"Lent 03: The Samaritan Woman at the Well" - Tim Suttle

"Lent 03: The Samaritan Woman at the Well"

by Tim Suttle


2017.03.19 – Lent 03
John 4:4-42 – The Samaritan Woman at the Well

If you have your bibles, turn to John 4.
We are in the season of Lent – our own 40 days in the wilderness. 
We practices these little fasts…
Not to punish ourselves, but as a disruption of our status quo.
We fast to open up space… clear some ground & invite God to show
And hopefully along the way we face down our own demons & learn more about what it means to be faithful… 

In our story today we find Jesus, again, in a kind of a wilderness. This time it is a cultural and religious wilderness called Samaria.

Tony Campolo (Don Rickles), tells a story about this one time when he was speaking at a Pentecostal college. Before he spoke they had a time of prayer w/the volunteers helping w/the event. And during the prayer this guy started praying for a man named Charlie Stoltzfus. 

As he prayed he kept saying the name Charlie Stoltzfus. His prayer went something like; “Dear Lord, you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer home down the road about a mile. You know the trailer, Lord, down the road from the church on the right-hand side of the road … it’s silver.”

Campolo was thinking, “I don't think God needs to be told where this guy lives,” but the man kept praying. “You know, Lord, Charlie… he left his wife and kids this morning, and Lord, we pray you would step in and do something for him; that you would bring that family back together somehow. So we pray for Charlie Stoltzfus & his family down there in that silver trailer home right down the road from the church here.” 

Finally the prayer time was over, Campolo gave his talk, & got in his car to drive home. On his way home, he saw a man looking for a ride, so he picked him up. He said, "My name is Tony Campolo." The guy shook his hand and said, “Charlie Stoltzfus." 

Immediately, Campolo was like, “Ok, I get it.” And he knew immediately what he had to do. He turned off at the next exit, turned the car around, and headed back the other way. Charlie started to look a bit uneasy in the car, and he said, "Hey, mister. Where are you taking me?" 

Campolo – you gotta picture Don Rickles – same delivery, squinty face, kind of a smile that’s really a frown that looks like a smile, you know?
Tony said, "I'm taking you home," and Charlie squints at him & says… "Why?" 
Tony said, "Because you left your wife and kids today." Charlie just stared back at Tony in shock. He drove back by the church, down the road about a mile to a silver trailer home on the right side of the road, and Charlie, in shock, said, "How did you know where I lived?" 

Tony says: “Well I was praying & God told me." 
Then they went inside, and Tony talked to Charlie and his wife, a long conversation. Through that conversation, they had an encounter w/God that was real & lasting. They got into marriage counseling, and over time their marriage was healed & today…get this… Charlie Stoltzfus is a pastor (you would be too if something like that happened to you).

PT: Today’s text is a little bit like that story. Somehow, through the strange working of the HS – Jesus seems to know a lot about a woman he meets.

John 4, starting in verse 4:
3Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 

One of the daily tasks for ancient Middle Eastern women was to carry the water for the family, & to avoid the heat they’d do it 1st thing in the morning. 
And for reasons of safety and propriety they come as a group. 
But this woman is there alone & in the middle of the day.
So either she’s a social outcast, or she’s up to something. 

Back then wells were like single’s bars … one of the only places men could go to initiate contact with single women (to try & hook up).
Isaac & Rebecca met at a well. 
Jacob & Rachel met at a well. 
Moses & Zipporah met at a well. 

PT: Maybe that was her game… Maybe she just couldn’t stand the dirty looks & whispers when she went w/the other women. Either way she’s there at a scandalous hour & is right to be puzzled when JS speaks to her. What he should have done when he saw her coming was to withdraw to a distance of at least 20 feet (the distance prescribed by custom), & wait for her to leave. Instead he speaks directly to her.
Ken Bailey, a NT scholar who spent 40 years living & teaching in the Middle East says that JS’s simple request subverts 4 cultural taboos.

FIRST: he breaks the social taboo against talking to a woman in public.
Bailey said that he spent 40 yrs in the Middle East, & never once crossed that social boundary or saw it crossed by someone else. 
Men didn’t make eye contact w/women they didn’t know in public.
… much less speak to them.
A rabbi wouldn’t even speak to his wife in public.
But, Jesus talked to this woman & many others.
He invited women into his band of followers.
They travelled w/him; & they financed him.
JS had no use for the cultural taboos concerning women...

SECOND taboo: Jesus ignored the centuries old conflict between Jews & Samaritans. Here’s the back story.

After king Solomon died, Israel split into 2 kingdoms (had 12 tribes).
Tribe of Judah was alone in the Southern kingdom.
Their capital was Jerusalem – & temple on Mt. Zion.
The tribe of Levi (priests) were given no land.
That left 10 tribes – they formed Northern kingdom of Israel.
Their capital was Samaria & their Temple was on Mt. Gerizim. 
They were actually more prosperous / powerful than Southern kingd
They were a major power alongside Egypt, Babylon & Assyria.
But they were besieged by Assyrians in 722 B.C. & destroyed
It was a physical & cultural genocide… literally ceased to exist.
After that they were called “Ten Lost Tribes” of Israel.

The Southern kingdom of Judah was all that was left of Israel. 
Shortly thereafter they were conquered by Babylon.
The best and brightest were carried off into exile. 

Meanwhile back the former Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians who had settled there began to worship Yahweh along w/their own gods.
After a few centuries they were worshipping only Yahweh. 
These Samaritan Jews had only Torah (not the prophets / writings).
Those things were produced in exile & they were destroyed B4 that.
And, here’s where the real problem comes:.
When the Jews from the Southern Kingdom returned from exile, they heard about these Samaritan Jews. (10 lost tribes).
They had strange customs … different rituals & styles of worship.
And the Southern Jews rejected them & called them half-breeds.
They said their worship was illegitimate & became bitter enemies.

There are still Samaritan Jews living around Samaria to this day. Scientists did a genetic pedigree of them in the 1960s. They detailed as far back as 13 generations & found that Samaritans were actually comprised of 4 lineages that included the tribes of Manassah, Ephraim, and Levi… just a little trivia… they were of Jewish descent…

If you go there today: Samaria, today, is in the West Bank that’s occupied by the Palestinians. So modern Jews still despise Samaritans… they still avoid Samaria… just call it the West Bank.

Back to our story… these two peoples took every chance to hurt each other.
Samaritans let the Greeks use their land to attack the south.
Southern Jews retaliated by destroying the Samarian temple.
Samarians responded by desecrating the JER temple during Passover / so nobody could observe the Passover feast…

PT: Jesus is ignoring the taboo between these 2 estranged siblings.

THIRD taboo: Jesus acts in humility by asking her for a drink. 
Jacob’s Well actually still exists, anybody seen it? (W. Bank)
Has a big capstone over the mouth of the well.
5 ft across & 20 inches thick w/a small hole in it.
They would build a short wall around the hole to keep dirt out & prevent children from falling in. 
They set their jars on the wall & fill them w/water. 
That’s probably what Jesus was sitting on.

Wells didn’t have a community bucket. Travelers would carry a soft leather bucket they’d unroll & keep the mouth open w/2 crossed sticks. 
But it’s a good bet JS’s disciples had their bucket w/them.
They went into town to buy food. 
So he asks her for a drink – which puts him at her mercy.
This was an act of humility – she could tell him no.

FOURTH taboo: He asks for a drink out of HER bucket. Jews & Samarians didn’t share dishes – even to this day they don’t.

EX: Ken Bailey tells a story of when a Samaritan high priest came to visit his friend. Expectations of hospitality required them to offer him something to eat or drink… but they were unclean to him.
They had to hold a plate with a piece of fruit on it (skin on).
The plate, & the peel of the fruit was all unclean. 
He would take his own clean knife & peel the banana. 
He’d drop the defiled peel onto the defiled plate held by the defiled Gentile host & eat only the inside of the fruit (clean).
Can you imagine what that would make you feel like as a host? 
…couldn’t deign to touch the peel of a banana you touched?
They took this stuff seriously…. Still do.

Jesus doesn’t have time for that silliness. 
You’re a fellow human being – let’s just act like that’s true.
It was so strange that even the woman questions his actions. 
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
She’s poking fun of him… where’s your bucket, mister?
Are you greater than our Father Jacob?”
Anybody else would’ve said: “Waddya mean OUR father Jacob? 
WE don’t have a father Jacob. I have a father Jacob. 
You have a gentile father… so get my water & shut your mouth.

What he said instead was “How about this: I can give you a spring of living water, and after you drink it you’ll never be thirsty again.”
…& the woman has a kind of unguarded response. She says,
“I tell ya what, sir: could go for that… then I wouldn’t have to keep coming here to draw water in the middle of the day.
It’s actually a kind of a vulnerable response & JS takes notice.

And his next move is the crux move of the text… he says:
16“Go, call your husband, & come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband…” 
Jesus puts his finger right on the pain of her life.
He sees to the heart of her life, to the thing that is really killing her.
And he just names it … tells the truth about it.

This is what happens when we open up space for God … like during lent.
This is almost exclusively a function of the wilderness.
Not until we get to the end of our abilities, do we start to be able to see & admit what is really happening in our own lives.

I’ve noticed this pattern over the years as I sit w/people to help them process their spiritual journey.
Over the years I’ve noticed there are 2 kinds of people in the wilderness: 1) the vulnerable & 2) the armored-up.
When people are in a time of disorientation they have 1 of 2 rxns:
They become vulnerable & open & honest … 
Or they armor-up & close off from the pain & from others. 
The weird thing is that the 2nd group rarely changes… they rarely grow… & they usually leave our church.
The vulnerable ones? … grow by leaps & bounds.

PT: This woman has a moment here at the well w/JS in which she becomes totally vulnerable. He offers her living water & she EXHALES real big… “I could go for that… it would save me the shame of coming here in the heat of the day like a loser.” 

Jesus’ response is that he reveals to her the root of her pain… he puts his finger where it hurts, not to be mean, but as an act of deep compassion.
He puts his finger right on the place it hurts in her own life.
I love the way Eugene Peterson’s The Message renders this section:

15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” Pregnant pause… 

16“Go call your husband and then come back.” Another tense pause…. 

17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.

“Oh, that’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband…”
Another pause while she tries to collect herself – eyes wide open now.

19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”

This always seems so funny to me… she actually tries to change the subject… with JS! It takes some moxy to try the slight-of-hand on JS!

What’s ironic is that she actually asks the right question! 
When sin is exposed what’s the next question? … Forgiveness, right?
How will this be atoned for? Where is the seat of mercy? 
Is it in the temple in JER, or the one on Mt. Gerizim? 

JS’s answer is a complete surprise. Reading from the Msg. again:
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews.

Just a quick aside here: I don’t think JS = being elitist or mean; He’s just saying that because the Samaritans only have Torah (law) & not the prophets (justice), their picture of God=incomplete; 
This is one of the things about JS that gets missed. 
Jesus was a teacher in line w/the prophets: his style, his message, his actions, his impact, even the scriptures he quoted… 
Jesus was aligned w/the prophets. 
The Samaritans didn’t have the prophets.
They were missing from their bibles (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Dt, that’s it)
In other words: they were all priestly rules & regulations w/none of the prophet’s commitment to justice & mercy. 
So, they don’t have a complete view of God don’t have full picture.

Then he gets to the heart of the matter:
But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. 23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer, or look any further.”

Where does forgiveness come from: Mt. Zion? Mt. Gerizim? Jesus says that both of those are obsolete answers.
They are too small. 
They put God in a box behind a curtain in a temple where nobody except elite Jewish men can see him once a year.
What God is really after is true worshippers
Race & nation don’t really matter / where our temple is doesn’t...
For us; on this side of the cross it seems so obvious, you know?
Like God would care if you are a Samaritan or a Jew.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship…”
That’s a wilderness thing… that’s a lent thing… AND, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, or a Samaritan… or for us:
Catholic or Protestant // Calvinist or Wesleyan. 
Evangelical or Mainline // Pentecostal or Anabaptist.

Those are the distinctions that WE put in place so that we can try and be in control of worship… in control of who is in or out w/God. 
There’s a well known missiologist named Paul Hiebert – a missionary kid who grew up in India. 
He went to Tabor college in Hillsboro, KS.
He taught at K-State for years, then Fuller Seminary & Trinity.
Hiebert pioneered the concept of bounded and centered set.

He said that the mistake most Christians make is that they think that Christianity is a bounded set. 
We create a border separating those who are in/out.
A bounded set is defined by its boundaries.
It’s like a ranch with a fence around the entire property. 
The ranch hands spend all their time working on that fence.
If a wild animal gets in, they have to shoot it.
If they bring in a wild mustang they break it first… so its safe.

PT: All of the energy of the bounded set goes into determining who is in & who is out & maintaining the boundaries.

Hiebert says the church is meant to be a centered set w/no fences or walls. 
So people don’t waste energy guarding the borders. 
Everyone can be loved and belong no matter what stage of brokenness or redemption they are in.

Hiebert says that what keeps this from being just a random community or social club is what lives at the center of the community. 
Instead of boundaries to keep people out, the centered set has something compelling at the center which pulls people in.
A centered set=defined not by its boundaries, but by its center.
What matters is proximity & trajectory… which way r u going?

“The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name… There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it…” C.S. Lewis.

