John 4:28-30, 39-42
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
The scene described in this passage is our manifesto, our constitution if you will allow me, for the task to which we are setting our hands tonight. It contains for us all the secrets for a successful evangelistic ministry. Can you see it? Let’s walk through it together.
This woman knows what it is to be on the outside. For starters, she is a Samaritan, a group of people from the first century who lived on the fringes of Jewish society and who, while claiming a legitimate title to Jewish history and expectation, were nonetheless considered outsiders by their distant Jewish kindred. Further, she is what we might now call a “loose woman,” one who for reasons unknown to us had flouted the sexual mores of her own people. Thus she is outside even those who are together outside. And she has had a dynamic encounter with the living Lord. This encounter leaves her so changed that she forgets the very worldly task that brought her to Jesus in the first place: she leaves her water jar behind.
Like anyone who has experienced such a transformation, she immediately goes and tells all her countrymen—the Samaritans of her village—about her encounter with Jesus. The urgency described here tells us about the significance of that encounter. Having been so changed, nothing else matters to her but to gather her family, friends, and neighbors and share the news. Her testimony is so powerful indeed—not least by how much of an outsider she truly was, a fact she freely reminds all—that they all respond in faith by her very word alone. But she cannot leave it there. She must bring them to hear for themselves. And so they likewise meet Jesus, and are so amazed by him that they forget their prior belief on account of the woman’s word, and they believe a second time. And they know in their heart of hearts that this Jew, if he is to be the savior of Samaritan as well as Jew, must be the Savior of not one people or the other; he must be the savior of the whole world.
Do you see it now? Do you see our manifesto for evangelism, our constitution for our outreach to a world outside God’s grace? The woman is our model. She encounters Jesus for herself first, and is transformed by the encounter. Likewise, we can only testify to that which we know for ourselves; our mission comes out of our own transformation by the power of Jesus. Further, she leaves behind her worldly labors to spread the word. Likewise, the magnitude of our encounter with the living Lord should drive us out of homes and jobs and into the streets proclaiming the Christ. Even her past shame, that which kept her on the outside of her own community, became a tool to reach that very community with joy for the magnitude of her transformation. Likewise, we do not bring merely our doctrine about Jesus to the world; we bring the powerful evidence of our own lives transformed.
But there is one final element which we should not overlook. The woman does not ask the villagers to rely on her word alone. As powerful as that is, it is not enough in itself to transform hearts and minds. No. She brings them also to Jesus, that they might hear the word for themselves from the very source. Let’s not mince words about what we are called to do here. We are not compelling our neighbors by the power of our arguments or the rigor of our evidence. The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, and even the evidence of our own lives can be explained away by a skeptical world. No. We speak only to bring people to Jesus. He alone has the power to truly transform lives. He alone can transform skepticism into belief. He alone has the ability to bring those on the outside in. And that is indeed what he does. That alone is why we the Church do any outreach at all, because we believe that is what he does. Let us then set our hands to nothing else than to bring our neighbors to the feet of Jesus. As with our sister in the faith from this story, he will take care of the rest.
Look for Part 7 of this series, entitled “The Counselor”, soon. For the original setting of these devotionals, see my introduction to the first post in the series here.