God's Love for the Outcasts (John 4:1-42)
God's Concern for All Mankind
There is an animated Disney movie, based upon the book written by Victor Hugo, entitled 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'. In the movie, there is a young girl by the name of Esmerelda who sings a song in which she is praying to God. It is called 'God Help the Outcasts.' It begins like this:
I don't know if You can hear me
Or if You're even there
I don't know if You would list'en
To a gypsy's prayer
Yes, I know I'm just an outcast
I shouldn't speak to you
Still, I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?
God help the outcasts
Hungry from birth
Show them the mercy
They don't find on Earth
God help my people
We look to you still
God help the outcasts
Or nobody will.
In the Bible, we have the answer to that humble prayer of that young girl. God not only loves the outcasts but He champions their cause. Indeed He loves the widowed, the poor and the orphaned who abound on this sin-cursed earth. And He expects His people, who call Him their Father, to do the same.
Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God on this earth also loved the outcasts, and inevitably you would see Him spend the bulk of His time with those whom the religious world of His day would have nothing to do with. He spent so much time with them that people began to call Him a friend of publicans and sinners. They meant it as an insult. He didn't take it that way.
Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in the biblical account of the woman at the well in John 4:1-42 Her name is unknown to us but we hear a lot about her life and reputation from her own lips and from the lips of our Lord.
For several reasons, most Jewish men would never be caught speaking to her, much less taking water from her hand. Yet Jesus went out of His way to speak with and to offer to this lady eternal life. In this way the Lord showed Himself, once again, to have a concern for all mankind, created in the image of God, including those that we may not like, or with whom we'd never want to associate.
From this account, we can learn much about God's heart for those who don't tend to fit into what is considered normal society. But we also learn about ourselves, and how we are to respond to those whom the world may not find to be worth their time.
With that in mind, let's look more deeply into the biblical story of the woman at the well.
We begin by looking at what made Jesus' encounter with her so unique in his day. There were three reasons why she would probably be considered an outcast. And many people in this time period would have said that our Lord should not have been talking with her at all.
I. The Radical Nature of Jesus' Encounter With the Woman
1. She was a Samaritan
To begin with, the most obvious reason behind this lady's alienation from polite society is the fact that she was a Samaritan. In order for us to understand how bad that was for the Lord to be talking with her, we have to understand a little bit about who these people were.
The Samaritans occupied the country that was formerly belonging to Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital of that country was Samaria. When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C. the King of Assyria sent people from other nations to inhabit Samaria. These Gentiles intermarried with the Israelite population still in and around that city.
These foreign inhabitants also at first continued to worship their own unique gods but were being troubled by lions and supposed that it was because they hadn't honored the God of that territory. Then a Jewish priest was sent by Assyria to instruct them in the ways of the God of Israel. Although being instructed in the laws of Moses, they still retained many of their pagan practices. They embraced a religion which was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry. Because of the fact that they intermarried and they had these idolatrous practices, the Jews considered them half-breeds and hated them.
Other reasons that the Jews hated the Samaritans included the fact that when the Israelites came back from the Babylonian captivity during the days of Nehemiah, the Samaritans vigorously opposed them in rebuilding the temple (Nehemiah 6:1-14).
Not only that but the Samaritans built a temple themselves on Mount Gerizim and insisted that Moses had declared it to be the place to worship. Also, Sanballat, their former leader, made his son-in-law Manasses to be the high priest.
To make matters worse, Samaria became a refuge for those who were outlaws from Judea. The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice.
And finally, the Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions.
All of these things made a major rift between these two nations and caused the Israelites to consider the Samaritans to be the worst human beings in the world.
2. She Was a Woman
Another problem that this lady had was the fact that she was a woman in a time when women were considered to be lower than men. The society in which Jesus lived was an extremely male-dominated culture. In ancient Judaism, women only had rights in the home, and even there they were limited. And the daily prayers of the Jewish man included being thankful that he was not born a woman.
The man, in those days, had control of both his wife and daughters. Also, the control of the daughters would pass from the Jewish father to the husband that he chose for her. A woman's place was thought to be in the home and she had the responsibility of bearing and rearing children and maintaining a hospitable place of residence.
Any money that the woman might own belonged to her husband. Also, the man had the right to divorce his wife, for almost any reason, simply by giving her a writ of divorce. However, the woman could not divorce her husband.
And the thing that goes along with this story is the fact that men were never to greet a woman in public like we see Jesus doing with the woman in our story. Further, some Jewish writers, such as Philo taught that women should never leave the home except to go to Synagogue.
At the temple, women were restricted to the outer court and were separated from men in the synagogues. On top of these things, they were not permitted to read aloud. This was convenient since most were not taught to read. Finally, they were not allowed to bear witness in a religious court.
Jesus, on the other hand, treated women with the utmost respect. He didn't consider them inferior in any way. He recognized their dignity, desires, and gifts. He taught them, healed them and often used women as illustrations in his parables to show spiritual truths. And our Lord had many women as His disciples. Also, it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was the first to witness that Jesus was resurrected from the dead (John 20:1).
It was this kind of dignity and respect that our Lord demonstrated when encountering this Samaritan woman at the well.
3. She Was a Five-Time Divorcée Who Was Living in Sin
We also find, as the story progresses that this woman has had multiple divorces. When Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to go get her husband and come back, she admits that she has no husband. That is when Jesus tells her that she is right in saying that she doesn't have one. In fact, she has had 5 husbands and the sixth is not her husband. She is living with a man without having been married (16-18).
Though divorce was permitted in this time period women were not allowed to divorce. So presumably, 5 men had divorced her, leaving her with the stigma of being rejected 5 times. And, the religious leaders likely had quoted to her several times from Malachi 2:16 on how God hates divorce.
