43. Accepting Love (2)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 43.  Accepting Love (2)

Jn 8:11    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

We started, in the previous study, considering how Jesus showed love to those he encountered and we considered, in general, the ‘sinners and tax-collectors’ and then the specific case of Zacchaeus as we saw Jesus love expressed as unconditional acceptance. Now having said it was unconditional we have to note three things, as we seek to understand Jesus’ love.

First, the very nature of God IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that means that everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love and so, because Jesus is the Son of God, we may expect him to express this same unchanging and therefore unconditional love.

Second, His expression of love will vary (although His love doesn’t) and so we see Jesus responding differently to a) his disciples, who he knew were imperfect but expected to change and so chided on occasions of ‘little faith’, b) the crowds who he accepted would often be there for what they could get from him – healing or food – and nevertheless gave them those things as well as his teaching and then finally, c) what I will call the ‘religious antagonists’, those who purported to represent God but who were, in reality’ far from true representatives and were out for themselves, and they he rebuked soundly. Each expression IS an expression of love: expectations of his disciples, acceptance of limited understanding of the crowds, and challenging the intransigent hardness of heart of the religious apparent leaders of society.

Third, Jesus’ love is long-term and ultimate and so although he may have to chide his disciples, tolerate but bless the crowds, and rebuke the antagonists, he is doing these things in his desire for the best of each of them in the long-term. For his disciples he raised the bar of expectation for them, so they would grow in faith, and that would sometimes involve chiding them when they didn’t rise to it – because he knew they could! For the crowds his hope was ever that they would hear his teaching and see beyond the miracles and realise God was also calling them to follow. As the parable of the Sower shows, he knew that some would hear but ignore, some would hear, follow, but then give up, and so it was only a limited percentage who would hear, eventually respond, become his followers and become fruitful. For the antagonists, within their ranks he knew there were those whose hearts were questioning and although mostly they had gone along with the rest, nevertheless their questioning hearts might hear, respond and bring them though. Nicodemus was such an example (see Jn 3:1-, 7:50, 19:39)

Perhaps we should add a fourth important thing and that is that the expression of love by Jesus will be unique to the person before him. Love is not a mechanical thing, it reaches out to bless the person before it – in whatever way is pertinent to them. There are three people in particular who we find in the Gospels, who come to mind.

The first is the adulterous woman, apparently caught in adultery (but where is the man?), who is brought before Jesus. (Jn 8:3-11) It is a group of the ‘antagonists’ – teachers of the Law and Pharisees – who bring her to Jesus. They point out that the Law required stoning for such a woman, so what does Jesus say about it? Presumably they either want him to be harsh and conform to the Law and condemn here, or let her off and appear to be a Law-breaker. A no-win situation! But this is the Son of God, and love sees a way through and wisdom prevails. OK, he says, whoever of you have never sinned, you can be the first to cast a stone. They go silent and sidle away. Reality prevails and Jesus has loved her and accepted her, but he’s still got her best in mind when he says, Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11). He knows the truth about her but he’s more concerned to redeem her than condemn her. Nothing that we have done pushes the love of Jesus away.

The second is a leper who came to Jesus: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” (Mt 8:2,3) Now lepers were among the outcasts that we mentioned previously, unable to be touched by anyone and living in little communities out of town. So this man comes with faith in Jesus and Jesus heals him, but that is not the point that screams out at us – it is that Jesus reached out and touched the man BEFORE he was healed. If that is not a sign of loving acceptance, I don’t know what is. It is almost as if Jesus makes the point and says, nothing can come between you and your unclean nature, and me. Nothing that we are pushes away the love of Jesus.

The third is the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). It is midday and Jesus is resting while the disciples go into Samaria for provisions. This woman comes to get water. The fact that it is midday and in the worst heat of the day is the first clue that she is an outcast from society. Jesus asks her to draw water for him. He has just crossed two cultural divides. First because she was a woman and second because she was a Samaritan, disliked by the Jews for their history. No respectable Jewish man traveling would have spoken to her. The fact that she is there at that time also presupposes she is not someone a respectable Jews should encounter – but Jesus does. After teasing her with talk about ‘living water’ he suddenly says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (4:16) She responds, “I have no husband.” (4:17)

True but only half the truth. Jesus faces her with the truth revealing his prophetic insight: “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.” (4:17,18) Wow! Look at that, the truth squashed between two affirmations: “You are right when you say you have no husband…. What you have just said is quite true.” These two are indeed affirmations but in so doing they almost accentuate the fact that she has not spoken the important part of her situation.

