28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.John 4:28-34
A. [John 4:28f.] “Come and see!”
The lepers were in absolute despair because, although they were outside the city of Samaria — about 6 miles from Jacob’s well at Sychar — they were still inside the Syrian seige line and as famished as those in the city. They reasoned that they might as well throw themselves onto the mercy of the Syrians for “If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” But the Syrians neither spared their lives nor killed them for they were gone; having been spooked by sounds heard in the night; and leaving their camp behind them intact.
At first the lepers ate and drank, hiding gold and silver as they found it, starting in one tent and going on to another. Until they realised what they were doing:-
Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.”2 Kgs. 7:9
So they went and told.
Hundreds of years later, the Samaritan woman — who was a different kind of social outcast — found herself, figuratively speaking, in the same place as the lepers. There was something her townsfolk desperately needed to hear and — if truth be told — something that she desperately needed to tell. She went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”
By “All that I ever did.” the woman meant what everybody in town knew but didn’t talk about; a shame that they certainly wouldn’t have discussed with strangers. Nevertheless:-
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”Jn. 4:16-18
What she was doing publicly was what she’d have only done privately to her husband if she’d been regularly married for a married woman would never have acted thus independently; it just wasn’t done. Likewise, it rings true that she asked the townsfolk to make a judgement rather than telling them what their judgement ought to be: “Can this be the Christ?”
Now, I know that Jesus had told her that he was the Messiah, so she knew; but asking a question shows that she knows her audience. We have some evidence that more people are awakened to seek God by hearing a preacher who seems to know all about them than from listening to a lesson, however orthodox, that’s all about God.
The action that speaks loudest to us about the urgency she felt is that the woman left her water jar at the well.
So what about us? Are we preoccupied with our necessary but mundane tasks — because the water jar in the house must be kept full — so that Jesus has gone by the time we get round to telling? Or perhaps we really need to tell ‘somebody‘; only not ‘them‘: can’t we go far away and tell people there about Jesus? Or most likely: isn’t it somebody else’s job to tell the people we live with about Jesus? Probably not.
B. [John 4: 32-34] Contentment in service
Meanwhile, in contrast to the woman asking the right question, the disciples were engaged in asking the wrong question: “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” to which the only possible answer — given that they’d all gone mob-handed to get food themselves — was, “How should I know?” Asking such a question was displacement activity when what they should really have been asking was, “What was that conversation with the woman at the well all about?”
The irony is that when Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” They had exactly the right question fossilised in their history to ask about ‘bread from heaven’: “Manna?” literally means “What is it?” It is a salutary lesson to us that before they were given the Holy Spirit, the disciples were no better at asking the right question than we naturally are. At the same time as the last person we would have chosen to evangelise is asking, “Can this be the Christ?” the first people we would look to to give us answers are asking, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”
I’m convicted; how about you?
However God has compassion on our weaknesses and so Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” And that’s something to think about deeply and searchingly: “Would such an appetite be an energising source of life to me too?”
There is a fashion at the minute, of adding choruses to classic hymns in order to give them a new lease of life. It’s not a new idea; two verses — the first and last — of an Isaac Watts hymn were somewhat invigorated with a new tune and additional words:-
There is a land of pure delight,
where saints immortal reign;
infinite day excludes the night,
and pleasures banish pain.
I’m feeding on the Living Bread;
I’m drinking at the Fountainhead;
and, “He who drinketh,” Jesus said,
“will never, never thirst again.”
Could we but climb where Moses stood,
and view the landscape o’er,
not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
should fright us from the shore!
We’re marching through Immanuel’s Ground;
We soon shall hear the trumpet’s sound;
and then we shall with Jesus reign
and never, never part again.
C. [John 4:30f.] Converging demands
I’ve got a theory about why the disciples were urging Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” and it isn’t that they were concerned about his welfare. A parent with plans to get out is liable to be irritated rather than concerned when their child thwarts the agenda by not eating and likewise, I think, these were disciples in a hurry desperate to get back to Galilee and anxious about being in Samaria a second later than they had to be.
Besides all that the disciples had gone out of their way to get this food and the whole idea of leaving Jesus by the well was — I think — to prevent him from preaching to a hostile crowd and so that they could make a quick getaway. And after all, the mission was to real Jews, wasn’t it? Not to foreigners; not to Greek-speaking Hellenists; and certainly not to Samaritans.
Are there any of us who can claim never to have felt frustrated when God doesn’t go along with the good spiritual plan that we’ve drawn up for ourselves? Ps. 31:15a — My times are in your hand — might be one of the foundational confessions of both Israel and the Christian Church but as soon as we have what we think is a better idea we go seriously off the road.
Funny— isn’t it? — that the men we think of as the first evangelists failed to notice any signs that Sychar was ready to hear the good news; whereas the social outcast with the terrible reputation went and told everyone about Jesus, seemingly as a matter of course. Yet similar patterns of events are constantly happening and even with the help of the Holy Spirit, it is frequently the case that the most experienced of evangelists are left asking themselves, “How did that just happen?” Conversely, there are times when a whole community moves as one person; just like the people of Sychar heading for the well en masse, as soon as they heard the woman’s report. Such movements when widespread and sustained are what we call revivals.
In striking similarity to this awakening at Sychar, the eighteenth century methodist revival in England broke out in the supposedly-dead, established Church of England whereas the Old Dissenters — with Disciple-like suspicion of Anglican pretentions — held themselves aloof.
Any ritual or habitual, manufactured stillness tends to become an end in itself with no way to distinguish between people playing ‘holier than thou’ and those genuinely moved by the Spirit. It goes without saying that the same holds true when displays of synthetic, worked-up joyfulness are de rigueur. There are always some people who are more spiritually-aware than others; if you know of such, keep an eye out for them and take your cue from them. Perhaps Jesus of Nazareth is passing by; perhaps he is knocking at the door; it could be that a field is ready for harvest and labourers are required now. Be prepared.