Isn’t it interesting that on three different occasions in the story of Jesus that three different women respond to him in a seemingly spontaneous outpouring of praise and adoration? Their actions were spontaneous in that they had a natural, and uninhibited manner. Two of these women weren’t even of the sort that most people – in Jesus’ day or in ours – would have given even passing notice except perhaps with condescension.
The first of these women was the Samaritan at Jacob’s well near the city of Sychar (John 4). John tells us that Jesus had left Jerusalem because the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist and that he had to go through Samaria on his way back to Galilee. There was another way to Galilee – the longer route east of the Jordan – which most Jews took because they didn’t wish to go through the land of the despised Samaritans. Whether it was on account of the knowledge and the likelihood that the Pharisees had planned to accost him near the Jordan because of his rising popularity or for the events described in this chapter we are not told. I rather suspect the latter.
At any rate, when this woman comes out of town in the middle of the day to draw water, Jesus engages her in conversation. This was something surprising to the woman because she knew he was a Jew and the Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans, even considering them as vicious, cur dogs. They were a mixed race, part Jewish and part Gentile, and therefore could have no part in the nation of the Jews nor in the worship in Jerusalem.
In the account of Jesus’ meeting with this sinful, despised (by most people) Samaritan woman, he initiated the conversation by asking her for a drink. She responded with apparent amazement; “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus told her that “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
Immediately she is suspicions of his offer of living (flowing, running) water. He didn’t even have any way of drawing water from the well and he was offering her an ever-flowing stream of water? How could he do this? Jesus assures her that not only could he give her what he promised but that the water he would give would be a spring (flowing, living water) welling up out of her to eternal life. Immediately she wants this water!
After further discussion about her life and about the proper place to worship God, Jesus discloses to her that he is the promised Messiah for whom both the Samaritans and the Jews were looking. At this point it seems she abruptly left the scene just as the disciples return from the city where they had gone to buy food. She leaves in such a hurry she left her water pot behind, apparently because she had something she perceived as more urgent to do.
“So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:28-30).
How could this woman be so presumptive as to take it on herself to go into the town and begin to tell everyone about Jesus? Didn’t she know that she, being a woman – and a sinful woman at that – had no “right” to tell all her neighbors that she had met a prophet of God (could he be the Messiah?) who had told her everything she had ever done? Didn’t she know that there was no place for spontaneity in religion and everything had to be structured and approved by the elders? What she was doing just wasn’t the way you “do religion!”
What we have to remember is that this woman had met the Messiah! She had had an encounter with the very Son of God and that had changed everything for her. Jesus had promised her living water and she had drunk deeply from that flowing spring – so deeply, in fact, that the living water began to flow from her! She knew the One who is Truth and he had set her free to live a different kind of life beside that of sin and shame. For this woman who had lived in shame, retiring from public exposure, life had taken on a new meaning that could not be hidden.
But the meaning was not about her. It was about Jesus. The water she had received was the one whom she was coming to know as he conversed with her. She, her Samaritan neighbors and the Jews as well, were expecting the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King who was to rule over all creation, the One who would deliver all those who were oppressed and downtrodden. When she came to know him, she was so overcome with the awesomeness of that fact that she could not keep it to herself.
She didn’t ask if she would be permitted to tell her neighbors about him. She doesn’t hesitate because it would not be fitting for her, a woman – and a sinful woman at that – to tell others about him. She was so filled with joy at knowing what she now knew that she could not contain it. Her joy, her knowledge just came pouring out spontaneously. She doesn’t hesitate because she was a sinful woman and probably looked down on by most of the people in the city. She knew Jesus and she had to tell it!
What a shame it is that there are so many who profess to be Christians today who are reluctant under even the most favorable of circumstances to speak Jesus’ name in public! People who are looked upon with favor by their community, who hold responsible places in society, who are respected and admired by most of the people around them won’t even attempt to tell others about the one by whose name they supposedly identify themselves. And even if they do it has to be under circumstances in which they will not be publicly identified and embarrassed. They may even teach a Bible class in a structured “church” setting, but will not attempt to teach the same truth they purport to believe in a non-church setting.
What is the difference? Why was this woman so ready and willing to risk what little credibility and dignity she might have maintained in her very sinful life to tell something so obviously outrageous and others who stand to lose nothing but a dubious reputation of being a “nice” person keep their mouths shut even when they have excellent opportunities to teach the truth about Jesus?
I suggest that the difference is in knowing the person of Jesus and in just knowing something about him. To know about him is to know from an impersonal, historical point of view. To really know Jesus is to be on a personal footing with him – to be acquainted with him. That personal, intimate knowledge cannot be contained. Not when it is the kind of knowledge this woman had of him. When she told her fellow Samaritans, that joyful knowledge she had caused her neighbors to want to know him just as she did!
If you were to really, personally meet Jesus, what difference would it make in your life? Would you continue to live your same, structured, routine existence? Or would you become excited? Would you spontaneously and enthusiastically tell everyone you met that you had just met the one who can give them the “water of life” that would flow out of them to eternal life?
What a difference there is in knowing him and just knowing about him! What a shame more of those who claim to be followers of Jesus do not really know him at all!