JESUS AND THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
THE 28TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHRISTIAN COUNSELLING CENTER, NASSAU
Congratulations to the Christian Counselling Center, sponsored by the Calvary Bible Church, for twenty-eight (28) years of helping ‘hurting’ people on the islands of New Providence and Abaco. The Christian Counselling Center is an exemplary model of Christian witness. A non-denominational, local church enabled, fee-paying, nonprofit that does not turn away anyone who is not able to pay yet remains financially viable year after year because of contributions of the concerned.
We salute Pastor and Mrs. Frederick Arnett for consistent, continuous, committed leadership and dedication. This is a demonstration of real faith which gives up the material gain for Christian service sustained over these 28 years. To leave behind a life of secure income for the uncertainty of full-time ministry requires real faith in the fact that God is no man’s debtor. Pastor and Mrs. Arnett, you inspire us all.
Probably the most appropriate way to understand and celebrate the work of the Christian Counselling Centre here in Nassau, Bahamas, and its relation to the Calvary Bible Church, is to understand its essence and to do so from a Biblical perspective. Counselling is a conversation. It’s a very personal and private conversation that takes place over time. It must be confidential. The intended outcome is the transformed life of a hurting person.
This morning, therefore, I wish to look at the well-known story reported in John Chapter 4. This Chapter is often referred to like Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It is actually the longest personal conversation reported in the New Testament. It is the conversation between Jesus and an unnamed woman who was from the village of Sychar in Samaria. The conversation occurs at a well, the source of water for the village. It is a private conversation. They are alone at the well. There can be no better source of learning about counselling than from our Lord, Master and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Let us go through the verses of John Chapter 4 in order to follow this long, private, personal, confidential conversation which reveals not the essence of the elements of counselling but also its intended purpose and hope for an outcome. The sequence of the steps and the shifts in the conversation are most instructive. Remember the counsellor is Jesus. A Samaritan woman is a hurting person. She is not the immoral woman she is often portrayed to be. I am reading from the King James Version.
Verse 4: THE COMPULSION: JESUS MUST NEEDS GO THROUGH SAMARIA
- Jews journeying between Judea and Galilee usually went around Samaria. It was a long way around, but this long way avoided contact and conversation between Jews and Samaritans. Going through Samaria was shorter, but the physical distance was not what compelled Jesus. Jesus was not taking a short-cut. He was cutting across the long historical divide that had existed between Jews and Samaritans. This long historical distance was religious. The Samaritans were the remnant of ten Tribes that was left behind after Sargon II had cream of the elite of those tribes. Moreover, that remnant had inter-married with pagans moving into the area and had adopted some of their pagan culture and religious practices. To the faithful Jews who had returned under Persian sponsorship, the Samaritans were mongrels. In Bahamian terms, Samaritans were pot-cakes.
- Verse 4 states that Jesus ‘must need to go through’ Samaria. He was returning to Galilee after spending some time in Judea. Verse 4 is clear. There was compulsion in the return journey that Jesus took. Jesus was tired when he arrived at the well. This makes it appear that the compulsion was a physical necessity. But the rest of the Chapter does not support this first impression. We are living in a world in which first impressions often dominate. But the fact is that first impressions are not always true. It is necessary to take second, third and even fourth looks.
- Jesus’s journey through Samaria was neither incidental or accidental. Samaria had to be included in the Good News of the Gospel. Samaria was in God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Jesus is intentionally taking the short-cut through Samaria but for reason of God’s providence and grace. In John Chapter 4 Jesus the absolutely obedient son is acting in accordance with the Father’s plan to include Samaria in the opportunity for redemption offered through Christ. In Acts Chapter 1 verse 8 Jesus commands His disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the utmost part of the earth.
- The woman at the well is unnamed, not because she is unimportant but, because she is representative of how God’s will and purpose is worked out by human agency. The working out of God’s purpose and providence requires individual agency. It requires revelations to individuals who then proceeds to act on that revelation. In many circumstances, individuals available to God are hurting persons who recognize the voice of God, embrace the word and will of God and act accordingly after healing.
