As much as we like our shoes, we need to occasionally step into others, or at least try them on. When we walk in each other's shoes and try to understand and empathize with each other, our capacity to love expands. We become more patient, more kind, more gentle, less judgmental, and less cynical. In this series, we're going to be putting ourselves in the shoes of different people who encountered Jesus.
This week we step into a pair of stilettos. Why stilettos? They represent the sultry past of the woman who we are learning about today. She had a reputation that caused people to gather and whisper about her.
Can you recall an experience when you felt or knew others were talking about you negatively? How did you feel?
Have someone read John 4:1-9.
Our story begins with corrupt religious leaders trying to stir up an unhealthy, petty competition between Jesus and the guy we talked about last week, his flip-flop wearing, locust-eating cousin, John the Baptist. When Jesus heard about the controversy, he decided to leave town, because he wasn't going to fuel any of that crazy talk.
We read in verse 4 that Jesus had to go through Samaria. This was very unusual, because Jews would never go to Samaria. These people despised each other. Jews believed that to merely be in the presence of a Samaritan made them unclean. They would automatically go to the Temple to have a priest ceremonially wash them. Jews believed that no Samaritan would ever be allowed into the Kingdom of God. Perhaps this had something to do with why Jesus HAD to go there.
Jesus reached the Samaritan village of Sychar, and being tired from the journey, sat down by the well. It was around noon, which meant the well would have likely been deserted. In that culture, the village women would all go to the well to draw water at dawn or sundown when it was cooler. As our stiletto-representing Samaritan woman approached the well, she probably wasn’t too happy to see Jesus sitting beside it. She had come to the well at noon to avoid encountering anyone else there—the small-town gossip, the whispers, the glares.
Have there been moments in your life when you went out of your way to avoid seeing people, to avoid feeling hurt by them?
When the Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"
It seems like a simple question to us, but it was considered outrageous for a Jewish man to ask to drink from a Samaritan vessel, touched by a Samaritan woman.
John 4:9: "The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?" (NLT)
One of the great things about Jesus is that He is inclusive. He loves to break through barriers. He sees past our flaws, our pasts and all the mistakes we have made. Thankfully, He meets us right where we are now. Jesus went to Samaria because He seeks out all the lost sheep. There are no exclusions; His love is for anyone willing to believe. The woman needed someone who would talk to her and not about her; someone who would see beyond her bad choices.
Jesus met this woman right in the midst of her trying to hide from those around her. He approached her anyway. Can you think of a time when God met you right where you were at and helped you in your situation not because you deserved it, but because you needed Him?
Have someone read John 4:10-15.
Jesus engaged with the Samaritan women and spoke of offering her living water. She questioned him, seeing that he didn't have a rope or bucket. They bantered back and forth. She also might have been wondering who is this and what is going on. She was jaded and cynical. She had seen a lot of life and experienced a great deal of pain.
When Jesus was talking about never being thirsty, it was about so much more than water. He knew what she was really thirsty for in life and how she was trying to quench that thirst. Our surface attempts to fill our deepest needs only last a little while, and soon we become thirsty again. For instance, we try to numb our pain with substance abuse. We look at pornography to fill a need for intimacy. We strive and over-perform to fill our need for acceptance. We spend more than we should or have to quench the desire for significance.
Have someone read Jeremiah 2:13.
The cisterns described here were large reservoirs carved out of the solid rock in the ground and used to hold water from rain fall. They could be up to 20 feet deep with a narrower, two- to three-foot opening at the top. They were coated with plaster to keep the water from seeping out, but cracks sometimes developed anyway, causing the water to leak into the surrounding earth, leaving those who relied on the cistern’s supply disappointed and sometimes desperate. Here in Jeremiah, God is being likened to a natural spring or fountain that has a continual (“living”) supply of pure, sparkling, refreshing water. He laments the folly of His people for forsaking this wonderful fountain and instead carving out their own, man-made cisterns that were cracked and ultimately useless. The people referred to in Jeremiah had stopped loving and relying on God, and the choices they were making were ruining them.
Have you experienced some broken cisterns in your life?
Jesus knows our deepest desires. He promises that if we come to Him to meet our needs, we will never be thirsty again. He's the spring, the source of living water.
While this woman was wondering how Jesus could get to the deep places of Jacob's well without a rope and bucket, he was reaching deep into the well of her life and saw her desperate thirst to be loved. The love she had experienced had run dry many times. She was longing for more, a richer, purer love only Jesus could offer.
Have someone read John 4:16-26.
As she turned to leave, Jesus told her to go and get her husband. Those words stopped her dead in her tracks, and she replied, "I have no husband." Jesus response went right to the deepest places in her life—the shame, pain, and humiliation she felt.
Imagine how she must have felt to have her past, her most profound shame spoken of out loud. She did what many of us would do—diverting the subject, bringing up issues between the Jews and Samaritans. We do the same thing. It can get too personal and painful to focus on our choices and our life, so we change the subject.
Jesus brought it back around saying God wants worshippers who will worship in spirit and truth. When she responded, saying the Messiah will come and will explain everything to us, Jesus tells her,"I am the Messiah." This is the only time before his trial that Jesus made that admission. And this hurt, stiletto-reputation-wearing, outcast woman is the person he chose to hear it.
Have someone read John 4:28-30, 39-42.
When the woman realized just who it was that had been speaking with her, she left her bucket—kicked off her stilettos, her past—and ran back into town to tell the amazing news to the very people she had been trying to avoid. She was saying, "You gotta to see this, I'm telling you HOPE is sitting by the well!"
Jesus never refuses you. Not only does He know your deepest thirst, but Jesus can redeem any life. The definition of to redeem is to make something acceptable, to restore one’s reputation, atone for human sin, or buy something back. Jesus does all those things. He went to a cross to atone for human sin, to purchase our freedom, to buy back our wasted years. Through his blood, our reputations are restored, and we've been made into something acceptable!
Psalm 130:7: “…Put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption." (NLT)
Psalm 107:9: “For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (NLT)
When the Samaritan woman ran back to her village, she left behind her water jar. When we have an encounter with Jesus we may leave some things behind. Sometimes we need help and support to move forward and make peace with our past, but it no longer defines us.
She couldn't wait to share about her encounter with Jesus and bring back others to meet him.
What changed in your life after you became a follower of Jesus? What did you leave behind that isn’t you anymore?
Jesus is in the business of redeeming us. He recycles mistakes and pain and failure and even uses them for His good purposes.
This woman's story can be your story, too. He will meet you right where you are, as you are and whatever emptiness you're bringing with you. Whatever it is in you that is shattered, He wants to buy it back, atone for it, restore your reputation, and make you live every day in the awareness that you are accepted and dearly loved by a holy God.