I trust that most of us are now pretty familiar with this story and perhaps relieved that this will be our last look at this incident between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
For those who are not so familiar with it, Jesus, on one occasion, rested by a well near a Samaritan town while His disciples went into the town to get food. Jews did not generally travel through Samaria because they despised the Samaritan people. At midday a Samaritan woman approached the well. We surmise that she came in the midday heat because she was not welcome to come with the other women in the cool of the morning or evening, and we find out in the story that she has had five husbands and is currently with a man who is not her husband. So there were all sorts of cultural and moral reasons why Jesus should not have talked to her. Jewish men did not talk to women in public – certainly not Samaritan women and more certainly not one who would be seen as immoral.
But Jesus broke the rules and did talk to her, because He cared about her. He talked to her about the thirst in her life and how He could provide what He called “living water” and said that this living water would satisfy her thirst forever. The climax of their conversation came when Jesus told her that He was the Messiah. At just that point, the disciples returned; the woman went back to the town to tell people about a person she described as having told her everything she had ever done in her life. She would return with many of her townspeople in tow but while she was away, Jesus took the opportunity to talk to His disciples about evangelism.
Some of us are very good at sharing our faith. Others of us aren’t. I know that some of us have been conditioned to switch off when evangelism is mentioned because we have already decided it is not for us. There is too much pressure and guilt associated with it. We have made our decisions: it is not for us. To avoid the guilt we block our ears.
You have my permission to switch off but can I make an honest plea to you first? I believe this fundamentally is a question of obedience. We have been commissioned – employed by Jesus – to make disciples. Can we just say, ‘No”? Can we claim to be Christians if we don’t do what Jesus says?
You may switch off if you want to but can I ask you to instead say, “This subject frightens me. I feel inadequate but, at the same time, I want to be obedient to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for me. It is only right that I give my life to Him. Jesus, I am nervous but please teach me and work in me. I am listening.”
Maybe Jesus’ teaching to the disciples will be very pertinent to us. Maybe, if we learn from Jesus, we can be transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we do not simply say ‘no” to Him.
1. The reality of the spiritual
The disciples urged Jesus to eat. Why are they so anxious? It sounds as if Jesus really had been quite weak. They were genuinely concerned for His wellbeing and a little worried. “Jesus, eat something.”
Notice Jesus’ reply: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Does He have a secret supply that He is not sharing with them? Has someone brought Him food?
Remember, Jesus offered the woman living water that would satisfy her forever but all she could think of was well water. Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical. He was talking about the spiritual.
Go back a chapter to John 3. Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again – a spiritual rebirth – but Nicodemus had no idea and simply asked how a grown man could go back into his mother’s womb.
Here Jesus talks about spiritual food but the disciples – like the woman, like Nicodemus – just don’t get it. They hear “food”, they think of natural food. There’s a pattern here. In every instance, these people show remarkable ignorance of the spiritual – laughable ignorance. Yet, in every case, the spiritual is more important than the physical. Being born again spiritually is more important than being born. The living water is more important than the well water.
During His temptation, Jesus said that people do not live on bread alone. Physical food is not enough. We need spiritual food. People do not live on bread alone but one every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. To be truly alive we need to hear from God. We need to be alert to the whole spiritual realm. We need to hear the gospel of salvation. We need to hear about God’s holiness and His judgement but we also need to hear about His mercy and grace; His willingness to forgive us and make us His children.
The Jews were a much more spiritual people than we are. If Jesus could say that the disciples knew nothing of this type of spiritual food, how much more must that be true of modern westerners? By-and-large, we are doubly ignorant of spiritual things. Our society prides itself on being scientific. Only those things that can be seen and measured are real.
The first thing Jesus says to us is to open our eyes to the reality of the spiritual.
As soon as we do that, we are brought face-to-face with issues of God and eternity. God is spirit. What is He like? Is there life after death? Will everyone go to heaven? Is there a hell? If there is, what must I do to be saved?
If we know the answers to those questions, then we must have concern for people, for their lives now and for their eternity. We must be anxious to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We cannot understand spiritual things and be blasé about evangelism.
Jesus challenges the disciples to not think only in terms of physical things. Life is not simply about eating and drinking, making money and dying. There is so much more in terms of the spiritual dimension.
If we are to be spiritual people then the next point becomes important.