- Oh, sisters and brothers, often it is at times of weakness, experiences of hurt and during periods of brokenness that we are willing to listen to the Lord. Here is call: Come unto me all who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
- The woman needed to meet Jesus for both her spiritual and social redemption. Jesus needed her, to begin the redemption of Samaria. They met at the well, a point of her social exclusion.
- The journey to counselling may appear to be accidental or incidental but, it never is. Counselling can be part of God’s plan for a community through the agency of the hurting person who is healed. The example of the woman at the well of Samaria is by no means unique in the New Testament, the Bible or in human experience.
Verses 7 and 8: A PRIVATE AND PERSONAL ENCOUNTER
Verses 7 and 8 clearly describes a private and personal encounter as the context of the conversation between Jesus and unnamed the Samaritan woman.
- Jesus is sitting alone at the well. His disciples had gone into Sychar. Jesus has no equipment with which to draw water.
- The Samaritan woman comes alone to the well fully equipped to draw water.
- Water is the focal and shared point of their connection.
- They meet in private. There is no one around to overhear the conversation.
- This is the conditions needed for the start of counselling. At alone space for the helping and the hurting persons.
Verse 9: CONFOUNDING TRADITION ON THREE LEVELS: GENDER; ETHNICITY; AND RELIGION
- Verse 9 shows an experienced, feisty hurting woman confronting Jesus on three levels steeped in history, custom, and religion. If you ask me she could well have been a Caribbean woman of modest means taking a well-to-do man, who she thinks may be trying to pick her up by asking her a favor as his line to hook her.
- First, was the challenge based on gender. How could you, a man, ask of me a woman?
- Second, was the challenge of ethnicity. How could you a Jew ask of me a Samaritan?
- Third, was the challenge of religion. How could you a Jew ask of me a Samaritan who shun because of religion? You see us as ritually impure and contaminated.
- There can be no question that, for starters, she had Jesus properly told. Each of the three challenges is loaded with anger and the angst. They came gushing out.
- Individual hurt invariably comes wrapped in social and historical garments that cover and conceal deep pain.
- Getting rid of these social and historical layers of clothing is often the starting point of healing personal pain. Counsellors need to be knowledgeable about sociology and history; to avoid being defenders of the status quo or activist reformers; to be focused on seeking to understand the hurting person in terms of their social and traditional antecedents.
Verse 10: JESUS SIDESTEPPED THE CHALLENGES BY AN OFFER OF GRACE USING THE METAPHOR OF WATER.
Verse 10 shows how Jesus, the consummate counsellor, side-stepped her feisty challenges, gained her attention by reference to a metaphor of water and took control of the direction of the conversation.
- She is dealing with the past and present. Jesus is in the present but looking to the future.
- She is on the material level. Jesus is on the spiritual level.
- She is focused on H2O. Jesus is focused on redemption.
- They are talking past each other. But Jesus has taken control of the direction of the conversation.
- Verses 11 and 12: HER CYNICAL REBUTTAL OF THE OFFER OF GRACE: ARE YOU PUTTING ME ON?
- a) Verses 11 and 12 shows that while Jesus has gained her attention, she is not hooked. She became respectful but unpersuaded.
- b) Her reply is, you can’t-fool me. I am too experienced to be caught like that. You have nothing by which to draw water. She is laughing in her confidence of that she cannot be taken in.
- c) Translated into Trinidadian, the Samaritan women are saying: are you mamaguying me? Translating into Jamaica she is saying you seem to be nothing but a ‘ginnal’.In Bahamian she is saying, you are nothing but a sweet mouth man. In the stiff upper lip characteristic of the English she is saying: Sir, you are promising what you cannot deliver.
- d) Do you think that you are greater than Jacob who gave us this well or his children who past it on to us? In other words, I know better than that.
- e) Counselling involving a male counsellor and a female client, often cannot avoid the man/woman thing. Are you trying a thing on me? Are you coming from some angle other than addressing my hurt? The example of Jesus in dealing with this seemingly natural misperception is worthy of note.
THE CHANGING STEPS IN THE CONTINUING DYNAMIC CONVERSATION
Counselling conversations can end abruptly at points at which the hurting person inserts misperceptions and erroneous charges. This depends to a large extent on how the Counselors responses. Verses 13 to 25 describes how Jesus responded and the changing sequence in the dynamic nature of the conversation that followed.
