How is Your Hearing?
Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: John 4:5-42
My family knows me very well; if I am watching college basketball and you ask me a question, don’t expect a response. I am generally so focused on the game that I hear nothing else. The truth is, most folks are this way, but I do believe that men are worse than women. At least in my household, my wife can “multi-listen,” but I cannot.
Social-Scientists have done the studies and tell us that the average human has over 3,000 distinct thoughts and conversations within our minds every day. That works out to about 125 internal conversations per hour, meaning more than two per minute. This means that in the time that this scripture lesson is read aloud in the worship service, most of us tuned out several times. This might mean that we suddenly thought of what we need to purchase at the grocery store for dinner tonight, or in hearing the scripture text today, we might start wondering why Jesus stayed at the well while all of the disciples went into town to get some food. And once we started doing that thinking, our ears went shut.
Even when we do listen and hear what is being said, we often hear only what we want to hear. And this is certainly the case within this text as Jesus and this woman share in conversation.
So let’s review what is going on here with this text. First, John tells us that Jesus is on his way from Jerusalem back to Galilee. Many Biblical scholars will point out that most Jews traveling to Galilee from Jerusalem would have taken the long route around Samaria. But if Jesus meant what he said about himself in John 3:16, that God so loved the “world,” then Jesus would have had to go through Samaria. This is because Samaria was part of the “world,” as were the Samaritans living there.
It is well known that Samaritans and Jews hated each other. Samaritans were descended from the Northern tribes who traced their religious heritage through Abraham and had the first five books of the Bible as their sacred scriptures; they did not hold any of the prophetic books as holy. Just a generation or two before Jesus’ was born, Jews so despised the Samaritans that they invaded their Temple and destroyed it. Obviously, the Samaritans despised the Jews as well. So any Jew traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee would have traveled around Samaria rather than through it. But Jesus was not normal.
Many commentaries will also note that it is odd for the woman to have gone to the town’s well at noon in the heat of the day. Most folks would have gone early in the morning when it was cooler. And much as we understand what “Water-Cooler conversation today, the town well was a great place to meet your neighbor and gossip just a bit. With her checkered past, this particular woman would have no doubt been the subject of that gossip, so she goes at a time of the day when she can be by herself.
Last week, our text from John chapter 3 recorded the conversation with Nicodemus about being born again or born from above. Nicodemus is puzzled by Jesus’ words because he is thinking of being born again in the literal sense, but Jesus is talking about a spiritual reality. This same sort of thing happens in this conversation. Jesus asks for a cup of water, and the woman immediately thinks about physical thirst. Jesus says that he has water that will quench thirst forever, and she wants that water because then she would not have to come back to this well and endure the stares and comments from others.
So, while she is hearing Jesus talking about water that quenches a physical thirst, he is talking about spiritual water. For Jesus, this is the water that comes from the well of our souls and leads us to eternal life. Her mind is wrapped around this notion of a kind of water that will permanently quench her physical thirst. As this conversation continues, the story of her past So here it is that the story comes spilling out. She is amazed and realizes that she is in the presence of a prophet.
The conversation then becomes more theological, and she asks if he is greater than Jacob, who gave them this well thousands of years before. She also says that she and her fellow Samaritans are awaiting the Messiah. Then, something incredible happens. For the first time in the Biblical narrative, Jesus tells a person he is that Messiah. If you are keeping score, this disgraced woman is the first person to hear who Jesus really is. Even the disciples, thus far, only have a faint notion. As the disciples return, this woman runs back to town to tell her neighbors this news. She then becomes the first evangelist.
So as she rushes off, the disciples return with the food they have found. And when they ask Jesus to eat, he tells them he has food they do not know about. Again, Jesus is talking about food to feed spiritual hunger, and the disciple is thinking about physical hunger. For Jesus, that spiritual hunger is satisfied by doing the will of God. And the will of God is to bring the heavenly realm into the everyday lives of people. This almost perfectly reflects the meaning of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Our mission is to make heaven a reality here on earth. We pray about that every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer!
If you ask people what they feel they need to make their lives happy, they will respond by saying that a little more money will help. And while money might not be the #1 answer to a happy life, most of us will put it in the top 3. The sad part is that more money never does quench the spiritual thirst or hunger. It might even make us hungrier and more thirsty.
So what does all of this mean to us… And I ask you, how is your hearing? Can you hear Jesus speaking to you?
I’m convinced that most of us human beings have a thirst and a hunger for a meaningful life, but we don’t know how to get it. The conversation that Jesus has with this woman is certainly a key to unlocking the mystery. It is also a key to finding what our true mission is.