Rev. George Vais uses a familiar story from John 4: 1-30 of Jesus’ interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well to illustrate how our interactions with others can be instrumental in introducing Jesus into the lives of others. Simply put, the approach combines grace and truth. Begin with a down to earth conversation, acknowledge the value of the individual, build trust, let people tell their story and identify their needs and then allow them the opportunity to meet the “Master of us all”.
When my family and I were living in Bracebridge, I was very involved in the life of the congregation there. Name it, and I did it. I did it, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For one thing, I was very active in the youth group. It’s interesting how 70 some years later, seven of us [admittedly not as young as we used to be], still get together for dinner in one of the local restaurants at least once a month.
If my memory serves me right, I think it was in 1951 when the local youth group was asked to organize and conduct the New Years’ service. I was delegated, [I don’t think I offered], to give the message that night. You can imagine how nervous I was, delivering my very first message in front of my friends, my family, my home congregation, and my home minister who was none other than my father. Somehow we made it, and the people were very complimentary and kind in their remarks.
When I got home that night, I don’t recall my father’s exact words, but I do remember him telling me that I did a good job, and only then, did he mention some places where the content and the delivery could improve. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt, to be told that I did a good job, and at the same time be given the tools to do better the next time.
Where did my father learn this approach? To praise people, and at the same time encourage to do better? Let’s find out. I am going to read a familiar encounter in John’s Gospel, which is one of todays’ lectionary readings. This would please my friend Bruce Miles in Winnipeg to no end, as he follows these prescribed readings without fail, and gives me a hard for not doing so. As long as Randy has him muted this morning, I will not be subjected to his usual verbal abuse. The Gospel according to John chapter 4 beginning to read at verse 1…
Jesus could have used the Ten Commandments to degrade and destroy that woman He met at the town’s watering hole. But He didn’t. Instead, He used a combination of grace and truth. I want you to hang on to those two words – grace and truth, as I invite you to reflect with me at some of the key points in today’s reading.
I suspect, after they exchanged the usual greetings, Jesus chose to begin the conversation with a question. “Give me a drink.” He said to the woman. There is nothing put on, in fact, there’s nothing religious about this statement. Jesus is simply expressing a physical need, and at the same time, He is saying to this foreign woman, she can do something about it -she can actually help Him. This is where grace is set in motion. “The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, ‘how come you a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’” [Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans. Not to mention that she was a woman.]
Notice how Jesus ignored and rose above those superficial divisions that existed among the people of His time. Moreover, He said to the woman, “If you knew who was talking to you, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” I can almost see the woman laughing at what Jesus said! “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to draw water. Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?”
Obviously, the woman took Jesus’ words literally “Give me this water,” she said, “so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She was talking about the water that comes in a bucket from a dug well, He was referring to her thirst for a fuller life and what she needed to do to enjoy that life. But Jesus chose not going to get into it at this point.
Obviously, John gives us only the highlights of what must have been a long conversation. How else could Jesus have known of her tangled up domestic affairs? In any case, it is noteworthy that He provided her with the opportunity to tell her story, which is another example of grace at work.
“Go, call your husband…” Jesus said to her. Another example of a normal conversation which gave her the opportunity to tell her story, to let Him know what’s going on in her life, to get at the truth. “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”, she said. “For the first time in her life she met someone with kindness in His eyes instead of that critical superiority; and judgemental attitude.” Thanks to this amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
Unfortunately, instead of celebrating this unconditional acceptance, the woman introduces an argument that’s still going to this day. Only this time it’s, are Presbyterians better than Baptists? Is contemporary worship better than traditional? Is “in person” worship better than on line?
Trust Jesus to tell the woman, “where you worship does not matter…It’s who you are and the way you live that counts before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.” “The woman said, ‘I don’t know about that. I do know the Messiah is coming. When He arrives, we’ll get the whole story.’ ‘I am He’ said Jesus. ‘You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.’ “
At this point, the woman left the scene and in her haste she also left her water jar behind. Back to the village, she went and told the people, come see a man who knew all about the things I did. Someone who knows me inside out. Do you think this could be the Messiah? and they went out to see for themselves…Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to Him because of the woman’s witness..
Then, they said to the woman, ‘we’re no longer taking this on your say- so. We’ve heard Him ourselves and we know for sure. He is the Saviour of the world!” What a story! What and ending! Thanks to the way Jesus handled the situation.
I’ll never know how my life would have turned out if my father had not managed that situation with grace and truth on that New Year’s Eve of long ago.
If only more of us, [I say more of us because I’ve seen some great examples in my lifetime] would use Jesus’ approach as we reach out and relate to people.
• To initiate a down-to-earth conversation
• To give people credit
• To build trust
• To let people tell their story including the naming of their need and allow them to meet the Master of us all.