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TEXT: John 4:1-42
The woman of Samaria is one of the New Testament's most interesting characters. There are things in her life to make the worst sinner blush. And other things, to make the holiest saint envy. Thus, hers is a message of hope and conviction. Hope for the despairing sinner; conviction for the smug believer. An example for us all.
There are many bad things to say about her.
First, her race. The Samaritans were an odious people. In 722 B.C., Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, who deported their best and brightest and replaced them with nations from the east. Eventually the peoples intermarried and produced a bastard religion and culture. It can be described in the words of Paul, as a "fellowship of righteousness and unrighteousness; a communion of light and darkness; an accord between Christ and Belial; and an agreement between the temple of God and idols".
And that the woman shared in her people's depravity is plain from her conversation with the Lord.
She was also ignorant. She had some religious training. But it was only enough to make her stupid. She knew what a "prophet" was; had some notion of "the coming Messiah"; and recognized the difference between Jewish and Samaritan liturgy. It seems, therefore, that she had a fair knowledge of God and His ways. But Jesus said just the opposite: "You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews". This is most striking when you recall the deplorable state of Jewish religion at the time. Dominated by Sadducees and Pharisees, they yet knew far more than the Samaritans in general and this woman in particular. Even the blind Jews, it seems, saw things more clearly than their estranged cousins. Thus she must have been impenetrably dense.
The woman was equally immoral. Five times she had been married; finally she dispenses with the charade, and just takes up with a man, not her husband. She was an adulteress. And hers was not a "youthful mistake", but a wilful and repeated transgression. Who knows the havoc she wreaked? How many hearts she broke? How many families she destroyed? How many children she abandoned? Even the Samaritans would have nothing to do with her. Hence she comes to the well, not in the morning or evening (as others did) but at noon, while her neighbors escaped the shimmering heat of the day.
And to top it all off, she is arrogant. She has a chip on her shoulder, it would seem: "How is it that You, a Jew, would ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" She is defensive: "I have no husband". She is argumentative: "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that in Jerusalem is where one ought to worship". She is quick to judge and ridicule: "Are You greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?"
Perhaps none of these--in and of itself--proves anything. But put them all together, and you find a woman of immense pride. Like the men of Philippi, her "glory was her shame".
And so the Samaritan woman was an "example" all right--and example of what not to be. Stupid, vicious, haughty.
But Christ had only begun His work. In a matter of hours she would become "an example for all who believe".
During this midday conversation, Jesus revealed Himself to her: "I who speak to you, am He"; He offered his grace: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, `Give me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water"; and He enabled her to take it: "This indeed is the Christ (she said), the Savior of the world".
The grace of God in her life was immediately productive. Unlike a seed that may take weeks to sprout or the yeast that causes the bread to rise in hours, this woman's faith was immediately evident--and for all to see.
It was seen, first, in her esteem for Christ. Her other relationships with men had been shameful things--and probably carried on surreptitiously. But here was a Man, at last, she could be proud of! And so, no sooner had Jesus saved her than she introduces Him to others--to everyone in town!
How her exuberance contrasts with our apathy! This woman knew little doctrine and had less experience. But she's not ashamed of Christ, and doesn't "feel funny" about bringing Him up to others.
"Ashamed of Jesus! Yes I may,
When I've no guilt to wash away,
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save".
This early esteem is not produced by an overly-active thyroid, but is the work of the Spirit in the lives of all God's people.
The newly healed leper must "publish it much and blaze abroad the matter". The more experienced disciples would confess, "We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard". Even the aged preacher would say, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". Thus,
"Let him who glories,
glory in the Lord".
Next, we find her duly humbled. It's hard to believe that the woman of v.39 is the same as the one of v.17. In the former she is covering up, "I have no husband"; in the latter, she's publishing the news, "He told me everything I ever did".
It is sometimes thought that only Christians or respectable people are capable of hypocrisy. Nonsense! The most brazen sinners are also the most snivelling hypocrites. J.J. Rousseau, for example, authored a book in which he "confessed" many shameful things. But he didn't bother to mention that the man who loved all humanity had forsaken his own children; or that he who so detested the rich had for years mooched off wealthy old women.
But when Christ renews a sinner, he breaks his pride. The person whose "mouth is stopped and feels guilty before God", cannot but fess up to his sins before the world.
Last, we find the woman strangely full of compassion. She had long been despised by her neighbors. Her kind wasn't welcome at synagogue. Mothers warned their daughters to avoid her way of life. Fathers kept their sons far from her. She was universally hated. Thus, she might have "returned the favor". Having found Christ herself, she might have kept Him a secret, allowing her neighbors to roast in hell. But she couldn't. She'd been forgiven "10,000 talents", how could she begrudge her neighbors a couple of bucks?
Faith in Christ, therefore, produces a compassion for sinners. And this is necessarily true. For what is "salvation", but conformity to Christ? And who was more compassionate than He? Thus, the faith that brings us to Christ also makes us like Christ.
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