Further, living together without a formal wedding ceremony was always frowned upon by Israel. We see, in this passage as well, that Jesus concurred here that biblical marriage is always restricted to a public, formal, and recognized covenant.
From all of these things we just listed it is obvious that this poor lady had three strikes against her. She was an outcast. Yet Jesus loved her. He wanted this lady to be saved and to become His disciple.
II. The Unfolding of Jesus' Encounter
Now that we've looked at the radical nature of Jesus' encounter with this woman, let's go through it as it unfolds in the book of John. It begins after John tells us that the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.
The Gospel account then tells us that Jesus left Judea and went away into Galilee by way of Samaria. It says that He had to pass through Samaria. Theoretically, he could have gone a few other ways. Many Jews would take extra time in order not to have to pass through this territory which contained the people that they loathed. However, if Jesus was supposed to meet this Samaritan woman, he certainly needed to go through Samaria (1-4).
The Lord then came to a city or town of Samaria called Sychar. This is probably the modern village of Askar. At Sychar there was a parcel of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph; at which was Jacob's well. Jesus gets weary and sits by the well. The time, according to the Scripture was the sixth hour. If John is using the Roman time here this was around noon (5-6)
The Samaritan woman then comes up to the well and Jesus asks her for a drink because his disciples had left to buy food. The woman is surprised that a man, and a Jewish one at that, would even talk with her, let alone ask her for water (7-9).
Jesus then tells her that if she knew the gift of God and who was asking her for water, then she would ask and He would give her living water. This concept of living water was talked about in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 2:13 Yahweh decries the disobedient Jews for rejecting Him, the fountain of living waters. And the Old Testament prophets looked forward to a time when living waters will flow out of Jerusalem. The Old Testament metaphor spoke of the knowledge of God and His grace which provides cleansing, spiritual life and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said He would give her living water.
The woman didn't quite understand that the Lord was speaking spiritually so she told him that he had nothing with which to draw water and the well was deep. So, where can he get this living water? Then she asks Him if he was greater than Jacob who gave them the well.
Jesus then tells her that everyone who drinks of the water of Jacob's well will thirst again. However, whoever drinks of the spiritual water that He gives shall never thirst from that time on. Then he says:
"But the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (10-14).
The woman then asks for this water, so that she will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw it. Jesus realizes that she isn't quite understanding the nature of living water. So, he starts to turn the dialogue to focus sharply on her real spiritual need for conversion and cleansing from sin. It is then that he talks with her about her many husbands and the fact that she was living with a man that wasn't her husband. (15-18).
The Samaritan woman perceives from this that Jesus is a prophet and asks him his opinion on who is right, the Samaritans or the Jews on where they should worship, Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem.
Jesus tells her that a time is coming when that won't matter. Because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is coming a time when a particular shrine won't be important. Rather it will be the worship of the Father through the Son. Jesus implies that salvation is of the Jews, so at that point, Jerusalem was the place to worship. But with His resurrection, true worshippers will worship God through the Son from the heart. It is those kinds of worshippers that the Father seeks.
Indeed God is Spirit and therefore is invisible. And He is worshipped, not primarily in a material way, but by the Spirit and truth. Man can never know the invisible God unless God reveals Himself in Scripture and in the incarnation of Christ to us. Further, God needs to be shown to us by His Spirit.
The woman then said to him that "the Messiah is coming and when he comes he will declare all things to us." Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah. (16-26).
It is then that the disciples return and are amazed that Jesus is talking with this woman. Yet they don't question Him concerning it. The woman then leaves her waterpot behind and begins to witness to her fellow Samaritans about what she had seen and heard (27-30).
We will skip over the next section since it doesn't directly advance the woman's story. Rather, verses 31-38 contain a private conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which He declares to them His zeal for God's glory.
Then from 39-42, we see the results of the conversation that Jesus had with the woman at the well. Her excitement leading to her evangelization efforts concluded with many Samaritans believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Samaritans then came to Jesus and asked Him to stay with them a while. Jesus stayed for two days resulting in many more who believed.
After this the believing Samaritans went back to the woman and told her:
"It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world." (42).
So, the outcast became an evangelist. And God used her to bring Him glory and give to many the message of eternal life.
As we come to the end of our story we must remember the words of Paul that he told the Corinthians, in his letter to them when he said:
"Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." (I Corinthians 1:26-29).
God loves the outcasts. He loves those who are average or even below average. It is they that He uses the most because their weaknesses highlight His strengths. And we aren't supposed to be leading people to follow us anyway. We are leading them to the Living Water, the Lord Jesus Christ.
A person might ask: "Can Jesus use me despite my sin?" The answer is: "Yes! He used the woman at the well." Jesus is not so phased by our sinfulness that He is kept away from loving and saving us. He loves us despite our sin. In fact, God loved us while we were yet sinners and sent Christ to die on the cross for us. The truth is that He can see our hearts and yet cares for us anyway. However, His goal is not to leave us in that sin. Rather He seeks to reconcile us to the Father and wants to make us righteous by giving us Christ's righteousness.
And when Jesus comes into our life He gives meaning that we will never find anywhere else in this world. The woman sought purpose through multiple relationships with men. She found it in the one God-man, Jesus Christ. And it is in Him that all of us will find that same purpose in our lives as well.
Also, that new life that we find in our Lord should cause us to excitedly tell others about Him and what He has done for us. Just as it did for the woman at the well more than 2000 years ago.
Every day I thank God that He loves and uses the outcasts of this world. And, I am grateful that He can use me. But guess what? He can use you too! What a mighty God we serve!!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley