Read: John 4:1-54
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
I remember running around my elementary school playground with the other little girls, chasing all the boys and yelling, “Cooties! Cooties!” The boys ran in terror, screaming all the way because cooties were definitely something you did NOT want to catch.
In our passage today, we read about an ancient culture with a case of the cooties. I’m not talking about a weird rash or raspy cough – this was a case of spiritual cooties – the “if I so much as look at you, I’m defiled” kind of cooties. The Samaritans were considered “religious apostates” because they had mixed the purity of Israel’s worship with idolatry and pagan practices. For Jesus to interact with a Samaritan, He would risk “ritual defilement”, culminating in a serious case of spiritual cooties.
But this is where we’re introduced to what I’ve heard referred to as “the scandalous graciousness of God.” Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see him breaking social customs over and over again – he touched lepers, because God loves them. He offered dignity and compassion to beggars, because God loves them. He gave time and attention to children, because God loves them. He reached out to the poor and the broken, because God loves them. And He initiated a life-changing conversation with a Samaritan woman, because God loves her.
We can make some fair assumptions about the Samaritan woman just by looking at the facts laid out in John 4. She was drawing water at the hottest time of the day, probably avoiding the other village women who would have chosen to visit the well in the cooler hours. She was alone. She had gotten up close and personal with 6 men in the village so her reputation was most likely pretty poor and her list of friends pretty short. It’s not a stretch to say Jesus’ behavior towards her was shocking. Jews and Samaritans just did not interact and the fact that she was a woman made it even more scandalous! But interact with her, He did – and in doing so, gave us a glimpse into the amazing and relentless love of God.
I would imagine her heart was pretty hard and her guard was up and I can hear the sarcasm in her voice as she tries to keep this conversation on a superficial level. But Jesus gently presses on until this woman has to acknowledge that there was something special about this stranger who “told me everything I ever did” – was he just a prophet or was he truly the “living water” he claimed to be.
The passage tells us that she ran back to town, gathered up the villagers and brought them back to Jesus. Some of them believed in Him just on the basis of her testimony and we read that others, after spending 2 days with Jesus, could see no other possibility than yes, this was the Messiah. And the Messiah had come to them! I wonder what, besides utter shock, was going through the minds of the disciples as Jesus spoke to them about reaping and sowing. Would the harvest really include these people?? Yes. Yes, it would.
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman provokes 2 thoughts in me. One, that God would reveal Himself to a Samaritan woman of questionable character, that He would show her such gentleness and compassion, tells me that no matter what my (or your) past looks like, He invites me (and you) to drink from this same spring of living water, welling up to eternal life. I pray that my life would be a testimony to this amazing gift!
The second thought is this: in the conversation with the Samaritan woman, we can hear Jesus acknowledge that there are theological differences between Jews and Samaritans, but He did not accept the hatred and alienation those differences had caused. Ouch! As we look around our culture today, sometimes all we can see are differences. Hatred and alienation? It’s everywhere. And while it’s ugly everywhere, it’s especially ugly in the life of a follower of Christ and in the church.
The Samaritan woman had to jump over a lot of obstacles to come to faith; she was a Samaritan, she was a woman, she’d had 5 husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. This was a woman who had experienced hatred and alienation. She may have thought she was completely disqualified from faith – but Jesus didn’t. He gently guided her around those obstacles to the truth – to Himself.
So I have to ask myself – when it comes to people who are different than me, do I put up obstacles? Do I disqualify them on the basis of their actions/attitudes/lifestyle? I pray that I don’t. God knows people have enough of their own obstacles to get through without me putting up more between them and Jesus. The truth is God loves all of us – even the people I think have cooties. I mean really, before I look at the cooties in someone else’s eye, I really have to take care of the cooties in my own eye. Seriously – Jesus said so in Matthew 7.
Jesus, thank You so much for helping me around the obstacles that kept me from You. Please reveal to me where I put up obstacles for others so I can stop. Thank You for accepting me into Your family and washing away the “cooties.” Your love and compassion are overwhelming – I praise You! In Jesus‘ powerful name, amen.