The essence of discipleship is following the Master. As disciples, we follow and observe and imitate. A few weeks ago I proposed that in occasional blog posts we consider a few of the surprising places that Jesus went—and didn’t go. And one of those surprising places that Jesus went was Samaria (John 4).
Once again, because we’re familiar enough with this story, we might be tempted to say something like, “Well, yeah, of course, Jesus visited with the Gentiles, the outsiders, those significantly below His station in life. That’s one of the things that I love about Jesus!” But, this being a posting about being disciples to Him, the question to us is “Are we following Him?”
And in asking whether or not we are following Jesus into strange surroundings, I’m not just asking if we ever go places outside of our comfort zones, to the homes of the down and out, the poor, or the foreigner. I’m asking are we doing what Jesus did?
Samaria and Samaritans were considered by most Jews as people and a region to best be avoided. Most Jews traveling from Galilee in the north of Judea to Jerusalem in the south of Judea would deliberately detour around Samaria which was located between Galilee and Jerusalem. And while Samaritans worshipped the same God, followed a very similar law, worshipped God in a very similar way; they were rejected as unclean by most devout Jews. Oddly enough, however, Jesus’ disciples found themselves coming back from the region around Jerusalem right through—of all places—Samaria.
He started a conversation with a Samaritan, and more than just a Samaritan, a Samaritan woman. From the point of view of most Jewish men, this was well beneath his station in life. But He didn’t just talk to a Samaritan woman, He talked to a Samaritan woman of probably questionable virtue. She’d had 5 husbands and was currently living with a man not her husband. She seems to have had a reputation, because of the timing of her coming to get water—noontime, not morning like most women did—probably to avoid the disapproving looks of the other townswomen. But Jesus initiated a conversation with her, “Give Me a drink.” Would we have initiated a conversation—at all? Do we initiate conversations with strangers, people different from us, people with potentially questionable values. Or do we just tell ourselves that we have nothing in common with this person, and that they will have no interest in talking with us, let alone have any interest in a spiritual conversation?
Even the Samaritan woman was shocked, (John 4:9) “…’How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’” Her answer might even have carried a little bit of resentment in it. An answer like that might have shut many of us down, ended the conversation immediately; but not for Jesus.
Jesus, instead, turned what had begun as a simply request for some physical water for a weary traveler into something spiritual, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (v.10). Bet she didn’t see that one coming! Nor did she see Jesus’ surprising sign to her (telling her about her personal life, vvs. 15-19) that He was the Messiah (vvs. 25,26). Using Jesus’ example, the disciple of Jesus will also find natural ways of turning ordinary conversations into extraordinary conversations. The world around us is filled with potential segues into spiritual conversations—if only we’ll follow Jesus into these surprising and uncharted waters. How easy is talk of who’ll win the Super Bowl turned into who you think will win in the end? Or talk of health turned to the perfect health of the resurrection body? Or the complaints about mistreatment we get from others is turned into how God will avenge every sin?
Even Jesus disciples didn’t see this one coming (v. 27). They only saw the woman leave her water pot, running toward town and returning to the well with the men of the town to listen to the Jesus. “How,” they must have been asking themselves and Jesus afterward, “did a pit stop for lunch in Sychar turn into an evangelistic harvest of despised Samaritans?”
Discipleship is about more than merely going where the Master goes, but also about doing what the Master does. Let’s follow Him to surprising places, to start up conversations with surprising people, and turn ordinary conversations into unexpected and extraordinary sowing of the seed.