When Jesus was living on the Earth, he came to Judea to be baptized by John the Baptist and to begin His ministry. In order to continue His purpose and to give space to John, Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee early in His ministry. Scripture tells us that he “had” to pass through Samaria on the way (John 4.4). Now, geographically we know that there were certainly other routes He could have chosen, and because of the tension between Jews and Samaritans (think blacks and whites pre-Civil Rights Movement), many Jews did in fact choose to go the long way when making that trip.
Jesus, however, “had” to go through Samaria because He had an appointment there: with a woman. At a well. Who was an outcast.
Jesus sat down on the edge of Jacob’s well and sent all twelve disciples into the city to buy food. He clearly wanted to be alone for this encounter, it does not take twelve people to buy lunch. Then a woman approached to draw water for herself, and Jesus asked her to share a drink of water. At first she was shocked that He spoke to her, and even more shocked that He asked her for a drink. The nationalities hated and segregated themselves from one another – imagine a white man sitting at an ice cream shop in the 50’s, a black woman fills up her water bottle from the “blacks only” water fountain, and he asks her for a drink.
Jesus then brings up the topic of living water. He tells her that He can give her all satisfying water, and she asks for a drink so that she will never have to come back to the well. She clearly did not understand that He was speaking on a Spiritual level. Thus He changed the topic: He told her to go and get her husband. Perhaps for a drink? So she answered, “I have no husband”.
It is extremely interesting that while she answered truthfully, “I have no husband”, she was covering up her sin – which Jesus revealed. She had been married five times and was now living with a man to whom she was not married. Jesus affirms that she spoke “truthfully”, albeit deceptively.
So what does she do? She immediately changes the subject. No one likes to be confronted in their sin, especially by a stranger, so she goes on the defensive: “I perceive that you are a prophet”, therefore let’s debate religion (John 4.19-20). Jesus graciously followed her in conversation, however, and spoke truth to her and silenced her question. He then, ultimately, revealed Himself to be the Messiah – the one for whom both the Jews and Samaritans were waiting. Therefore she ran and got everyone from town.
So what do we see here? Jesus chose the most unlikely of people: a Samaritan (hated by the Jews), woman (at the time still considered property of men), who had 5 failed marriages (divorce in that day was extremely taboo, and she had been divorced 5 times!), and was currently living with a man (fornication and adultery were punishable by death under the Mosaic Law). To say she was of ill repute was an understatement.
Yes Jesus chose her, and lovingly pursued her through a mangled conversation during which she tried to cover up the expanse of her sin and quickly changed the subject when it was laid bare. Jesus, however, did not shy away from the fact that in order for one to be saved and to drink living water, his sin must be confronted and confessed. And He masterfully turned every topic back to the Truth so that she ultimately came to an understanding.
Have you ever felt that you were unusable or worthless before God? Have you ever considered someone you encountered on the street as a lost cause? Have you shared with that family member so many times and they continually shut you down or divert the conversation? Jesus shows us by example that no one is beyond His use and no one is beyond His purpose, and we should not give up just because our “evangelism tool” failed.
Did you start down the Roman’s Road with someone, and he took an exit? Did you start to draw the bridge illustration and your listener used the napkin to wipe his mouth? Did you ask a leading question and he wouldn’t go deep on that topic? That’s ok! There are always bridges back to the Gospel, regardless of the topic or conversation! And just because someone has committed a major sin, or perhaps many major sins, they are not disqualified from the love or service of God. Jesus chose this woman to be the entry point to her entire community – a woman who had a bad reputation in her community!
Sometimes we get a little too comfortable in our demographic. Sometimes we get a little too complacent in our strategies. Sometimes we expect God to do one thing, so we stop looking for the opportunities all around us. But if God intends to reach and entire city or people group, there will necessarily be varied demographics reached – and it might just start with someone who has the worst reputation. Perhaps you are the Samaritan woman today, ashamed and defensive. Stop diverting and start listening, Jesus has paid the punishment for your sins. Perhaps you need to become more like Jesus: seeing everyone around you as worthwhile and usable by Jesus. Let’s broaden our horizons. Let’s take off our blinders and be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.