Now to understand this situation we must realise that divorce was instigated by the husband and so five times this girl has been rejected by men and she is now living with a man who has not committed himself to her. In our modern Western societies, it is the fear of rejection, of not being loved, that makes so many young girls and women give way to the desires of men, not realizing that is not sex that brings love. Now if you read on you will see that she sidesteps this and Jesus does NOT bring her back to it. It is enough that he knows and she knows he knows! The conversation that follows reveals him as messiah and she accept that and goes and tells others about him. No, we don’t know if she changed her lifestyle but it is probable. Cultural divides and dysfunctional lifestyles will not push away the love of Jesus.

So here is love looking beyond the sin to redemption, looking beyond the uncleanness to the person, looking beyond the cultural divides and utterly dysfunctional lifestyle to the person. How often do we allow sin, ‘uncleanness’, prejudice and a dysfunctional lifestyle, to keep us from touching the person with love, Jesus’ love?  Time for change?

4. Location, location, location

CHAPTER 4: Part 2A: The Samaritan Woman   – Contact & Questions

Short Meditations in John 4:  4. Location, location, location

Jn 4:4    Now he had to go through Samaria.

Understanding geography and indeed history in scripture is helpful. Roughly speaking, the land we call Israel was, in Jesus’ day divided into three main areas. In the south Judea, with Jerusalem, the capital of Israel being the all important centre in the land, a city with walls and gates and a massive temple inside. It was the administrative centre for Judaism. In the far north was Galilee, Jewish by all means but with accents of its own, distant from Jerusalem and therefore a land where dissidents could exist without too much interference from the rulers in Jerusalem.

And then, there in the centre of the land was this block simply known as Samaria. The residents of this central province historically were mixed race, only part Jewish, and who were therefore despised by the pure Jews. That is to be born in mind in what follows.

The city of Samaria had been built by king Omri, one of the kings of the divided ‘northern kingdom’ following the split after Solomon’s reign. A little under two centuries later, in 722BC, Samaria fell to the Assyrians which was, essentially, the end of the northern kingdom. The leading citizens were deported and others from other parts of the Assyrian empire were imported.

Worship of the Lord appears to have been continued in some measure by this people but when Jerusalem eventually fell and was then rebuilt, opposition came from the ruling classes in Samaria. The Jews returning to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, sought to re-establish their racial purity and objected to the now mixed ancestry in Samaria. In the years that followed the fortunes of the Samaritans waxed and waned and by this time that we are now observing, there were distinct divisions in national feelings in the different areas and generally the Jews of Judea or Galilee looked down on these ‘mixed-breed’ Jews of Samaria.  We will see more of their history as we read on in this chapter and so suffice it to say for the moment, that making their way north to Galilee they had to pass through this central province that was seen as very much a lesser part of the land, whose peoples were considered by the Jews as very much racially inferior.

We need to bear this in mind to understand the significance of some of the things that will follow shortly. Without this understanding we will fail to catch the wonder of what takes place. This is just another of those places in scripture where we Westerners need to spend a little time checking out the background to understand history, geography and culture of those we are reading about.  Without these things we will fail to understand the significance of what is going on.

8. The Water Dispenser

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   8. The Water Dispenser

John 4:10  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.”

Remember our goals here, to pick up on the big themes, the big ideas, the big concepts, the big pictures that John brings to us.  Thus when we look back over the previous chapters we see such concepts as life and transformation coming through again and again. Jesus brings ‘life’ and that life transforms situations, people and circumstances. Simon being changed to Peter, water being changed into wine, talk of resurrecting a dead body, new birth, talk of starting life all over again – life and transformation.

And so we come to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, in the midst of which we are going to find ourselves wrestling with the idea of living water. That is the big idea that is here. But what we start to note is that these ‘big idea’ come disguised in the midst of circumstances or in the midst of talking. Simon became Peter in the midst of talking. Water into wine came about because of circumstances, a crisis at a wedding. Talk of resurrection came about out of the circumstances of a temple upheaval followed by the talk about it. Talk of new birth came in the middle of a discussion.

