John chapter 4 provides a lengthy account of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. Because of its give-and-take narration of a lengthy exchange between the two, it lends itself to numerous lessons for commentary. These include xenophobia, Jewish/non-Jewish relations, and the Gifts of God. It is on the aspects of accountability, reflection, and deflection which I will focus today, however.
The text in full reads (and italics are mine):
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.
So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he (vs 1-26). . . .”
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? (v 28-29)”
Here is a woman drawing water outside of the normal times for such an activity. Is she an outcast? Perhaps. It is noted she is a Samaritan (enough for a Jew to avoid her), yet Jesus engages her. This alone, therefore is not enough to isolate her. But, for certain she is a woman whose marital status, and present living arrangements are suspect. She is “caught out” by this fact, when Jesus calls attention to it (as noted in the italics). Her response is one of deflection. No admission of what at the time would be seen as at least implied sin, but rather a quick change of subject.
How often have we done that when a topic gets a little too close to home? Our personal shortcomings are to be moved away from quickly. “After all there are more important matters to consider.” She does exactly that. The result, however, is the opening of her eyes to a greater truth than even her own sins. The coming of Messiah.
This realisation of the incarnation of the Holy One is enough for her not only to own up to her own weaknesses, but to acknowledge them to the entire community, ” Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” She in her excitement at the presence of the divine, lets down her walls and shields, and in so doing brings the good news to others.
What greater impact might we have if we owned up to our flaws like that? Can we remove the “Super Christian” mask long enough to see that we, like “all have sinned,” and in so doing see the potential to see the need to share the way beyond our sin (through Christ) with others?
Deflection in the end only fools ourselves. So rather than deflecting today, let us confess our mistakes and focus on the “living water” that washes away those flaws, and leads to eternal life.