” . . . we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” John 4:42
Five words from the Gospel reading help us in our thoughts, each of them beginning with “s:” Sychar, Samaritan, spring, spirit and Saviour.
Saint John Chapter 4 Verse 5 tells us that Jesus “came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” Jesus has ventured into Samaritan territory, into a place where Jews might have been met with hostility. There was a deep sectarianism that divided the Jews and Samaritans, neither side would have welcomed the other. However bad the relationship between the two groups, Saint John makes the point that no place is closed to God; he talks of Jacob and Joseph having been there and adds, in Verse 6, “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.” Jesus doesn’t just venture into hostile territory, he feels secure there, secure enough in a public place.
No place is closed to God, Jesus is prepared to go anywhere; do we have similar courage? If we look at the church, we see it tends to stay in the safe places, that it avoids those places where there might be a cool reception. If we look at Christians, we see that we tend to stay among our own people, that we are happy if we do not have to move outside of our own circle. Would our church today have gone to a place like Sychar? Would we be prepared to go into public places that might be dangerous?
Verse 7 says, “A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’.” The request that Jesus makes goes against all the social conventions of the time. The Jews and Samaritans co-existed, they passed by each other, they did not interact. Even the woman is taken aback by Jesus’ behaviour asking him, in Verse 9,”How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Saint John feels that the Samaritan woman’s question needs to be explained, adding, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” How would the disciples have reacted if they had been there? how would other people of the town have reacted if they had heard the conversation? Would both groups have not advised that the conversation should not have taken place?
The Samaritan woman is a reminder to us that Jesus acknowledges no barriers, that the Good News he brings is for every person. How willing are we to follow the example that Jesus gives us? Is it sometimes easier to be on our own when we meet others? Do we sometimes avoid certain people not because of what we think of them, but because we are afraid of what others might think of us?
Jesus offers the woman a spring of water. He moves the conversation from the things of everyday life to the things of eternal life, telling the woman that she might ask him for living water. In Verse 15, the woman says to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” The woman recognizes that Jesus offers something entirely different from the religion of the time. The religion she knew was a religion of tradition, a religion of rules and regulations, a religion that was dry and lifeless. Jesus offers a faith that is like a spring of water in parched ground.
Is our faith like a spring of water, or is it something dry? Too often the church can appear to people as being something concerned more with its own tradition, more concerned with preserving its past and keeping things as they were, than with being something that is filled with life and growth. People should find the church to be a place where spiritual thirsts are quenched, a place from which people go spiritually refreshed. What sort of faith do people meet when they meet with us?
The woman learns about worshipping in the spirit because she has tried to avoid questions about her personal life. The woman asks Jesus about worship in Verses 19-20, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Both communities took their worship very seriously and disliked those who did not agree. Samaritans did not like Jews who were heading for Jerusalem and Jews did not like Samaritans who did not revere the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus says that both traditions will pass, in Verse 23 he tells the woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Are we like the Samaritans and the Jews, attached to our own places of worship? Do we dislike the thought of worshipping elsewhere? Do we recognize that where we worship does not matter, that what matters is that we worship God in spirit and in truth? If Jesus was with us, would he tell us that we were true worshippers, or would he tell us we were like the Samaritans and Jews?
Samaritans in the town of Sychar recognize Jesus as the Saviour. Some of those in the town believed because of what the woman had told them. Many more people believed because Jesus spent two days in the town teaching them. In Verse 42 they said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” Recognizing Jesus as Saviour is something they do for themselves, it is their own faith that they express. It meant turning their backs on the lives in the community of which they had been part, for believers in Jesus would not have been tolerated, and committing their lives to him as Saviour.
The people in the town of Sychar who declared their faith In Jesus as Saviour knew they were taking a serious decision, they knew they were taking a decision for themselves that might be costly for them, that might mean the loss of friends, that might mean their lives would never be the same again. Do we think about what it means to be a Christian? When, in our services, we talk about Jesus as Saviour, do we think about what it means for us?
Sychar, Samaritan, spring, spirit and Saviour: five words from the story of the Samaritan woman that can be part of our story.