We point this out because so often in Bible Study we focus on the details and miss the big things. Thus when we come to this incident there are things we could consider in the details but the big picture comes in a few words in the middle of it all.

The story starts in Judea but because of controversy Jesus decides to return to Galilee (see 4:1-3) To do that he has to pass through Samaria (v.4) He pauses outside a town, a place of some historical interest (v.5,6) and because he is tired he pauses up at a well and sends the disciples into town for provisions (v.6,8) These are the background details to this incident.

The incident itself involves a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water and Jesus asks her to give him water (v.7). This surprises her because Jews and Samaritans historically disliked each other and had as little to do with each other as possible (v.9) It is in this context that Jesus drops his bomb: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.” (v.10).

Now I think most of us, when we come to this story, revel in the details of it and the way Jesus goes on to open up this women by asking about her husband, and in so doing we skirt around the difficulty of understanding around the concept of “living water”. Just what does that mean? How can water live?

Consider the basic concept of life – movement. If something is alive, there is movement If a person is alive blood is pumping around the body and brain waves are detectable in the brain. There is movement. Living water is moving water as against still water, the water of a stream as against that of a pond. For drinking purposes the Jews preferred running water, living water.

But there is something else about this living water that we might not have noticed if Jesus hadn’t said it. Water slakes thirst but an hour later you are probably thirsty again, especially in a hot climate: “Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (v.13,14) Whatever it is that Jesus is referring to, it will bring a satisfaction that nothing else can bring. He explains how it will be so: “Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.14b)  i.e. when you receive this water it will start to become a continuous flow of life, a life source that will never end.

The criteria, quite obviously, to receive this living water is to be thirsty, but as this is not material water, if we can call it that, it must be spiritual water, and therefore we are talking about a spiritual thirst. Rarely do we see people who are truly hungry or thirsty for spiritual things but when we do they are obvious. I know a man, the only man in the church I belong to, who is showing real signs of spiritual hunger; he really yearns for whatever God has got and it is wonderful to behold. It is a sign that he is going to encounter the Lord in a new way and move on into a new dimension of experience with the Lord. (How many of us opt for sitting back, self-satisfied, content and complacent with what we’ve got and so, subsequently, have little? Pray that the Lord will stir a spiritual hunger and thirst in you).

This idea and promise is found in various places in the Bible. Near the end, “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Rev 21:6)  Isaiah had said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isa 12:3) Salvation will quench a thirst. The psalmist had also expressed it, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psa 42:1,2)  Isaiah brought further revelation from the Lord, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” (Isa 44;3)  This living water that satisfies will be the Holy Spirit. Zechariah had also prophesied, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (Zech 13:1) This living water will also cleanse and purify. Jeremiah chastised the people, “because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” (Jer 17:13) Yes, it was  familiar concept and the Lord Himself is the source of this water.

Now this concept takes us on a stage from what has gone before, because before it was simply Jesus speaking about transformation possibilities but now the possibility comes in response to our hunger and our seeking and is something we receive, and therein there is a responsibility conveyed. Instead of just speaking about this generally, it is like Jesus is offering this, holding it out for whoever will come.

The encouraging thing in this context is that it is being offered to a woman whose life is a wreck (see 4:16-18) and the implication is that this living water is available for anyone – but you have to acknowledge your state, you have to acknowledge your need; that is what hungering and thirsting is all about. Isaiah mixed a couple of word pictures to convey something about this: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isa 55:1) Thirst is the primary requirement but don’t think you can earn this gift; it comes free to those who realise they have nothing. Wow!

29. Water Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 29 : Jesus, bringer of Living Water

Jn 4:10-14 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.” ….Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you were an alien who had just arrived on earth and didn’t know what water was, John’s Gospel would be rather a mystery to you, because water keeps on cropping up.  Jesus was baptized in water (1:33), he turned water into wine (2:6-), he referred to our natural birth as birth of water (3:5), he speaks about water to this Samaritan woman (4:7-), he healed a man by a mystical pool of water (5:1-), he walked on water (6:19), he spoke about streams of water to refer to the coming Holy Spirit (7:38), he washed his disciples feet with water (13:5), water poured out when he was pierced  on the Cross (19:34), and his last miracle was on water (21:7).  What all this says is that water is very common. There is lots of it on the earth and we use it to drink, to wash, to cook with and to manufacture things. Without it we’d be dead.  Water is a vital and essential element of our lives.

