5 He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food. 9 The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.) 10 Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.” 17 The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.” “You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered.18 “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.” 19 The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way.24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.” 27 Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus. 31 In the meantime the disciples spoke to Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” 33 The disciples asked each other, “Has someone brought him food?” 34 Jesus said to them, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it’s time for harvest’? Look, I tell you: open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest. 36 Those who harvest are receiving their pay and gathering fruit for eternal life so that those who sow and those who harvest can celebrate together. 37 This is a true saying, that one sows and another harvests. 38 I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work.” 39 Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:5-42, Common English Bible).
A week ago, one of the most notorious killers in American history died of natural causes. Without question, Charles Manson was a sociopath who has attracted a large cult following. But, our society is better for the loss of a man whose criminal career began when he was thirteen years old. He was 83 when he died last Sunday.
Few people in our country have lost sleep over the passing of Manson. To say that the overwhelming majority of our citizens disliked him would probably be an understatement. Not only did his actions show hatred, a lack of remorse and a continued risk of danger for people had he ever been paroled from prison. I fail to understand how rational thinking people can idolize a cold blooded killer including one woman who wanted to marry Manson before his death.
A few years ago another infamous person in our country passed away. He was the head of what the BBC called, “The Most Hated Family in America.” March 19, 2014, Fred Phelps, former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church passed away at the age of 84.
Much like with Manson, there have been few tears shed by average Americans over Phelps. Not only did the actions of him and his congregation spew a message of hate, their actions left decency in the rear-view mirror as they protested on numerous occasions with messages against homosexuality, particularly at the funerals of fallen soldiers and others as well as at other occasions that might gain the church, and I use that term very loosely, a few headlines. I never have quite figured out the connection between homosexuality and funerals of fallen soldiers except perhaps as shock value.
To be clear, I was never a fan of Phelps or his church. I found their actions to be despicable and distasteful. More than once I preached about the message of hate from his congregation as they chanted their most famous quote, still the name of their webpage “God Hates…” and has a pretty crude word following. The basic context of my sermon was, God, who the Bible said is love, doesn’t hate anybody. God may not like some of the things we and others do, but God does not hate any of his children. To say otherwise is not only bad theology, it is bad Bible.
I would not have been surprised of the world would have ignored Phelps death and just moved on. The world does that pretty regularly. Seeing all the traffic on the highway just outside the cemetery following the funeral for a good friend, I remember thinking, “Hey people, slow down a minute. Don’t you realize Bob is dead?” The truth was, the world didn’t really care Bob was dead because the world didn’t know Bob was dead. The world, for that matter didn’t even know Bob.
The world did know Fred Phelps and Charles Manson, but the world wasn’t better off by that knowledge. Knowing how most people felt, when I heard Phelps had died, I figured people would say something to the effect of, “Good riddance,” and then go on. From what I understand, that is pretty much what the world is saying about Manson as not even his family is claiming the body.
I was surprised by the vile hatred that went out from so many people on social media in regard to Phelps. But, it went even further to members of his family that had been estranged from Phelps for years. I read comments like, “Burn in hell!” and that was one of the nicer comments. There was little in the way of condolences for members of the family, including Nathan Phelps, who was the most famous of the Phelps runaways. He posted online his father passed away and few made even surface attempts to offer comfort to a man who had just lost his father. Instead, there were those crying out for payback by having the largest protest ever done, at the funeral of Fred Phelps. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was a sentiment forgotten in favor of, “Do unto others as they have already done to you.” That reading was both sad and at the same time shined a bright light on the state of the human condition.
The human condition, we want to stay angry. We don’t want reconciliation. We would prefer to hate. We don’t want to forgive. We refuse to believe there is any grace for people like Charles Manson and Fred Phelps. The family of Sharon Tate is still angry for her murder at the hands of “The Manson Family.” At least to a degree I understand. Still, it happened almost fifty years ago.
I wish I could say all this was by non-Christians but the truth is, when it comes to someone we love to hate, Christians are no different from the rest of the world. We may sing, “The Will Know We are Christians by Our Love,” but that love will only go so far and is really reserved for just certain people.
We tend to believe there is a special place in hell for despicable people like Manson and Phelps. The truth is, if that is the case for people like Charles Manson and Fred Phelps, that same spot might just be reserved for you and me as well. Why, you ask? Well, in truth, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
“Well preacher, I haven’t done anything like those two terrible people. Sure, I might tell a lie every now and then. I would really like to have my neighbor’s bass boat. You know, those little sins. But I haven’t killed anybody. I haven’t desecrated a fallen soldier’s funeral. You know, those big sins.”
I have a quick news flash for you. Have you noticed that “Thou shall not kill,” and “Thou shall not bear false witness,” (that is lying folks) and “Thou shall not covet,” (that is desiring your neighbor’s bass boat) are all on the same list God gave to Moses? They are. It is my guess that in the eyes of God those all weigh about the same.
