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At Sychar's Well

John's record of the incarnate Word lays particular emphasis on the complete, undeviating subjection of the Son to the will of His Father. The universe in all its perfection, down to the smallest detail, took shape as it was conceived in the mind of its Creator. Similarly, the work of redemption was executed precisely as the Father had planned. "The Word became flesh"; and the flawless life of the Son of God, the necessary prelude to His atoning death, was marked by the same precision and order which we see in all God's works. Each day of that wonderful life was planned in converse between the Father and the Son. No task of any day was left undone or inadequately performed.

The portrait of God's perfect Servant, given to us by the prophet Isaiah, pictures Him waiting on God each morning for His instructions on the day's itinerary: "He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord GOD hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious" (Isa. 50:4,5). This dependence on His Father's direction was frequently confessed by our Lord Himself, "I do nothing of Myself, ... I do always the things that are pleasing to Him", He said (John 8:28,29). Again, "The Father which sent Me, He hath given Me a commandment, what I should say" (John 12;49).

In planning His presentation of the incarnate Christ the Spirit of God selected the incident recorded for us in John chapter 4. The meeting of the Saviour and the woman of Samaria was no mere coincidence. The place and time of the encounter, the circumstances, and the strategy used to capture this trophy of divine grace were all part of that day's pre-arranged service. The destination that morning was the well at Sychar, in an area hallowed by memories of the Patriarchs but now occupied by an alien race. When the Lord arrived there with His disciples they left Him to go to the city to buy food. They had no inkling that in their absence their Master, weary and thirsty as He was, would find occasion to engage Himself in His Father's business. Nor could they foresee that years later they would reap the harvest of the sowing commenced by their Master that day (Acts 1:8; 8:4-25).

In the city of Sychar that morning an unnamed woman planned the day's chores. These would include the usual trudge to the well for her water supply. Although shrewd and knowledgeable in her own way, this Samaritan woman had a lifestyle which, even by Samaritan standards, was disreputable. Was this the reason she made her way to the well in the heat of the day, an unusual hour to draw and carry water? Was it that she wished to avoid the hard looks and spiteful whispers of her more 'respectable' neighbours? She had freely indulged in "the pleasures of sin". There were the inevitable scars which she could not erase. If her outward pose was carefree, inwardly she was uneasy and guilt-laden.

As she carried her waterpot to the familiar spot there was no reason to expect that she would meet anyone there. Much less did it enter her mind that this would be the day of days for her; that on this ordinary day she would meet God and discover the true meaning of life. But thus it was to be. And the story of her discovery is given an honoured place in the inspired record.

There was a Man sitting by the well! The woman approached, her wary eyes taking in the situation and her feminine intuition making a quick appraisal of it. The stranger was a Jew. He won't have anything to say to me, she decided, as she put down her waterpot. She knew from experience the implacable enmity of Jews and Samaritans. She prepared to draw water and depart in silence. Then the unexpected happened. He spoke, and the work of grace began.

The picture of the incarnate Word ("the world was made by Him") face to face with a wilful, depraved woman, is a captivating one. In Him dwelt "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily"; she was

"Sunk in ruin, sin and misery,

Bound by Satan's captive chain".

The reality of our Lord's Manhood is clearly demonstrated throughout the fourth Gospel. But His divine omnipotence is also unmistakably evident. At Sychar's well He is hungry, thirsty and "wearied with His journey", yet this woman's whole life is an open book to Him. Before John records the interview with the Samaritan woman and the one preceding it, our Lord's meeting with Nicodemus, he makes this comment, "Jesus... needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man; for He Himself knew what was in man" (2:24,25). Keeping this well in mind we draw near to listen to the conversation which ensued, and to marvel as the Master Craftsman proceeds to discharge the mission for which His Father had sent Him to Sychar that day.