Verses 13&14 show that Jesus ignores that charge. He remains focused on her immediate mission to draw water and continues the conversation by expanding on the type of water he is offering compared to the water she has come to draw. He goes deeper into the water metaphor.
Verse 15 shows that the Samaritan woman adopted a literal interpretation of what Jesus was talking about. As far as she would concern Jesus was talking about a type of water that she had never seen or heard of. It sounded like some miracle water but it could quench and prevent her daily mid-day trek to the well, then she was all for it. What did she have to lose? The convenience of getting this type of water was an opportunity that should not be missed. ‘Sir’, she said, ‘Give me this water.” Essentially, the Samaritan woman accepted the spiritual and eternal gift Jesus offered for material and temporal reasons. At this point in the conversation, she displayed little interest in the spiritual but saw the spiritual as a short-term, material convenience. The was interested in using the spiritual not in being spiritual. The spiritual was a means not an end.
Some of us may ask, why was Jesus not morally outraged. This is probably He sees this tendency in all of us daily.
Verse 16: shows that instead of being outraged, Jesus calmly shifts the conversation from the spiritual to the material and temporal. Jesus returns to the customs and tradition he had previously side-stepped. Jesus says okay, I will give you this spiritual water leading to everlasting life, but first go and call your husband.
Verses 17 and 18 reveals the heart of hurt of this Samaritan woman and the social and traditional roots of that hurt. For the first time in the conversation, she replied to Jesus without saying, sir. She was not being respectfully feisty or politely cynical. She just told him the truth in sincerity. I have no husband. Jesus acknowledges that she is technically correct. He did not rebuke her. He was not judgmental. Instead, Jesus demonstrated his understanding of the nuances of her situation. She had had five husbands and was not married to the man with whom she was currently living.
For us in the 21st century to understand what Jesus explained we need to know the Rule of Five under which women lived in Samaria and Judea. Legally, a woman was not allowed to be married more than five times. Women could only be divorced three times. For the Samaritan woman to have had five husbands at least two her husband must have died, she must have been divorced at least twice, and the fifth husband had either died or divorced her. At the time she met Jesus she had maxed out on husbands, as permitted by law. She was then living within the law but outside the limits of mores of the times, by living with a man to which she was not married.
The Samaritan woman was not a public woman, that is, a prostitute as some have made her out to be. She was not selling her body for sex. She was not a woman who was taking away other people’s husbands. The Samaritan woman had had a hard time with men, the male-bias laws that were on the books and the patriarchal mores that placed no limits on the number of times a man could marry, how many women he could divorce and did not shun men for having concubines. She, however, had had the temerity to defy the customs and tradition because for one reason or another she needed a man in her life. Jesus knew the times and the customs, and he knew what she had done.
Verse 19 indicates that it was not Jesus’s understanding of the legal and social traditions of the times that changes the woman’s perception of Jesus but rather is knowledge of her personal life. This knowledge persuaded her that Jesus was a man of God. He was not trying to pick her up. He had a real interest in her and her spiritual well-being. Further, he had not been judgmental He had listened to her and understood her circumstances. For the first time, she joined Jesus on the spiritual plane. The conversation has shifted again.
The spiritual plane is the main level on which human hurt is healed. We are spiritual being living in a material world. The spiritual is the defining difference in counseling offered as part of Christian witness. Something in the conduct of our conversation with Christian Counsellors must convince hurting persons that they are men and women of God possessed of more than social, historical or traditional knowledge and experience.
Verse 20 is open to a least two very different interpretations. First is the interpretation that has moved to the spiritual plane, the Samaritan women raised an impersonal matter related to a bitter religious controversy namely where was the right place to worship: Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. Samaritans claimed that Mount Gerizim was the sacred mountain because Abraham, Jacob, and Moses had built altars there. For these reasons had built a temple on Mount Gerizim. The Jews destroyed it. In other words, having gone to the religious level instead of dealing with the personal matter that had come up, she went back to the challenge of religion that she has originally posed to Jesus. She seems to have been trying to draw Jesus into an argument. Many times, when the root of personal hurt is exposed hurting people retreat to the impersonal by way of matters of genuine religious controversy or issues related to comparative religion.
