An unlikely missionary
At the beginning of John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. The Samaritans were a minority ethnic group who were half-Jewish. In the first century, there was a lot of animosity between the Samaritans and the Jewish people. Samaritans had some theological differences and given their ethnic differences, these fueled the division between the two groups.
The Samaritan woman meets Jesus at a well and they start to talk.
The woman has had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. So she’s already part of a group who’s looked down upon, and she’s also had her sins exposed. Jesus tells her of the living water that he provides. He tells her of true worship of God.
As the preceding section winds down, John records Jesus speaking to the woman.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
An incredible conversation.
Verse 27 suddenly changes the direction.
Just then his disciples came back.
Earlier in the story, we learned that the disciples had left Jesus to go and find food. It’s the reason why Jesus had been alone when he met the Samaritan woman.
They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”
The disciples want to question Jesus for talking to this woman. Out of respect for Jesus, they keep their mouths shut but they’re wondering “why are you talking with her?”
The disciples are not perfect. We see this time and again in the gospels.
We see examples of their pride, at times we see them lack faith, and we see here that they are not above prejudice. And they see Jesus talking with this woman. They don’t question it, but they’re thinking about it.
Probably giving her strange looks.
It was the culture at the time. There was a lot of prejudice against women.
There are rabbinic sayings which go back to the first century and talk of interactions between men and women. Some of these sayings are extremely misogynistic towards women.
There’s a rabinnic teaching against a man even talking to a woman in public, even his own wife.
There were rabinnic teachings which discouraged teaching women to read.
I’m not saying that those views were universal to every Jewish person in the first century. But they were within the social consciousness. Every generation has its own areas of sin, and misogyny was a common area of sin in the first century and sadly at many other times.
But the Samaritan woman, like everyone else, needs Jesus. She needs to know his love, needs to know his grace.
So the disciples didn’t publicly question Jesus, but not because they didn’t want to.
The text says that they marveled that Jesus was talking to a woman. Let alone a Samaritan woman.
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,
John notes that the woman leaves her jar. It’s interesting that this detail is mentioned.
Throughout our study of John’s gospel, we’ve seen this theme of newness, new creation, Jesus as replacing the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.
I believe that the detail of her leaving the water jar is mentioned because it’s symbolic of the fact that this woman is leaving behind the cares and concerns of her own nourishment to serve the purposes of Christ in the world.
She had come to the well for water, but she’s leaving it having learned about the living water which Jesus provides.
So we have this Samaritan woman, who’s had five husbands and who’s living with a man who’s not her husband, someone looked down upon in society, she goes into the town and starts telling people about Jesus.
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Jesus has revealed himself to be a prophetic figure who has a knowledge of her life that’s supernatural. He’s claimed to be the Christ, and so she rhetorically asks the people “can this be the Christ?”
It’s very powerful to consider that this woman from this marginalized Samaritan group is the first recorded person in this gospel to tell people about Jesus in northern Israel.
This story should be encouraging to all of us from the standpoint that God also uses broken and sinful people to serve him, to share his gospel and to tell the world about Jesus.
No one is ever too broken to know the love of Christ.
And no one is ever too sinful, as this woman was. No one is ever too lowly to share Jesus and be used by God to serve God.
Serving the mission of God is not just for the spiritual varsity team, but God has ways for all of his people to serve him.
And God desires for all of his people to serve him. To be light, to share the gospel, to serve others. To serve God’s mission of the world of being disciples who make disciples.
God uses broken people to do his work, and he can use you. No matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve done. If you’ve wasted time, if you’ve spent years not serving God, it’s not too late.
God can use you. Not because of who we are, but because of who God is. And to his glory, he uses broken people to serve his purposes.
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