It was a tiny, dusty, sleepy town, basically a wide spot in the road and a microscopic dot on the map. It could have been a stopping-off place on the way to other places, but most people didn’t. The Jews avoided Sychar like the plague, because Sychar was in Samaria and Samaria was full of Samaritans. They were the “others,” the “half-breeds” who were not fully Jew and not fully Gentile, but fully hated by both. Sychar was a good place for a Samaritan to hide and avoid the outside world.
Until Jesus came.
Jesus could have bypassed Sychar. Most people did. He could have put off his rest stop. Most people would have. But Jesus had a mission—one that involved Sychar and its most infamous resident. We know her as the Woman at the Well. That’s the only way the New Testament identifies her. She likely had other identities given to her by the people of the town: Adulterer. Homewrecker. Failure. Whore. But Jesus knew her as more than that: Beloved. Prized. Cherished. Daughter.
It is this daughter that Jesus reached out to with great intentionality. When a pure Jew spoke to an impure Samaritan—no less when a man spoke to a woman—it would have elicited shock and an “Are you talking to me?” moment. And yet, Jesus was more concerned with her soul than with saving face. He did what no one would do to reach one who no one would reach. He spoke kindly to her. He looked into her eyes and asked questions that awakened her heart. He was winsome, persuasive, and real. And He pointed her to something that, once and for all, would satisfy her seemingly unquenchable thirst.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (john 4:13–14, esv).
We travel through Sychar every day. It may not go by that name and it may not resemble that place, but it is Sychar, nonetheless. Avoided by the religious masses, Sychar is the home of those who have been cast down and written off as unlovable, irredeemable, and detestable.
The reason that the religious hate Sychar is because Sychar is filled with “me first” people. They live life for their own pleasure, looking for meaning and fulfillment in the emptiest of places. They go from experience to experience and dead end to dead end, trying to discover what makes them happy but eventually falling short. They are the ultimate consumer, grabbing and taking and collecting and hoarding, searching for the next thrill.
We see the residents of Sychar in our everyday lives: the pierced-and-tatted loner who spends his days in the coffee shop. The homeless woman who always seems inebriated but still begs for cash at the stoplight near our office. The musclehead who lives at the gym and for himself.
To many of us, this seems sad. We’re saddened when we see people who can’t put their lives in order. After all, why can’t they see where this road leads? What will it take to wake them up? Why can’t they get their life together and be more like me? It’s sad, yes. But not in the way we think. It is not their lifestyle that is most to be pitied, but rather the self-righteous expectations we hold toward people “not like us.”
When we view people as impediments to the mission rather than the mission itself, we fail as believers and we fail as the church. When we self-righteously inflate our ego with right living, rather than remember the shame of our past and the ever-near depravity of our hearts, we position ourselves as a people who want nothing to do with the sinners of Samaria.
The focus of this booklet is on consumerism and the church. Our conversation thus far has centered on consumeristic tendencies as they pertain to the weekend experience: “What does this church have for me?” “Which of my needs are being met?” “How comfortable am I made to feel?”
But consumerism has a way of seeping into our weekday lives as well. Long after we leave the confines of a church building, we can feel the crushing weight of comfortable consumerism in the way we choose to engage or ignore those in our lives.
Jesus had that option, by the way: He could have ignored the woman at the well. Society would have seen that as normal. The blistering sun and His parched throat would have made it understandable. He could have adopted a “live and let live” policy, taken a quick breather, and given His mind and feet a rest. But Jesus chose differently. He chose to push past His own convenience so that a shunned outcast could become a loved daughter.
We have that option every day of our lives. Whether it’s the co-worker we have trouble relating to or the neighbor who never seems to have a positive word to say, we can choose to love them or reject them. We can allow our precious schedules to drive our priorities, or we can forsake our comfort for the eternity of those who are in our path.
Drawing on the story of the woman at the well, I think we can see four examples of how Jesus entered into her life, and how we can effectively engage people for the gospel:
1. Jesus was intentional. The conversation with the Samaritan woman was not a mistake. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and kept His objective in view. He saw a woman in pain, and He knew he could bring healing. So despite the risk to His reputation, He pushed ahead with the relationship. Jesus set aside the demands on His time and the crowds who were waiting for Him in order to go after the one.
I’m tempted to look at that meeting with the woman of Sychar as an interruption to Jesus’s schedule. No, she was the focus of Jesus’s schedule.
Do we look for those who need to hear the gospel? Are our relationships marked by intentional purpose, or aimless wandering?
2. Jesus was relational. Jesus didn’t view her as a project. She was a real person with a real past, real hurts, and real needs. He took time to get to know her as well as her story. He was not in a rush. He didn’t force her into His agenda. He didn’t nervously mumble a canned speech with memorized transition phrases. Jesus simply chose to speak to a woman that others had forgotten or spurned. He asked questions and sought to make a connection.
Do we view evangelistic encounters as something we “have to do” or “get to do”? When sharing the gospel, is it about marking a notch on our belt or helping someone to take their next step of faith?
3. Jesus exposed the fallacy of her worldview. Starting with her physical thirst and moving toward emotional and spiritual thirst, Jesus gently pushed into the areas where the woman had placed her identity. He helped her to see that what she longed for would never be fulfilled in the places where she was seeking peace. As Jesus pointed out her idolatry, she was reminded of how every encounter, every attempt at love had left her empty.
Are we able to gently, yet directly, help people see their self-constructed idols? When we do so, do they feel like we are against them or for them? Are we sufficiently in tune with those around us to identify what those false worldviews are?
4. Jesus restored her with the truth of the gospel. What I love about this story is that Jesus didn’t leave the woman as so many others had before Him: still searching, still empty, still broken. No, He pointed her to another reality, the idea that everything she was looking for she could find in Him. He was the one who would never leave her nor forsake her. I imagine that at this point in her life Jesus was the one man who didn’t want to use her. Rather, He wanted to bless her. He was the first who didn’t base her identity on her works, but His.
When we point people to hope, are we telling them to do better? Try harder? Be more spiritual? Or are we reminding them of the inability of the human heart to ever be good enough? Are we pointing people to the lasting hope that Jesus offers?