If you have been a Christian for some time, you are more than familiar with the story of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman near Jacob’s well. Preachers after preachers have exhausted all the lessons that we can learn from the passage of John 4:1-45. Lessons such as steps for evangelism, cross-cultural humility, intentional relationship, meeting people where they are, how to create opportunity for spiritual conversation, confronting sins without condemning, worshipping in spirit and truth, Jesus the living water, and even the secret to having five husbands and a boyfriend are among the many angles theologians have taken in unfolding this passage… well, except for the last one (don’t get too excited about it).
Similarly I have been a Christian for a long time, and I grew up through Sunday school too. So, this story is almost too familiar; and I was quite sure that I did not expect any new insight or revelation in my own personal bible study last week before Pastor Sam preached it last Sunday at CrossCulture. Boy, was I wrong … big time. The Word of God is indeed living and active like the author of Hebrews wrote. I stumbled into one phrase that I never noticed before. It is found in these verses:
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:28-30)
I knew that the woman came to realise that Jesus was (and is) the Messiah. I knew that she got so excited that she went and tell the people in her town. I knew that the people came to meet Jesus and many believed. What I just noticed is the phrase: ” … left her water jar …” What a profound little clause inserted by John. I am sure someone somewhere has written about this before. There is nothing new under the sun. So, by no means what I am going to share here is novel. It’s just that it is very novel to me. I just was ignorant that it was there all along.
Now, I am very aware of the danger of allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Although I believe that every word in the Bible is breathed by God, I do believe that there are words in the Bible that are there simply for our information, not for our spiritual insight. For example, when the boy in the feeding of 5000 had five loaves and two fish, I don’t think we should be bogged down with coming up with the answer to what ‘five’ and ‘two’ mean here. They are simply numbers. The boy happened to have five loaves (not four, and not six) and two fish (not one and not three). That’s it. So, when John wrote that the woman ‘left her water jar,’ then, well, she left her water jar. That’s it. Move on. Fee free to use your exegetical skill on other parts.
However, there are two reasons why I think this demands further unearthing. Firstly, John is a very careful writer. I am not saying that the other authors are not. But from chapter 1, John does not seem to waste any of his papyrus space for any unnecessary words. So, the fact that that little clause made it into the Scripture begs for our attention. Secondly, unlike the ‘five’ and the ‘two’ above, looking closer into this clause will actually give us more insight into what happened and how it could apply to our lives. So, please allow me to share what I think. And yes, this is just the introduction. Don’t worry, I’ll move faster. I thought I just share three observations here.
Firstly, she left her water jar because she did not need it anymore.
She came to the well looking to draw H20 water to satisfy her daily physical thirst. The only vessel that she knew best to carry the water from the well to her home is the water jar made of clay. That’s the instrument of her daily provision. However, after being confronted by Jesus, the source of the living water, her water jar looks puny. Instead of going back with a jar of well water, she went into the town carrying in her heart the spring of water. The vessel may have sustained her life on earth, however what Jesus offered her sustains her life well into eternity. Of course, I don’t believe that she did not need to come back to the well to draw H20 water again the next day, and the next day, and so on. I don’t think she never thirsted again physically. However, this little clause showed us at least that compared to what Jesus has to offer, the water jar seemed insignificant.
Secondly, she left her water jar because she had forgotten about it
Please work with me here that it is at the very least possible. We all forget things. However, what I mean here is not the ordinary forgetfulness. What I am proposing here is more of a self-forgetfulness. More about her identity than her personality. More about the change in her than the problem with her brain. The water jar and the coming to the well at noon had been part of her life for the past many years. It had become part of her identity. The lonely woman with a water jar. That’s who she was. That’s her self. Or rather, her old self before meeting Jesus. After the conversation with the Jewish Rabbi, however, she found a new identity. She is no longer the insecure midday woman hiding behind her water jar. She is now a secure woman who has found refuge in Christ. Forgetting her water jar might have been incidental. But surely, forgetting her old self is not. She has found her new self, a new life, secure in Christ. The old self can be forgotten, and gone.
Thirdly, she left her water jar because she left it there with Jesus
What better place to leave your old self, your old life, your insecurity, your loneliness, your weaknesses, and your sins than to leave them all at the feet of Jesus. On that cross, Jesus bore your sins. He, who knew no sin, has become sin for you and me. The source of the living water is trading place with us. The living water is now ours, and the broken water jar is now His. The righteousness of God is now ours, and the filthy sins are His. On that fateful Friday, He nailed all of them on the cross cancelling our debt and giving us a new life. On the third day, on that triumphant Sunday, He rose again from the dead showing that death could not hold Him in the grave, that no sin is too big for Jesus to forgive, that no shame is too disgraceful for Jesus to wipe out, and that no water jar too broken for Jesus to restore.
The woman came to the well doing her daily routine not expecting to meet Jesus. So did some of you.
She, however, returned with a new heart, a new identity, and a new life. So have some of you.
She traded her old heart, her old identity, and her old life to what Jesus has to offer her. So could you.
She traded her guilt and shame with Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness. So should you.
Jesus has risen, and she too will rise when He returns. So will you.