It’s high noon in this hot town of Sychar as we see a woman well advanced in years make her way through the village carrying a ceramic water jar on her head. The smell of olive oil drifts through the air as families prepare to take their midday meal. The woman pauses in front of one home to listen to the laughter of a man and woman inside.
She remembers how she too would laugh with her husband about any number of things. But that was years ago and he and those days are long gone. There were other men who followed, but they didn’t last. And now the man she lives with is old and finds nothing much to celebrate. It’s not a marriage, but it’s the best she can do at this stage of her life. She’s has squandered her youth and is grateful to have anyone. But it would be nice to laugh again.
She continues on her way noticing two of the village woman ahead. They fetched their water earlier in the morning with the other village women while it was still cool. There was a time when she had joined them, but things have changed and she is no longer welcomed among them. As she approaches the two women, they turn aside careful not to make eye contact.
It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have time to stop and chat. It’s a mile to her destination and the sun is beating down. Finally, the well is in sight. Lost in her thoughts along the lonely road, she’s startled by a fox who darts across her path. She calms herself as she approaches the well just ahead.
But wait. A man sits on the well. Who is he and why is he out here at this time of day? She pauses a moment to let him see her. She waits for him to move away from the well.
But he remains.
It’s hot and she’s not going back without her water. She continues her walk as she scans the area and sees that he is alone. She begins to feel her heart pound in her chest.
Being alone at this remote site with a man does not bode well for her. Perhaps he will think that she’s one of “those” women who come alone hoping to find a man in need of a certain comforting. But she’s come too far to go back without her water. So, keeping her eyes focused on the road ahead, she picks up her pace.
Arriving at the well, she sets the jar down avoiding eye contact with the stranger. She unrolls her leather bucket that she will use to dip water from the deep well, His eyes are boring in on her. He calls out, “Give me a drink?”
She pauses in stunned silence that a man would speak to a woman in public. But he just holds his peace . . . waiting for her answer.
In the glare of the noonday sun, one of the most remarkable and unlikely transformations will take place. In a few minutes, social outcast will be transformed. A Samaritan woman with a questionable past will become the first woman preacher in Christian history. She will bring an entire village to Jesus and change their lives forever.
And Jesus accomplished this transformation without any miraculous healings, without any stunning exorcisms, and without any public feedings. It was a masterful model of evangelism for growing a congregation today. Look closer at how Jesus orchestrated this missionary moment.
It began with strategic positioning. I’m not a fisherman – I lack the patience. But ask any fisherman worth his salt and he’ll tell you that to catch fish, you have to go where the fish are.
Now Bass Lake offers a lot of beautiful shoreline where you might cast a line for a day of fishing. But ask any fisherman who knows the lake, and most of them will tell you there is only one area for catching fish. It’s at the far end by the dam. Fishing by Forks might be more convenient, but it’s not where the fish congregate.
When Jesus left Jerusalem to go to Galilee, he had the option of going east across the Jordon and then following the river north to Galilee. It would be faster if he instead traveled north through Samaria, but pious Jews avoided Samaritans. Better to take the long way. But Jesus intentionally chooses to go through Samaria. He was going outside of his comfort zone to where the fish were. What would it look like for any of us to move outside of our comfort zone to be where the fish are?
Helping Hands Pregnancy and Parenting Center counsels young women with unplanned pregnancies. Many of them might be considering abortion. The center also offers mentoring for the fathers of those unplanned pregnancies. The young men and women who come to Helping Hands find themselves face-to-face with a life crisis. And it’s in those life crises moments that people are most receptive to a God who cares. It’s where the fish are. But make no mistake, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center is outside of most people’s comfort zone.
Step two in Jesus’ plan was to put himself in strategic need. Major wells would have large donut-shaped capstones over them with a little hole in the center to lower a leather bucket. Travelers would carry their leather buckets with them. But for some reason, Jesus has sent his disciples away without even leaving a bucket. Instead, he sits on the capstone of the well thirsting. He had a plan.
Seeing a woman all alone coming to the well, a man would be expected to courteously withdraw for a distance of about 20 feet and allow the woman to draw her water. But Jesus didn’t move. So the woman decides to draw anyway. She didn’t anticipate the surprise. Jesus asks for a drink. He humbles himself. He places himself at the mercy of she whom He came to serve.
Daniel Niles was a great Sri Lankan theologian. He tells of all the wonderful institutions that the Christian community provides in Sri Lanka: Schools, hospitals, orphanages, farms. But providing those institutions also places the church in a position to grant patronage, to oversee jobs. The unexpected result is that the local community can look at the Church with jealousy or, sometimes fear.
Dr. Niles says: The only way to build love between two people is to be so related to each other as to stand in need of each other. When Jesus sent out his disciples for their first mission trip, he told them to take nothing. No brad, no bag, no money. They would rely on the mercy of those they would evangelize. He does the same. His request is genuine. He’s thirsty and he has no bucket to draw the water.
So, Missionary Jesus goes to where the fish are. He then places himself in strategic need. The third thing he does is to break with convention.To evangelize like Jesus, we can’t be afraid to break with convention. Jesus wasn’t. Jesus broke the social taboo against talking to a woman, especially in an uninhabited place with no witnesses. In village society, a strange man does not even make eye contact with a woman in a public place. Jesus not only talked to women, he invited women into his band of disciples. Some of them traveled with him.’
He also broke with convention when he ignored the five-hundred-year hostility that had developed between Jews and Samaritans. He set that all aside when he asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus would not be confined by the politics of his day.
Finally, Jesus broke with convention by intentionally elevating the woman’s self worth. Only the stronger are able to give to others. Jesus affirmed this woman’s dignity by asking her to help from her resources. She is amazed that a male Jew would talk to her. But even more so, that he would drink from her defiled Samaritan bucket.
Good Anglicans don’t meddle in other people’s lives. It goes against our social convention. Jesus meddled in the woman’s life. To save some souls, we might need to break with convention.
Finally, to evangelize like Jesus, we cannot withhold the truth. Jesus told the woman, “Go, call your husband and come here.” She responded, “I have no husband.” She’s right, but she is also hiding something.
It’s something we all do, isn’t it? When caught in sin, we try withholding information. But Jesus exposes her sin. Jesus did not condemn the woman, but he didn’t deny her sins either.
Everyone has their hidden sins and a need for God’s forgiveness. We don’t do them a favor when we redefine sin. In our evangelizing, we are not called to condemn. But, like Jesus, we are called to be light and expose the darkness.
It is telling that when she ran back to the village tell them about Jesus, the one thing she proclaims is: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” She was known by God, fully, warts and all. And God accepted her, God loved her —- warts and all.
That’s the payoff. That’s what people need to hear. That kind of news changes lives. It heals relationships. It certainly did for this woman.
You and I belong to a missionary society. It’s called the Anglican Church. Now the word “missionary” might conjure up thoughts of young people traveling to far off lands and living under some challenging conditions. But you and I are missionaries. And we don’t have to be young or travel to far-off places.
Ralph Shole is 92 years old a lives here in Oakhurst. He’s one of the dwindling veteran’s of WWII who are still alive today. He walks with a cane and he sports a couple of hearing aids. And at age 92, he’s also a missionary.
Ralph might not be able to travel to far off places, but he can travel down to the Cool Bean coffee shop across from McDonalds. And Ralph might not be able to cite chapter and verse from the bible or answer every theological questioned that might be posed to him. But he can pray. So that’s what he does.
For the last three years, Ralph has positioned himself down at the Cool Bean sitting at a table with his cup of coffee. In front of him is a little sign that he’s posted.All it says is, “Need Prayer?” Talk to Ralph sometime and he’ll tell you stories of the people who have sat down with him to ask for prayer.
Ralph doesn’t have to go to far off countries, because they come to him here in Oakhurst. He listens, without judging. And then he prays. God does the rest.
Ralph will never know how many lives he has changed and the ripple effect those lives might have. But he does know the blessing he receives as people he’s never met confide in him and receive from him. He’s giving them “Living Coffee” if you will.
It’s just one way a disciple is following his master’s lead to seek out the fish, to break with convention, and to change a life.
The Bible includes a little detail in this story that you might have missed. When the Samaritan woman left the well running to her village, she left behind her water jar. She came thirsting, but left overflowing with living water.Living water that no water jar could hold. It was so overflowing that her witness transformed an entire village. What a recipe for church growth!