Second is the interpretation that she was hinting at a deep personal longer of her life that had been buried by her hurt. Having realized that Jesus was a man of God, she was now seeking guidance with respect to this deeper longing. She was, therefore, seeking counsel with respect to the true place of worship so that she could go there.
Whatever may have been her motive, Jesus was not distracted. He immediately proceeded to instruct her about true worship.
Verse: 21-24 JESUS EXPLAINED THE TRUE NATURE OF WORSHIP
In verses 21 and 24, Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman, and to all of us, the nature of true worship. Jesus tells us at least three very essential points about true worship
- Worship has no geography. It is not limited to any place. You can worship God anywhere
- Worship is in spirit because God is Spirit. We worship when our spirit reaches out to connect with God: Father, Lord, Creator, Source, Sustainer, Eternal, Invisible Being. The I Am. Worship is not rituals and their observance.
- Worship is in truth. Jesus is the Truth. Only those who are in Jesus, the Christ can truly worship God.
- God seeks worship in spirit from those who are in Christ.
Verse 25 Shows that the Samaritan grasped what Jesus had said. She believed, however, this man she has met at the well, who had not given her his name but is a prophet, and herself could not finally resolve the matter. Only Messiah could do so.
Jesus’s instant revelation of Himself in Verse 26 says definitively that the Samaritan woman was guanine and sincere in her final appeal to the promised Messiah. She was no longer being feisty, cynical, technically correct or argumentative. In faith, she looked forward to the Messiah for all her answers in life.
Her immediate acceptance of Jesus as Messiah is clear evidence of her faith in the promised Christ and of her being convinced that this unnamed prophet that she had met at the well was He. Samaritan Scriptures included not only the five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch but only the promise of the Messiah. There were Samaritans to looked forward to Messiah. Evidently, she was one of them because verse 28 report that she immediately abandoned the equipment she brought to fetch water, ran to the village and shared with them all, including persons who may have shunned her, that she had met the Christ.
Notice also that while she began to run joyfully to announce her encounter with Jesus, the disciples had only returned. They were surprised probably because it was not customary for Jewish leaders to speak with women. They were confused that Jesus had no desire for the food they had gone and bought. Moreover, Jesus told them nothing of the conversation He had had with the Samaritan woman. He kept that conversation strictly confidential. His only comment was that He had been doing the work of the Father and that this was more satisfying than food.
In closing allow me to make four short observations
First, the content of the conversation did not come from Jesus, the counsellor. It certainly came from the Samaritan woman. Verse 42 villagers of Sychar said to her that they had not believed because of what she said but that they had heard Jesus for themselves. It is very possible that during the two days that Jesus spent in Sychar she told the story of the conversation between Jesus and John wrote it down and reported it in his Gospel. To use modern terminology best practice in counselling is that any reporting of the contents of this long personal conversation should come from clients/helping persons as they give testimony of the help they received.
Second, there is no record of exactly how the social and legal problem that the Samaritan woman had was resolved. Jesus did not tell her to go and sin no more as in the case of the woman caught in adultery and who hypocritical men were about to stone to death. The Samaritan woman, by the rule of five, was precluded from marrying a sixth time. She had found a man who could not marry her but was prepared to live with her as if she was his wife. Villagers shunned her. Did they continue to live together? If they did, did villagers continue to shun her? We do not know and cannot assume what happened. They will always be laws and customs set by societies. They will always be persons who are caught in tenets and contradictions of these laws and customs, especially when socially biased in one way or another. The absence of any pronouncement in this story suggests that those who come to Christ need to resolve these contradictions in a manner that does not comprise their witness in the community in which they live. We are left without an answer from the village of Sychar. The last we heard from them was that the hurt woman and the community that once shunned her were rejoicing together in the Good News brought by Christ.
Third, the primary mission of counselling as a part of Christian witness is to help to bring hurting people to faith in Christ, or to help restore their faith in Him. For it is in Christ that there are healing and wholeness: body, soul, and spirit.
Fourth, the testimonies of hurting persons who have been helped to find or restore faith in Christ helps to spread the Good News of Gospel. Testimonies of changed lives not only validates Counselling but is an effective means of evangelism.
We pray for God’s continued blessing of the Christian Counselling Center here is Nassau and in Abaco.