Jesus has met the Samaritan woman. He has spoken with her. And the conversation has led her to change her mind about Jesus
In verse 9, he is a Jew
In verse 19, he is a prophet
In verse 29, she is saying to the people in her home town, ‘Could this be the Messiah?’
Now the disciples return. They’ve been in town to get the supplies. And John writes,
“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27)
Those two unasked questions are answered in our passage.
1. What do you want? (or, ‘What do you seek?’)
What do we seek today?
Security, health, entertainment, respect, dignity, pleasure, wealth
[story of A: ‘I want some money’]
John sums it up in one word: ‘Food’.
The disciples assume – fairly reasonably – that the thing that Jesus is thinking about is his stomach, how to satisfy his physical desire. They assume that Jesus wants food. (John 4:31)
But Jesus turns it on its head
He says, ‘Yes, I do want food. But I am not seeking the physical stuff that we eat. I am seeking real food. And the real food is to do God’s work. “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (v34)
Physical food grows us, sustains us and satisfies us physically.
The real food grows us, sustains us and satisfies us at the level that really matters.
This is where Jesus in John’s gospel is so radical. He turns everything upside down.
We think that the physical food is what really matters. We think that Jesus is using it as a sort of illustration of spiritual food. But Jesus goes further than that. He is saying that the real food is the will of God, the word of God, himself. This stuff, the physical stuff, is just a shadow of the real stuff.
This is why the debates of former years about the nature of communion were so fruitless. The debate was whether the bread turned into the body of Jesus, because Jesus says, ‘For my flesh is real food and my drink is real drink’ (John 6:55)? The point is that Jesus is saying that he is the real food, and that when we eat bread and drink wine we are eating and drinking something that is a physical shadow of the real Jesus. So every time we find that we are physically hungry, it is a reminder that our real hunger is to do the will of God. And every time we eat and are physically satisfied, it is a reminder that our real satisfaction will come from doing the will of God, from receiving Jesus.
I hope that those of us who have received Jesus have found this to be true.
A feast can be satisfying and bring great joy
But doing the will of God; doing the right thing in the right place at the right time for the right reason is the most deeply satisfying, fulfilling and joy giving thing that we can ever do.
I hasten to add that does not mean it will be easy at the time. Jesus hanging on the cross was doing the work of God. He was doing the right thing in the right place at the right time for the right reason.
But Isaiah writes many years before the event of the event. And he writes (Isaiah 53:11) ‘Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.’
And the author to the Hebrews, writing after the event, says, ‘Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2)
Doing the work of God may, at times, be very hard. But it is our real food, and it is worth it. It is what will ultimately satisfy.
In saying this, I am not suggesting that Jesus is saying that physical food is not necessary. Simply he is saying that if we seek true, real food (the work of God), the physical food – for as long as it is necessary – will follow.
We see God’s provision time after time in the Bible:
Manna in the wilderness
Elijah fed by the raven
The feeding of the 5000
Communion: we seek God, we seek Jesus and we receive physical bread.
2. And that leads us on to the second question that the disciples don’t ask Jesus: Why are you talking with her?
It was a question they could have asked because a Jewish man should not talk with a Samaritan woman. Nor vice versa. So the unspoken assumption is that Jesus was speaking with the woman because he wanted something from her: a drink of water
But Jesus was speaking to the woman not simply because he wanted some water (which is where the chapter begins), but because he had something to give her. He wanted to offer her LIFE. John 4:10, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’.
He had come to do the work of God, and the work of God was to raise up a people who would reap a harvest: not any harvest, but the real harvest: the harvest of men and women who have been born again, who have received Jesus Christ the Son of God, who have received the Holy Spirit, who have become children of God.
And for us, to do the work of God involves sharing in this harvest: whether as sowers or as reapers.
This woman starts to share in this work of God: I love this. No one told her to. She had been on no evangelism course.
She runs home, she leaves the water jar behind, and she speaks a very simple message: ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’
She doesn’t tell everybody they’re wrong. She simply asks a question.
And although God will use each of our individual personalities, our message does not need to be that different:
a) Come and meet someone
b) Who died and rose from the dead, and is alive
who knows all about me (even the very very messy bits) and yet still loves me
who helped me to face up to the reality of myself and what I have done
who has changed my life
who offers forgiveness, the Holy Spirit and eternal life
c) Can this be the person we have been waiting for; the one who holds it all together; the missing central piece in the jigsaw; the one who gives meaning and purpose to life, the universe and everything?
So the two questions that they wanted to ask Jesus, but didn’t – and as John thought back he realised that Jesus had answered those questions.
What did he want? Jesus’ deepest desire was to do God’s will.
Why was he talking to a Samaritan woman? It was not just because he wanted something from her (water). He was talking to her because he loved her, because in three years time he was going to die for her, because he had the most precious gift to offer her and because she was part of that great gathering of harvesters who he had come to establish.
Not much has changed. What does he want? He still desires to do the will of God
Why is he speaking to you? Because he loves you, because he died for you, because he offers real life, real food, real water, and because he invites us to share in the joy of gathering in the real harvest.
"Nearly 200 years ago there were two Scottish brothers named John and David Livingstone. John had set his mind on making money and becoming wealthy, and he did. But under his name in an old edition of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica". John Livingstone is listed simply as "the brother of David Livingstone."
And who was David Livingstone? While John had dedicated himself to making money, David had knelt and prayed. Surrendering himself to Christ, he resolved, "I will place no value on anything I have or possess unless it is in relationship to the Kingdom of God." The inscription over his burial place in Westminster Abbey reads, "For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize."
On his 59th birthday David Livingstone wrote, "My Jesus, my King, my Life, my All; I again dedicate my whole self to Thee." [Illustration from www.preachingtoday.com]