Giving Up Negativity: Jesus and the Woman at the Well

John 4:5-42

5 He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food.

9 The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)

10 Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water?12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”

17 The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”

“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. 18 “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”

19 The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

27 Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.

31 In the meantime the disciples spoke to Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”

32 Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”

33 The disciples asked each other, “Has someone brought him food?”

34 Jesus said to them, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it’s time for harvest’? Look, I tell you: open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest. 36 Those who harvest are receiving their pay and gathering fruit for eternal life so that those who sow and those who harvest can celebrate together. 37 This is a true saying, that one sows and another harvests. 38 I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work.”

39 Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

I often joke that the answer to every question for Children’s Time is God, Jesus, or love.  While it is obviously not literally true, the underlying message of almost every children’s sermon is the same, that God loves us.  Jesus loves us.  We can dress it up lots of different ways.  We can use cool examples and get kids to say cute things, but it generally boils down to how much God loves us.

Why do we teach this same message over and over again?  First, it bears repeating, it is that amazing a message.  Second, we need to hear it because we often forget it.  Finally, because we often want to modify it.  We start with God loves us, but then we add things to it.  God loves us because of who we are.  Sometimes we want to pretend that what we do will change how much God loves us.  If we are good, if we are righteous, then we will get more of God’s love.  Other times, we emphasize that God loves us in spite of who we are.  We want to pretend that our nature is a turnoff to God, but God overcomes this and loves us even though we are unlovable.  In both instances, we are wrong.  God does not love us because of who we are, or in spite of who we are.  God simply loves us.  Jesus loves us.

We have three core values as a congregation: being centered in Christ, being committed to each other, and being called to serve the world.  Our core values are listed the way they are for a reason.  Everything starts with being centered in Christ.  Being centered in Christ starts with remembering that Christ loves us.  Christ first loved us.  Our actions, our being, everything is a response to that love.  If we do not center ourselves in Christ’s love, then we get hung up on how we are going to earn that love.  You cannot earn something that is already freely given.  Trying to do that is what leads to negativity.  Once we are centered in how Christ loves us, then we can love each other and we can love and serve the world.  It all starts with God’s love for us.

Our text today is a long one, but the story is an important one.  To shorten it would be to miss out on all the different interactions that Jesus has with the woman at the well.  At our Wednesday night Lenten service, Susan Cafferty did an excellent job of unpacking the key details of this story.  The woman at the well is clearly struggling with negativity.  

The typical time to go to the well was the morning.  This would be the time that the well was a social hub.  The woman instead goes at noon, braving the heat of the day to avoid the crowds.  When we are picked on, bullied, or abused, it is natural to start avoiding encounters with those who torment us.  At the same time, when we do this we tend to internalize their abuse.  The woman at the well had clearly accepted the negative views of her social group.

On top of being rejected by her peers, the woman is also a Samaritan.  Samaritans were treated poorly by the Jews.  While they shared many of the same cultural practices and religious beliefs, Jews felt that they were God’s chosen people and in turn felt the Samaritans were unclean and beneath them.  When Jesus asks the woman for water, she is reluctant to give it to him.  Again, she has internalized the narrative of the Jews, and is starting to believe that maybe she is not worthy to give him a drink.  Once again she has begun to see herself in a negative mindset, accepting that she is less than others.

Jesus cuts through her negativity and speaks directly to her.  Even when she tries to hide her past that she is ashamed of, he does not relent.  He is not bothered that she is a woman.  He is not bothered that she is a Samaritan.  He is not bothered by whatever has happened in her life.  He loves her and cares about her.  His love in turns transforms her.

When she leaves the well she goes to those who have rejected her and tells them about Jesus.  She does not let their negative thoughts rule her any longer.  She is centered in Christ’s love.  The power of that love helps her to see God and it helps others to see God through her. 

The story of the woman at the well is our story too.  It is my story, even if I struggle to embrace it.  We have all been picked on at one time or another in our lives.  For me it was the clothes I wore in middle school.  We have all been teased, harassed, or bullied.  Sometimes it is directly damaging, but other times the results are far more insidious.  Sometimes what happens is we internalize the negativity.  Then we no longer need outside bullies to policy our actions, we can do it all by ourselves.  We do not need others to tell us we are not cool, that we are bad, we have our own voices in our head.  Driven by those thoughts we find ourselves alone, at the well, at noon.

Jesus is always there to meet us at the well.  Jesus is always there to love us.  We do not always do a good job of seeing it or believing it, but Jesus is always there.  We have a choice, there is always a choice.  Do we see ourselves as others do, outcast, rejected, and alone?  Do we see ourselves as Christ does, a beloved child of God?

I know some of you might not believe this, but I am an introvert.  Being an introvert in ministry is not always the easiest thing.  There are times that I struggle with my shy nature and the duties of being a pastor.  When I go back to my call to ministry however, I remember that God did not call because I was an introvert.  God did not call me to not be an introvert.  God called me to help people who were hurting.  God called me to share the love I have felt in Christ with others.  The choice is mine.  I can get hung up on what I am or what I am not or I can embrace the love that God has for me.  When I center myself in God’s love everything changes.  When we center ourselves in God’s love, we really can change the world, just like the woman at the well.

Questions to Ponder:

What negative thoughts about yourself do you struggle with?

Who is someone you know who is centered in Christ’s love?

Who do you need to share your story of God’s love with?

Prayer:

God, over and over you tell us the same thing, that we are loved.  Somehow, we still manage to forget this message.  Help us to wrap ourselves in your love.  Help us to reject the negative thoughts of others and of ourselves and instead embrace you.  Center us in your love that we might be strengthened to do your work.  Amen