The thing is we all like to weigh sin as if it were crime. Some are worse than others. It is worse to rob a bank than to steal a pack of gum. One will send you to prison; the other will probably cost you a fine and a few days in jail. They aren’t the same.
They are to God. Stealing is stealing. And, for the most part, sin is sin. The exceptions being, what Jesus said was the only unforgiveable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and the opposite of what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” A case could be made for the hating of Charles Manson and Fred Phelps being a greater sin, or at least an equal sin to their sin.
We think how terrible this person is. And, we are right. But, too often, we are more concerned about the splinter in their eye and ignoring the log in our own.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus and the disciples are making their way back to Galilee, but to get there they traveled through Samaria. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were seen as half-breeds. Jews who married foreigners and therefore were less than pure and for the Jews, purity and cleanliness were of upmost importance. So, any good Jew wanted as little to do with Samaritans as possible.
Jesus and the disciples come to the Samaritan town of Sychar. Once there, Jesus remains at the well outside of town and the disciples go in. It is about noon when a woman comes out to retrieve water. The scene wouldn’t be unusual, women came to the well to retrieve water all the time, the timing of the woman’s trip is curious. It was the heat of the day. Most women, and hauling water was women’s work, came early in the morning or closer to sunset. They came when it wasn’t quite so hot. This woman, however, comes during the heat of the day. Many of us would might wonder why.
For his part Jesus doesn’t ask about that. We soon learn he didn’t need to. He already knew the answer. All Jesus does, is ask for a drink of water. Now the woman is curious. She recognizes Jesus as a Jew and she knows the score and questions why a Jew, would ask anything of her, a woman of Samaria. Jesus tells her if she knew who he was, he would give her living water. She doesn’t understand. How he would draw water. He had no bucket and the well is deep. He tells her those who drink the water he offers will never be thirsty again. Now he has her attention. She thinks, no more going to the well in the hot noon-day sun. Obviously she still doesn’t get it.
Jesus doesn’t press the matter and changes the subject. He tells her, “Go get your husband.” She replies that she has no husband.
In my mind I can see Jesus smile a bit. “You are right.” Then the other shoe drops. “You have had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not your husband.” Jesus exposes her sin. She asks if he is a prophet. In a roundabout way he says he isn’t a prophet. He is the Messiah. The woman goes into town telling everyone she meets, “Come and meet the man who knows everything I ever did.”
As I see the story it occurred to me, what the woman found was more than water. Jesus’ offer of Living Water was an offer of grace. The lesson never says Jesus forgave her sins but it seems implied to me. She received grace, she received forgiveness. How do I know? She is willing to tell her story, warts and all. That is grace.
As Christians we love this story. We love it because we all want the forgiveness the woman received. We love it because we want grace.
As I have thought about this story as I prepared this message, an image came to me from something the woman said, “The well is deep.” Of course she was right. The well was literally deep. Most wells are. But, I also got to thinking; the well of God’s grace is deep too. That is Good News. We too can receive forgiveness for sin.
But, it isn’t in our lesson but it is in the Bible. If we are going to receive grace, we have to give grace. If we are to receive forgiveness, we have to give forgiveness. The implication there is if we don’t forgive we will not be forgiven. Jesus says in Luke 6, “forgive and you will be forgiven.” We prayed just minutes ago, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, we are asking God to forgive us in the same way we are willing to forgive those who wronged us.
Falling hand in hand with forgiveness is repenting, asking forgiveness from those we have wronged. Sometime ago, I started feeling guilty about treating a high school classmate poorly. It took me a while to find and make contact but when I did I asked forgiveness. The classmate did forgive me and I know by faith God forgave me as well.
Here is what I want you to do. We all wronged someone as I did with my classmate. Ask forgiveness from them. It may take effort to find them, but do it. You may not find them. If you can’t, or if they have passed from this life, write them a letter asking their forgiveness. You won’t hear them say you are forgiven but even if you find them they may not forgive you. In that moment, however, it becomes their problem, not yours. You humbled yourself and asked for forgiveness. It’s all you can do.
Another thing, be ready. If someone comes to you and asks your forgiveness, be ready to give it as my classmate gave forgiveness to me.
Whatever you do, in any of these circumstances, you will feel better for the effort. I know God will bless you for the effort by lowering a bucket deep into the well of grace and pour that grace upon you. You will drink the living water.
I can’t tell you whether Charles Manson or Fred Phelps ever felt the grace Jesus called living water in this story or not. That isn’t my job or really my concern. What I do know is this, the well is deep, even for the likes of those two. God makes the decisions about who drinks the Living Water. We just know the well is deep.
I also know that as people of faith we need to find it within ourselves to forgive even those two. We don’t forgive for their sake, but for our own. We forgive for peace in our hearts. We forgive because God asks us to do so. It isn’t always easy. No one ever said a life in faith is easy. Se we work at it, and we forgive.
We forgive because each time we do, we dip back into the well of grace, we drink the Living water and the well is deep.