Summary: Keep your eyes open for opportunities in your everyday life to share the gospel with people, to offer them living water, so they too can worship God in spirit and in truth.
Well, I’m sure you’ve all heard a sermon on the woman at the well a number of times. I think I’ve probably preached on it here at least twice before, so what I want to do today is not to look at all the features of the story, but just two or three important things that come out that might be relevant to us.
The story begins with Jesus on his way to Galilee. He comes to a town called Sychar and decides to stop for a rest. He sits down for a rest beside a well. He’s probably wishing he had a bucket so he could draw some water to drink. The disciples have gone off into this Samaritan village to buy some food and then a woman arrives in the normal course of her day to fetch water. In other words, this is an everyday encounter.
There are problems though - the woman comes in the heat of the day - could there be some reason why she doesn’t come in the evening with the other women?
In any case she’s a Samaritan woman and Jesus is a Jewish man. They should, by all rights, ignore each other.
But what does Jesus do? He starts up a conversation. And there are couple of things about the way he does it. First of all he begins at a very down to earth, pragmatic level. "Give me a drink." There’s nothing intimidating or threatening about the way he begins. In fact it’s a very natural conversation starter isn’t it?
What’s more, although he knows something about her, as we discover later in the conversation, he doesn’t treat her as someone who might be despised by an upright Jew. In fact he puts her in a position of power relative to him doesn’t he? He’s asking her for a favour.
But he’s doing more than that. He’s taking the opportunity that God has given him to make a connection with this woman so he can tell her the gospel. Do you remember when we looked at the first of our series on the sermon on the mount where Jesus told us we were salt and light, how I said that if we’re to be salt in the world, then we need to season our conversations with salt. That is, our everyday conversations. Even ones as prosaic as asking someone for a drink. Because that’s what Jesus does here. He takes an ordinary situation, an ordinary conversation and he turns it around to a conversation about eternal life. And the conversation is with a very ordinary woman, someone you would never pick as a potential convert, let alone an evangelist herself. Yet that’s what she becomes.
Well, Jesus begins the conversation with a request for a drink of water, but he quickly moves on from his material needs to her spiritual needs. Now I don’t know if he’s thought this out beforehand. It’s the sort of thing that a modern day school of evangelism would probably school us in. Or if the request for water just triggers an idea in his mind. Mind you it’s an idea that springs from his knowledge of the Old Testament. Our Old Testament reading today recalls the time during the exodus when God provided living water for his people in the middle of the desert. But there are other examples. In Jer 2, God accuses his people of two things. He says: "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water." But then as the prophecies of salvation appear we get the other side: of God promising to give them living water again. Ezekiel’s great vision of the temple in Ezek 40-47 ends with a vision of a great river of water flowing from the door of the temple and bringing life to the desert and even the dead sea. In Zech 14:8 we find: "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter." In Is 1:16-18 water is promised as cleansing from sin: "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." Again, in Is 12:3 we find the promise of life and salvation expressed in terms of water (NRSV): "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." Or Is 49:10 (NRSV): "they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them."