This is kind of a leading indicator for spiritual health.
As people draw closer to the center, they grow closer to one another. 
If we find ourselves despising others, then we’re not growing closer to the heart of God… just not.
Closer we are to God, the closer we are to the other.
It’s such a huge part of the story.
Jesus is in Samaria, talking to a Samaritan woman ignoring these huge cultural taboos designed to make REP & DEM hate each other.
… oops, was that a Freudian slip? SAM / JEW, R / D … same diff…

That’s the crux of what Jesus is teaching here.
The KOG is defined not in terms of in & out, it’s defined by what lives at the heart of the group: … Jesus Christ & his life, teach, death, res. 
We are defined by the heart of the group, not the fences we’ve built.

When ranchers had a huge spread, a fence wouldn’t do much good. So instead of building fences, he’d dig wells. 
Cuz they knew the animals would never stray too far from the wells. 
They wouldn’t want to wander too far from that source of life.
That’s a centered set.

A Christianity defined by its boundaries becomes all about in & out…
Only those who say the Sinner’s Prayer are in / all else out
Only those w/correct doctrine are in / all else out
Only those w/gift of tongues are in / all else out
Only those w/right baptism & communion rites are in / all else
Jesus wasn't about in/out … he was about near/far.
He was always saying, “You are very near to the kingdom.” 
Or “You are not far from the kingdom.” 
Or his favorite: “The kingdom of God has come near.”

JS wanted them to stop thinking so much about their boundaries, and start worshipping the only thing that lives @ the center of all life:
He wants them all to worship the Father in spirit & truth.
1st he gets this Samaritan woman involved, her head’s spinning
Then his disciples come along – they get completely disoriented.
Then he’s invited in & stays there for 2 days.
And all of these people come to faith in Christ.

PT: He just creates this amazing situation in which people stop thinking about who’s in & who’s out. They stop thinking about the boundaries. And instead they start thinking about the CENTER… what’s God up to in the world? How’s God moving right here & now & boom… transformation begins to happen, the kingdom comes on earth as in heaven for this woman & her community.

At Redemption we don’t have doctrines that are all about in & out. We try to talk about what lives at the center of our common life: 4 pursuits.

Worship: This passage is really all about worship. We want to be people who worship God in Spirit & Truth; both gathered weekly worship & times of private worship: prayer, scripture, and Sabbath rest.

Mission: in the story it says: 39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,”

We want to engage with God’s mission:
Personally: with our friends, family, neighbors & coworkers.
Corporately: w/ESL & Homless & Snow Brigade & Comm. Garden & collective efforts toward mercy & justice.

Discipleship: We don't want to just talk about believing in Jesus. We want to follow Jesus the big issues of life, including: Money, Sex, and Power.

Wholeness: Most of the problems that derail a church’s mission are either.
Relational problems – can’t get along, selfish, un-forgiveness, or
Emotional problems – when people won’t get healthy…
We want to seek relational & emotional wholeness (redemption in all 4 directions): self & god, self, others, world

These are not fences… not things we hold up & say “If you don’t do these you aren’t a xian!” These live at the center of the life that Jesus imagines for us @ RC. These 4 pursuits are meant to anchor our lives in concrete practices that are centered on the Lordship of Jesus.
At any given time there’s probably not a single person in our community firing on all 4 cylinders.
That’s the beauty of the community.
When I’m down, you might be up & vice versa.
The strong help the weak – knowing they’ll be weak at some pt.
The weak rely on the strong – knowing it’ll soon change around.
None of us have it all together – just a bunch of ragamuffins trying to practice a long obedience in the same direction.
When we jack it up, we just keep reorienting our lives toward the center:
A life centered on the worship of Christ, the love of God the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Being a Christian isn’t about having the right heritage, or style of worship
It’s not even about if you know the right answers to all of the important theological questions.
What will transform you is not merely the knowledge that what Jesus is saying is true, (nor the belief that this is true)
What will transform you is the experience that this is true…
…a life lived w/Jesus at the center.

Who are you counting out?
Who do you call the “other” and then condemn?

What is your trajectory?


1. Frequently, those who are disadvantaged by cultural practices or power deficits risk much to ask for change. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s is a good example.  Those without power found ways to ask for more access, more respect, more opportunity – but they faced stiff resistance.  Jesus models a different approach. He’s the one with power – with culture on his side. He’s a Jewish rabbi; he’s male in a patriarchal culture.  Yet, he did not wait for others to ask him to share what he had. Instead, he made it his mission to defy culture to lift others up. 

In what areas of life are you privileged? Where do you have influence or power that you could use to raise someone else? How could you do that?

2. What fences have you built around you or the church in your life?  What areas of your life are you using in/out language rather than near/far language?  What people group is revealing itself as “outside” in your life?

3. Be honest (vulnerable) with yourself; do you see the world around you in a bounded-set or center-set mentality?