Back in the day there was a radio personality that was very much respected and loved by a lot of people. His name was Paul Harvey and I actually got to meet him. I don’t know when it started but he had a series on his program called “ The Rest of the Story”. The story about the woman at the well is one most of us are familiar with. I like to use the term “beyond the words” but today I will invite you to come with me for “The Rest of the Story”. As we read in John 4 the encounter takes place at a well. We can imagine that Jesus is tired and of course having walked most of the morning he is thirsty and hungry. He had sent his disciples into the village to buy some food. So we find ourselves reading a rather ordinary story about a meeting of two people but if we seek the rest of the story we will find that few stories in the gospel record show us so much about the character of Jesus.
John shows us the reality of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was tired and the journey so far had been difficult, he sat by the side of the well exhausted. John shows us a Jesus that struggles just as we do. John shows us someone who was tired and had to go on, just like we do in this earthly life.
John shows us the warmth of Jesus’ sympathy. Had it been an ordinary religious teacher, or one of the orthodox religious leaders of the day, the Samaritan woman would have fled in embarrassment. She did not perhaps because she had at last met someone who was not a critic but a friend, one who did not condemn but who understood. His very countenance put her at ease. It shows us Jesus as the breaker-down of barriers. The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old, old story. Way back about 720 BC, the Assyrians had invaded the northern kingdom of Samaria and had captured and subjugated it. There are many barriers but we won’t go into that detail at this point. The simple fact was that Jews and Samaritans avoided each other at all costs. But there was still another way in which Jesus was taking down the barriers. The Samaritan was a woman. The strict Rabbis forbade a Rabbi to greet a woman in public. A Rabbi might not even speak to his own wife or daughter or sister in public. Not only was she a woman; she was also a woman of notorious character. No decent man, let alone a Rabbi, would have been seen in her company, or even exchanging a word with her – and yet Jesus spoke to her.
There is one more interesting “rest of the story.” Troubled by the attention from the Pharisees, which by the way was not in any way good, Jesus sets out to leave Judaea and return to Galilee, the quickest way being through Samaria. He finds himself at a town in Samaria called Sychar around noon time, tired from walking all morning, the heat and thirst was taking a toll on him and the disciples. Sending the disciples to get food from the nearby town, he had set down to rest when the woman came to the well. William Barclay sums these verses up best as to why this is “the rest of the story.”
“To a Jew, this was an amazing story. Here was the Son of God, tired and weary and thirsty. Here was the holiest of men, listening with understanding to a sorry story. Here was Jesus breaking through the barriers of nationality and orthodox Jewish custom. Here is the beginning of the universality of the gospel; here is God so loving the world, not in theory, but in action.” (William Barclay Commentaries)
Overwhelmed by what Jesus had told her up to this point and no way of really understanding what he has said, verses 26-30 are explained by this commentary from William Barclay.
“This passage closes with a great declaration. There had opened before this Samaritan woman a vista which bewildered and staggered her. Here were things beyond her understanding, things full of wonder. All that she could say was: ‘When the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God comes, then we will know all about it.’ Jesus said to her: ‘I who am speaking to you am he.’ It is as if Jesus said that this is not a dream of the truth; this is the truth itself.”
Do we as Christians, even when weary and thirsty, follow the example of Christ? Do our actions show God’s love for the world and all its people and will we recognize the truth when it comes among us? Or will we too be bewildered and without understanding.
Hope to see you in the pew next week. jk
References: William Barclay’s Commentaries