2. The joy of obedience
The disciples had left Jesus weary and weak. Now he is energised and alert and on fire. What had made the difference? He spelt it out for them: the food I am talking about is to do the will of God and to complete that work.
Remember at the beginning of this story we read that He had to go through Samaria. He didn’t really have to. He could have gone around Samaria. But He did have to because God had work for Him to do. Obedience required it but obedience also energised Him.
We all know that we can be tired or hungry but something that we find motivating can give us new energy. We might completely forget that we had been hungry. Again, it illustrates the difference between the physical and the spiritual. The physical seems so real. We spend most of our lives looking after the physical and yet the spiritual proves to be even more real. The spiritual can completely overshadow the physical. Physical food sustains us physically but spiritual food sustains us in every way, including the physical.
Jesus’ food was to do the will of God and to finish His work. Real satisfaction comes from knowing that we are doing the will of God and from seeing that through to the end. Do you have this sort of joy and satisfaction and energy because you are doing God’s will? The greatest joy – the greatest motivating, energising thing – is to be working with God, obedient to what His is asking of us.
If we have decided that evangelism is not for us, is it possible that if we were actually obedient, we would discover what Jesus talked about here – that it is the most satisfying, energising things we could do?
3. The urgency of the harvest
Apparently the Jews used to say, “Four months and it will be harvest.” Jesus said, “Open your eyes. The fields are ripe for harvest.”
There is no doubt that the harvest Jesus is talking about is evangelism. That is the context for this little lesson and Jesus talked about harvesting a crop for eternal life.
Jesus’ message here is very clear: The fields are ripe for harvest. It is easy for us to think, “One day we will do it when we feel a bit better equipped. People are not very receptive just now. We will wait for a move of God. Then we will talk about Jesus.” Jesus says, “It is urgent. The fields are ripe now.” What happens if the harvest isn’t brought in? It is wasted. There is no time to lose. People now are ready to come to know Jesus.”
Is that still true? You might remember I told you about a photographer friend of our daughter who became a Christian and started telling others and discovered that some of the people she told said, “I too have been thinking about spiritual things recently but didn’t know who to talk to.” The fields are ripe for harvest. People are waiting for someone to talk to. Let’s not make excuses.
4. The focus of the team
Jesus said, “Even now those who reap draw their wages, even now they harvest a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” The sower and the reaper have different roles and their tasks are separated by some months but they have one purpose: that a great harvest might be brought in. Reaping is more glamorous. Reaping is the time of celebration. Reaping is the ultimate goal. Sowing is hard work with no immediate result but does that make the reaper more important than the sower? Not at all. Without the sower, the reaper would have nothing to reap. Both roles are crucial; both are acknowledged; both rejoice because both were working for the harvest. Jesus said that the disciples were reaping the benefits of others’ hard work.
Maybe He was looking back at the work of John the Baptist, or even further back to the work done by the prophets. Now the disciples will have the joy of the harvest but they reap the results of others labour.
Evangelism, disciple-making is a team sport. People have different roles. Some might have an influence early. Others are there when the decision is made but everybody wants to see the harvest and rejoices in the harvest and everybody is acknowledged.
Suppose you were down the street one day and you came across Jesus talking to a woman who then left but you can see that she is lit up by the conversation she has had with Jesus. Imagine Jesus beckoned you and said, “Let me tell you some things about evangelism” and He told you these four things. How would you respond if Jesus said to you…
Don’t be preoccupied with only physical life. Open your eyes to the spiritual which is more important.
Does being aware of spiritual realities motivate us to share those realities with others? The gospel itself is the power of God for salvation. Jesus has promised to be with us. Those are spiritual realities.
How would you respond if Jesus said that if you do what God is asking you to do, you will find yourself energised in ways that physical food can never match?
Is it possible that obeying God by sharing the gospel and making disciples might turn out to be the most exciting things we ever do? It is not only possible; it is a certainty. There is no blessing in disobedience. There is huge blessing in obedience.
How would you respond if Jesus said “The harvest is urgent. The fields are ripe now.”?
Would you put your shoulders back and say, “Then I must start now”?
How would you respond if Jesus said, “You are not alone. Others are working too. Others have already done a lot of the hard work. Just join in because everyone who works for the harvest will be part of the celebration when the harvest comes in.”?