John 4:1-26: Jesus and the ‘other’
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Our world is full of divisions. People are different from one another. Race, gender, wealth, class… the possibilities are endless for us to think of ‘us’ and ‘them’; to consider people as ‘other’ than us.
How should we respond to people who are different? Sometimes we exclude them, sometimes we oppress them, sometimes we try and destroy them, sometimes we say they are really just the same as us.
In John 4 Jesus meets a person radically different to himself. She is a woman; he is a man. He is a Jew; she is a Samaritan. He is the holy one of God; she is a sinful person. They meet in the middle of the day at a well and Jesus asks for a drink. Just in passing we can see a glimpse of the true humanity of Jesus when we are told in 4:6 that he is worn out from the journey he has been on.
In verse 7 he asks for a drink and the woman’s reply in verse 9 outlines their differences. Jesus replies by offering the woman the gift of God: living water. As so often happens with Jesus, his words are misunderstood. She thinks he is offering the lively water from the spring at the bottom of the well. He has no bucket, and the well is deep she says.
In verse 13 to 14 Jesus clarifies that he is not offering water that can never really satisfy; rather he is offering eternal life. In verse 15 the woman asks for this water but, surprisingly, Jesus brings up her life circumstances. She has had five husbands and is now living within someone who is not her husband. As the light shines, darkness is exposed.
The woman tries to change the subject by recognising Jesus as a prophet and then asking about a point of ancient dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. She asks where is the right place to worship God? Jesus promises a time is coming when this question will be irrelevant because there will be a new place, a new way of worship. After all he is the new temple. The woman recognises that the Messiah is coming and will explain all these puzzles. In a climactic statement, in verse 26, Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah.
These are the bare bones of a wonderful story and a deep conversation. We see Jesus meet ‘the other’. How does he respond? He offers the gift of eternal life and then he offers himself. He reveals his identity as the Messiah. He offers an embrace, a welcome. This is a welcome into the family, into the life of God. This is a welcome that is offered in full knowledge of the differences that exist between them. This welcome of the Samaritan woman can only remind us of our own welcome by God. Our God is a hospitable God.
What a welcome we have received from the holy God. We were once rebels, deserving of nothing more than the wrath of God for our sin and rebellion and yet in Christ we are welcomed into the family of God. We are given his Spirit and the good work of restoration begins in us.
How should we respond to others? In Romans 15:7 we see Paul urge the Roman believers to welcome one another in a context when their differences were dividing them. This is such a difficult question in our world. There are so many ‘others’ around us.
Who is the ‘other’ that God would bid us welcome?
Our Father, thank you for the welcome you give us in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you that while we were still sinners you loved us. Help us to extend that welcome to others, whether in our congregation so we might live in true harmony; or in our world that they might know your restoring grace and mercy as we do. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Pray with us today's prayer request:
The 'Always Forward' conference trains church planters in the Anglican Church in North America. Last year fifty-two church planters were trained and this year around a hundred delegates attended. Thank God for this training, praying that as Christ is proclaimed churches can be planted, to His glory.
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