The Samaritan woman has come looking for water, ordinary water from the well, but does Jesus sense another yearning in her? It’s a strange thing isn’t it, that we can have different yearnings. When we haven’t drunk for a while we’re thirsty, we yearn for water. In that respect water is symbolic of all the material things we need to stay alive. Yet the truth is that we find yearnings within us that go beyond material yearnings. We have yearnings for love, for beauty, for meaning in life. Without these things ‘life’ is very ‘dry’. The woman was very jaded about life. She’s been through a number of relationships which had all failed or passed. Whether her husbands left her or had died we aren’t told, but she’s had five already. Even for a Hollywood movie star that’s going some. More than that, she’s living with a man now who’s not her husband. For this woman life is unreliable and upsetting. When we form relationships we anguish when they end. This woman yearns for something permanent, something stable, something that will put security into her life, something that will transform it. She comes with at least two needs, therefore.

Jesus senses this and starts talking about ‘living water’.  Living water could first refer to spring water that bubbles up from the ground and she seems to understand it in this way first of all because she says he has nothing to draw up the water.  Jesus’ answer in our verses today indicates that his water is different, because when you drink it, you’ll never thirst again, i.e. if you take Jesus’ provision, all of your non-material yearnings will be for ever satisfied. This provision will remain in you and will act like a spring within you, constantly welling up and providing all you need. This ‘water’ is living, constantly self-perpetuating, never ending in supply.

Even as we mentioned above in John 7:38,39, Jesus referred to this water there and meant the Holy Spirit. There, and in the present passage, are two requirements to receive that ‘living water’: first that you thirst (Jn 7:37), that you have a deep yearning for something more that the material world cannot provide and, second, as seen in the story of the Samaritan woman, you face your state and recognize your need and see that only Jesus can satisfy it. Thus when we surrender to him, he gives us his own Holy Spirit, who lives within us and acts as a constant, never-ending supply of life from within, the ONLY real life satisfying supply.

28. Equality Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 28 : Jesus, bringer of Equality

Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?

Our world is riven with divisions of all sorts. It seems division is one of the ‘natural’ fruits of Sin. The first sin in the Garden of Eden demonstrated that. The couple were immediately divided from God (they hid from Him, Gen 3:8) and from each other (he blamed her, Gen 3:12).  In our world today we have prejudice – nationality against nationality, colour against colour, creed against creed etc. etc. – but also divisions at all levels of relational society – people against government or authority, employees versus employer, parent versus child.  Division is rife.

In Jesus day, the Samaritans were a sort of under-class in the eyes of the traditional Jews. Their history meant that they had become a mixed race and in Jewish eyes, inferior. Women were largely seen as the inferior gender and power and authority was mostly in male hands, and often badly used. A woman on her own in public was likely to be considered dubious, they was some probably dubious reason why she was on her own; three things that make this woman who appears at the well where Jesus was resting, questionable, a woman who a respectable male Jew would avoid. Not so Jesus.

Jesus had no problem crossing national, religious, class or cultural boundaries. He was happy to talk to Romans (Mt 8:5-), Greeks (Mk 7:26), Samaritans, (4:7), civic leaders (Jn 3:1), blind beggars (Jn 9:1-), the morally strict (Mk 12:13-), the religiously liberal (Mk 12:18-), and the morally lax (Lk 15:1); Jesus came to ‘the world’.

It is perhaps easy to say this or write this, but the truth is that Jesus did it but we find it incredibly difficult.  What would be the person or people you would find it difficult to speak to?  Would it be the member of the Royal family?  Would it be a powerful company director?  Would it be a way-out pop star?  Would it be a heavy metal addict?  Would it be a drug addict?  Would it be an alcoholic?  Would it be an AIDS infected person? Would it be a known criminal?  Would it be a wife beater? Would it be a paedophile? Would it be a Nazi, a Communist, a Conservative, a Socialist, or a Liberal?  Would it be a beggar or simply someone unemployed? Would it be someone mentally retarded or physically disabled? Would it be a homosexual? Would it be an adulterer? Would it be a pornographer? Would they be black or white or brown? Would they be Muslim, Hindu or Jew? Would they be French or German or Spanish or a hundred other nationalities?  If they came hungry and seeking, Jesus would not have a problem with any of these and hundreds of other types or groups that you might think of.

