John 4:1-14: Futility.
“Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptising more disciples than John – 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’11 ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?’13 Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’NIV
Wilfred Owen wrote a beautiful little war poem, full of pathos, and called it ‘futility’. It’s one of his shorter works, but it says so much. Reading Jesus’ words in (13), I call to mind the Old Testament book of ‘Ecclesiastes’. It too speaks of ‘futility’: the ‘vanity’, the emptiness, of everything we pursue in this life (‘under the sun’) in order to find meaning. King Solomon had everything you could want in this world. He had money, sex (oodles of it!!) and power. He found by personal experience that apart from God it was all ‘meaningless’. F.B. Meyer has said that you could write the words of verse 13 over all worldly amusements: ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again’ (13).
Jesus did not ‘have’ to go through Samaria as a geographical necessity. He could have taken another route. But there was a divine necessity about this trip. The Father had scheduled an appointment with a deeply ‘thirsty’ woman. She had found that this world does not satisfy, and she was ready to ‘drink’ what Jesus offered her.
Notice the simple relevance of Jesus’ approach. It starts with a shared understanding and need for water (7). But skilfully, carefully, Jesus went gradually deeper in the conversation, arousing her curiosity, drawing her in, whetting her appetite. Michael Green once said that in personal evangelism we have to row our gospel boat around the island of a person’s life, and determine which is the best place to ‘put in’. When you read the gospels you see that Jesus had no pre-packaged, pre-programmed approach. He was led by the Father.
By the way, can you see the irony in (12)? We know the answer, even if she doesn’t – yet!!
Prayer: Father God, please organise my schedule for today – and every other day. And help me to never make tiredness an excuse for avoiding people, and failure to serve.