John 4: 5-42
Next week I’m going to be “walking in her shoes” – raising money and awareness to help women and girls who have to walk many miles a day to fetch water for their families. The challenge for me is to walk 10,000 steps a day, sponsored, to raise money for Care International.
It is still the reality for many in the developing world that the search for water dominates life. For example, Eliza, in South Sudan, is just seven years old, but must travel through dangerous scrubland where snakes pose a real danger. Greater still is the risk to her health from the water itself. It is stagnant and filthy and sickness is common. Eliza has no time for school. Like so many girls she bears the responsibility for domestic chores, carrying a heavy load to quench her family’s thirst.
Care International provides equipment such as solar-powered wells for villages, so that women and girls do not have to walk so far for water.
Without help, water dominates the thoughts and activities of many women in our world.
This is nothing new – we heard from John’s gospel the story of a woman fetching water. But Jesus uses her need for, and pre-occupation with, water to start her thinking about her real needs.
Jesus meets the woman, they get to talking about something ordinary - water – but slowly the woman realizes that this person Jesus is extraordinary and it slowly dawns on her that he could be the Messiah. And so off she goes to tell other people what she has found.
If you look at the gospel of John as a whole, you find that this idea of meeting Jesus and having to decide for yourself what you are looking for, what you need, and what you have found in Jesus is a recurring theme.
John uses a recurring pattern of encounters with Jesus which lead either to belief in him, a realization that Jesus can supply your need, or to conflict, as people turn away in search of other things.
John makes no secret of the reason for his gospel, towards the end (after the resurrection) he writes “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”. Throughout the gospel John refers to many things that Jesus did not as miracles, but as ‘signs’, which help people to believe in him as the Messiah from God: the one who has come to supply our needs.
So how do these signs work to convince us about Jesus?
Fasten your seat-belts for a whistle-stop tour.
John begins by setting his stall out in the prologue - he is clear about who Jesus is: and equally clear that John the Baptist is NOT the Messiah.
Then comes the first 'sign' that Jesus is the Messiah (the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana) followed immediately by Jesus overturning the tables in the temple (a story that John puts near the start of Jesus’ ministry, not near the end as other gospels do).
Jesus next has the conversation with Nicodemus, who comes to him by night seeking answers, followed by an argument about baptism.
Then Jesus has today’s conversation with the woman at the well, and this is closely followed by the second sign (the healing of official's son) & the third sign (the healing of the man at the pool of Bethsaida) followed by an argument about healing on the Sabbath & statements about Jesus' authority.
Next come the fourth sign (the feeding of the 5000) & the fifth sign (Jesus walking on the water), and these are followed by 'grumbles' about Jesus saying he is the bread of life. Again Jesus talks of himself as the one who supplies real need.
There then follows a really strange interlude about Jesus' brothers trying to force him into the open at the festival of shelters (ch 7) & Jesus' teaching there, followed by the much better known story of the woman caught in adultery, which results in more conflict, concluding with people picking up stones to kill Jesus (end of ch 8).
The sixth sign is the healing of the man born blind (again, on a Sabbath), followed by the Pharisees investigating the event.
Jesus teaches about his being 'the good shepherd' & this is followed by the rejection of Jesus & more threats of stoning.
The seventh sign is the raising of Lazarus, followed by more talk of 'the plot to kill Jesus', the anointing of Jesus by a woman, before his death, at Bethany, and a plot to kill Lazarus, so that the seventh sign won’t be able to be proved.
The final chapters of the gospel are taken up with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem & the last week of Jesus' life, including the longest stretch of teaching from the Last Supper in any of the gospels.
It seems to me there is a constant ebb and flow of signs of Jesus' identity leading to people 'believing in him' as the answer to their need, contrasted with the opposition to Jesus.
Given that John himself says that the purpose of the gospel is that people will put their faith in Jesus as Messiah & have eternal life, perhaps it is not surprising that John won't let us sit on the fence about Jesus, but forces a choice –
Either Jesus is the son of God to believe in, or Jesus is a heretic to be eliminated.
This was the choice facing the woman at the well, the choice facing everyone who met Jesus, the choice facing us. Indifference is not an option. Will you reject Jesus, decide this is all just nonsense? Or will you believe in Jesus as the Son of God who can do and say these amazing things that show us the light of God’s love?
What are you looking for, what do you need in life? Water, bread, care, …? Jesus tells us that he can answer all these needs: he is the one who will give us living water, true bread, who will be our good shepherd. Because Jesus is the one who brings us not just the stuff we need to keep us going in life, but Jesus offers eternal life – life in all its fullness.
So whatever your needs for the day, give thanks that you can celebrate God’s living water offered to you in Jesus – and be ready to share the good news of that life with all you meet.
In Jesus’ name.