How did Jesus relate so easily to this woman in our verse today?  First of all he knew he has something that could bless her: 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.’ (v.10). He also knew her plight: you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband (v.18). That was true of whoever came to Jesus. He knew he had resources to bless them and he knew their situation and their plight. Jesus came into the world to reveal God’s love – to whoever!  We struggle to get past a person’s colour, their clothes, their appearance, their language, their expressions, their background, their philosophy of life, their quirks, and their unpleasantness, but Jesus sees past all of that and sees what they could become when they know his Father.

25 Samaritan Woman

People who met Jesus : 25 :  The Samaritan Woman

Jn 4:4-10 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar …..  tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well….. 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.”

As we come to consider the lady in our verses today her very designation is what makes her stand out. Like the crippled lady we considered previously she is someone who Jesus approached, not someone who came to Jesus. The first part of her designation is quite natural. This is the province of Samaria and so anyone who came from the little town would be likely to be a Samaritan. Nothing strange there! The emphasis is made because Jesus was a Jew and the Jews and Samaritans never got on. There is not space here to go into their history; sufficient to say there was hostility between them. We see Jesus here crossing racial, cultural and social divides in approaching this woman and her response to his request confirms this.

Now Jesus doesn’t simply say something like, “Oh, racial divides mean nothing to me.” Instead he drops an enigmatic bombshell in front of her. There are two areas where you are ignorant, is what he is saying gently. First you don’t know what God wants to give you and, second, you don’t realise that I am the one who can bring you that gift! If you had realised these two things, you wouldn’t be questioning me about social niceties, you would be asking for the gift that I alone can give you.

I think if Jesus had said that to me out of the blue I would have stood there with my mouth open wondering about it. What is he talking about? This woman ploughs in where angels fear to tread and takes what he says literally and starts questioning him about the practicality of him drawing water for her. Jesus doesn’t respond to that but declares, Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13,14)

Now she may not understand this for her answer seems to suggest that she is still thinking in material terms, but who knows, she might be glimpsing what he means: “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.” (v.15) Now she may be unclear but Jesus decides to take her on in the process. To receive eternal life, something else has to happen first so he asks something (even though he knows the answer), “He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (v.16) to which she replies, “I have no husband.” (v.17). Well that’s the first sign of honesty, of willing to face her situation.

But then Jesus reveals that he knows all about her: “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.” (v.17,18) When we come to Jesus, when we start thinking about becoming a Christian, coming to God, however else you might express it, we need to realise that He knows all about us already, so there is no point in trying to hide anything from Him. To this she responds that he must be a prophet and in the dialogue that follows the subject of the Jewish Messiah comes up and Jesus declares, “I who speak to you am he,” (v.26) one of his most specific claims. Her response was to go and tell the people back in the town what had happened.

As with so many of these encounters, they often reveal more about Jesus than they do about the person meeting him, yet there is more to be considered about her. Yes, she may be summed up as a lady with a less than stable background. The fact that she’s had (and been rejected by five husbands – for that is how Jewish divorce took place) indicates that here is a lady who either feels rejected by life, or who doesn’t care what people think anyway.

We make that latter comment because, of course, another reason for her being divorced five times is that she could have been found guilty of adultery. Now according to the Jewish law that should have resulted in stoning but it seems fairly clear from the Gospels that the moral state of the land was not good when John the Baptist came, so it is not unlikely that that was not followed. Her willingness to dialogue (argue) with Jesus almost suggests that the latter is more likely. She does not appear to have low self esteem, which would follow from being rejected five times. It seems more that she is forthright and has actually been in control of her destiny. It is her folly, therefore, that has brought her thus far – where she is living (as it used to be said) ‘in sin’ with yet another man.

Now what is remarkable about all this is that Jesus clearly knows all about her and is not in any way put off. Indeed, to the contrary, he seeks to minister to her need and show her the way to eternal life. This is Jesus who not only steps over racial and cultural boundaries but who steps over all boundaries to seek the lost. He will not do or say anything that makes him like the people he seeks to reach, but he will love and accept them just like they are as he reaches out to them. Only thus can they receive God’s love and be changed.

However ‘bad’ our life, Jesus loves us and desires to reach out and save us. That must be one of the primary messages of this account. The challenge to us who are his disciples is, will we do the same?