 03-03-02
Jesus and the Samaritan woman - Jn 4:5-42
Story: In a historic move to liberate themselves from 3,000 years of oppression thousands of Dalits or “Untouchables” conveged on Dehli to renounce Hinduism.
Although Dehli authorities attempted to block the rally last November (2001) by withdrawing permission to use the planned venue and detaining Dalits travelling to the city, still they came.
Dalit leader Ram Raj declared nothing would stop this event. They had waited too long.
At the last minute, organisers relocated the rally to a compound named after the famous Dalit champion Dr. Babashaheb Ambedkar.
Ambedkar rejected Christianity, because he observed: ’Indian Christians, like all other Indians, are divided by race, by language, and by caste. Their religion has not been a sufficiently strong unifying force to make difference of language, race and caste mere distinctions. ’
Although a much smaller venue, it was highly significant. Last century, Ambedkar had led thousands of Dalits to a caste-less Buddhism, after experiencing rejection from the Christian church.
The 100,000 at the rally also planned to embrace Buddhism. As the crowds chanted “All humanity is one! All are equal” Ram led them into a dramatic ceremony as they converted to Buddhism.
They had rejected Christianity because sadly the caste system has infected the church in India since its inception. India’s first Protestant church contained a wall separating different castes.
It said to Untouchables who came to Christ that they were still Untouchable.
(taken and adapted from “India’s Biggest Mutiny” by Debbie Meroff in the Parish Magazine of All Saints, Faringdon with St. Mary’s, Little Coxwell March 2002)
But this was not so with Jesus. There was no such wall for Jesus. No one was untouchable. He was at home with the high and low in society.
In last Sunday’s lectionary reading, Jn 3: 1-21 we read of Jesus’ conversation with the Rabbi Nicodemus.
This week, we read of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman – the woman at the well someone right at the other end of the social spectrum.
She was everything that Nicodemus was not.
As one Bible commentator put it:
“He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan
He was a man, she was a woman
He was learned, she was ignorant,
He was morally upright, she was of loose morals
He was wealthy and from the upper class, she was ignorant, probably an outcast
He recognised Jesus’ merits, she saw him only as a curious traveller.
Nicodemus was serious and dignified, she was flippant and possibly boisterous”
(John: The Gospel of Belief - M.C.Tenney p.92)
Jesus treated people as individuals – and not as pew fodder.
And so we see Jesus presenting her with the Gospel in a totally different way to Nicodemus.
He brought the Gospel to Nicodemus by giving him an intellectual conundrum. “You must be born again” - and telling him to go away and think about it.
To the woman at the well, he brought the Gospel by telling her about her life through his prophetic power.
Jesus often defied convention, if it would give him an opportunity to share the Gospel.
Conventional wisdom said that this meeting should never have taken place.
There were at least three good reasons that I can think of why no self-respecting Rabbi would have talked to this Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar:
1. She was a Samaritan
2. A single man did not strike up a conversation with a lone woman and
3. She had a pretty loose moral history. She had been married five times and now was living with a man who wasn’t her husband.
Yet Jesus defied convention.
Why? Because he saw a person who needed the Gospel.
Jesus touched her at her point of need.
His courteous questions awakened her spiritual need.
As you follow the story, you get the feeling that Jesus is like an angler fishing for trout.
First, Jesus casts his bait by asking her for a drink and then follows it up by saying:
“If you knew …..who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10)
And before she realises it – she’s hooked into a religious conversation.
And then he reels her in slowly.
He invites her to drink from “a spring of water that will well up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:13) and she responds by asking Jesus to give her that water.
Suddenly Jesus changes tack and with one deft touch lands his catch. He asks her to fetch her husband. And she replies by telling him that she has no husband. Jesus replies:
“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is that you have had five husbands and the man you are now have is not your husband.”