I recently spoke at church on the story of the woman at the well in John chapter 4. In this story Jesus is travelling through a town called Sychar in Samaria on His way to Galilee and stops at a well for a drink. Arriving at the well at the same time, in the middle of the day to avoid the crowds, was a local woman, an outcast in her community. Jesus, not having a cup or bucket to draw water with, asked her to give him some from hers. Startled that he would even speak to her, she became curious as the conversation turned to Jesus’ living water that would quench her thirst for good. And eventually revealed to her who he was, and also her need for Him. This encounter changed her life.
I have usually been encouraged to read this story by putting myself in the shoes of Jesus and observing how best to reach ‘such a woman’ with the gospel.
But not this time. Suddenly God was encouraging me to slip into the shoes of the woman Jesus meets – and to receive.
As I did that, I found myself resonating with the familiar feeling of being an outcast. While not in the same way or for the reasons as she is, there have been times I’ve felt I must avoid God or others – the reason she goes to the well in the hottest part of the day and not in the morning like the others.
I know what it is to squirm and share half-truths about my life to God and my friends. About the sin and weakness in my life. I know what it is to not be completely myself – just like when Jesus asks this woman about her husband. I know what it is to feel real physical thirst and to try and rehydrate with coffee, not water. It tastes great in the moment, but only leaves me thirstier.
I realised there are things I try and quench my thirst with that aren’t the grace of God. Achievement, recognition, relationships, material wealth, just to name a few! I realized that if we chose to live our lives for these or anything else and without His grace it would only enslave us and leave us wanting.
But there’s good news for those of us in this story who are thirsty and in need of refreshment. Jesus chose to cross a number of cultural barriers and boundaries to connect with this woman. The fact that he chose to connect with her even though she was an outcast, a Samaritan and a woman reflects only grace.
And he has that same grace for us.
Just like he reaches past our walls of shame, not only did he meet her, he chose to use her to be a champion in the Kingdom of God. She told many of her encounter with Him and they too came and met Jesus and gave Him their lives. His grace gives us this opportunity too.
Like this woman, it took an encounter with Jesus to reveal my need for Him. Asking her about her husband, Jesus wasn’t trying to humiliate her, but reveal to her the need she has for him. Beautifully, he doesn’t just reveal her need and then leave her wondering with gaping open wounds, but offers her the solution to her thirst. He showed that he knew her completely, flaws, mistakes, and all. And yet, loved her enough to want to share this living water with her.
Tim Keller once wrote:
“ To be loved and not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self- righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty that life throws at us.”
To understand we are known and loved by God is the firmest foundation to build our lives upon and prepare us to face whatever comes our way. From that experience we will not be thrown around by looking for satisfaction through recognition from other people, being loved for something we are not, and getting caught up in having to keep up the façade we’ve created. He sets us free from the fear of being known and rejected. His grace sets us free to be both known and loved. When we are living from this place it humbles us and quenches our deepest desires for things that won’t satisfy.
This story gently forces me to receive afresh what it is like to be fully known and fully loved. To drink deeply from the well of grace, not that of fear, anxiety, recognition, or what I think I am missing in my life. Instead I can be filled with what is life-giving, true and strengthening for my life.