The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet’. John 4:19
Hopefully, all thirty-eight verses of the Gospel reading will be read in churches today, for only by reading the passage in its entirety is there a chance to fully appreciate the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
The conversation is one where the woman tries to avoid the uncomfortable truth about herself. When confronted with something that makes us uncomfortable, our own reactions are probably not dissimilar to those of the woman in the story.
Should I be confronted in Jesus in such a way, I know I would not want to be confronted with the truth about myself, I would not want him telling me exactly the way that things were.
The Samaritan woman wants the spiritual change that Jesus offers, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water’. it is a sincere desire to be live life differently, but there is an obstacle to her beginning a new life.
‘Go, call your husband, and come back,’ Jesus tells her, and in doing so he identifies the stumbling block in the woman’s life. When she says she has no husband, he tells her about her past and her present.
There is no tone of judgement in Jesus’ voice, no word of condemnation. The woman knows herself that a change is needed. She recognizes that the future will need to be something different from that which has gone before.
In her simple words of recognition of Jesus, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet,’ there is a recognition that she has met with the presence of God. Jesus does not pursue the matter further, he knows that he does not need to do so.
The greatest weakness in the church today is that these words will be read, and there will be no sense of a need for change. There will be no bishops reading this Gospel who will be prepared to stand and accept their lack of humility and their divergence from the way of Jesus. There will be no pastors leading comfortable lives who will stand and accept that lives of comfort and ease are not lives lived in the way of Jesus. Look at the church and you will not see an organization that is prepared to accept that it needs to change.
‘I see that you are a prophet’, says the woman to Jesus, and she is acknowledging that he has looked into her heart, that he has looked deep into her soul. There has been no escaping his gaze, no possibility of avoiding the truth, no matter how painful that truth may be.
Listen to the preacher in your church this Sunday, listen to the prayers and the hymns, listen to all that people say during the service, and ask yourself the question, ‘are they being completely honest?’ Ask the question of yourself, ‘am I being completely honest?’
Of course, we all avoid the question, I know that I do.
I do not attend church, partly because I was told by a bishop that because of the grounds of my resignation in 2017 people would not trust me, partly because I do not trust a church which has turned a blind eye to abusers. To be honest, there is a far greater opportunity to talk about Jesus as he is when standing in the classroom than there ever was at church councils or synods.
If we were asked, I do not believe that either I or the institution that I left would give an honest answer to Jesus.
Of course, we can all behave as the woman did and try to find words that offer a path of escape, but what does it say about our understanding of Jesus if we think that we can wriggle out of our guilt by trying to use words that might divert him?
The woman is transformed by her meeting with Jesus. Going back to her village, she says to the people there, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’
What an extraordinary turnaround, from being someone who sought to avoid the questions of Jesus to being someone who points others towards Jesus.
Are we people who face the painful questions about ourselves? Are we people who realize that we can’t avoid the truth? Are we people who suggest that others meet Jesus as he is? Not the Jesus of the bishops in their vestments and mitres, not the Jesus of the prosperous pastors, but the Jesus who looks at you and stares deep into your soul.