His objective is clear - to capture this woman for His Father. But

before this could be achieved her conscience must be awakened, her false beliefs exposed, her misconceptions removed. His request, "Give Me to drink", penetrated her defences in a flash. Her reaction was one of astonishment. Not only did the Stranger speak to her, He actually asked a favour of a Samaritan woman. And Jews do not use drinking vessels that Samaritans have used. This Stranger was indeed different from any other Jews she had met. Why the difference? She invited Him to explain; He graciously responded:

"If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water" (v.10).

The Lord has named two matters on which she needed divine enlightenment. First, that His Father, the God of Israel, had authorized Him to offer her a priceless gift. Second, that her reception of this gift was dependent upon her belief in Himself. She is puzzled. What did He mean by "living water"? She had never before heard of such a thing. Where would it come from? How was it to be obtained? And who can this Man be who speaks so mysteriously, and yet with such compelling authority?

As she grappled with these questions her thoughts turned to the great Patriarch whose name had been given to this well which had been such a boon to the city of Sychar. Surely this Stranger would not claim to be greater than he. "Our father Jacob", she called him. The Samaritans, of course, were not descendants of Jacob. Was this a subtle challenge to the claim that the land and the promises were Israel's alone? Whatever her intention our Lord did not take up the point at this stage. He was in charge, and would direct the course of the conversation. He would first focus her attention on the "living water" He was offering to her. He proceeds:

"Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life" (w.13,14).

The woman did not yet grasp that the "living water" He spoke of was of a different sort to the water necessary to sustain her physical life. But this Man had gained her confidence. Although He spoke so mysteriously she was convinced that this wonderful water He described was a gift well worth having. It would, she argued with herself, lighten her daily toil and make these weary journeys to the well unnecessary. "Sir, give me this water", she pleaded, "that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw" (v.15).

A vital stage in the conversation had now been reached. But it was not yet time to draw in the net. The woman had yet to discover the identity of this remarkable Stranger. And her response to that revelation would determine whether or not the living water of which He spoke would flow into her heart. If His first request, "Give Me to drink", astonished her, His second, "Go, call thy husband, and come hither", embarrassed her. She was on guard at once. He was probing an area of her life she had no desire to uncover. She tried to evade His scrutiny; "I have no husband", she countered. But it was of no avail. This Man knew all her secrets. He knew about the five men in her past life, He knew about her present adultery. She did not yet realize who was speaking with her. That revelation had still to come. But in the light of what had already transpired she made a further assessment of His status: "Sir", she said, "I perceive that Thou art a prophet", and continued,

"Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in

Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (w.1 9,20).

Why did this unnamed Samaritan woman introduce into the conversation at this point a question so loaded with, controversy? Was it an attempt to divert His attention from herself? or to provoke an argument so that she could challenge Jewish claims? or a genuine enquiry for light on a subject which puzzled her? We do not know. He knew. And whatever her motive He proceeded to use the controversial topic she had introduced in order to enlighten her on the subject of worship, the loftiest occupation possible to mankind. If she anticipated a lively discussion on the relative claims of Jews and Samaritans she was mistaken yet again. Instead she was given a striking demonstration of the humility of God. "Woman", He said, "believe Me". Argument of arguments! "Believe Me", the plea of divine love ever since the day man had given his ear to another voice and turned to his own way.

It is not within the compass of this short meditation to examine in detail our Lord's comprehensive utterance on "worship". First He refers to a dispensational change, and then dismisses the notion that either Samaria, Jerusalem, or any other earthly locality can claim to be an exclusive "place" in which to worship God. He then refutes the woman's erroneous beliefs and states plainly that Samaritan forms of worship never had divine authority. But when He concludes:

"But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers. God is (a) Spirit: they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (vv.23,24)

she is nonplussed. Such profound matters were beyond her comprehension. It was, no doubt, our Lord's method of impressing her of her need of divine revelation. Not until human reasonings and self-assertion are abandoned can we know divine illumination. The woman is now completely at sea, all her self-assurance has vanished. She is unable to understand but clings to the hope that one day all will be made clear. "I know that Messiah cometh", she said, "when He is come, He will declare unto us all things".

The Master Fisherman was absorbed in his Father's business, seeking worshippers, and the dialogue with this sinful woman was designed to enlist her among those who would engage in this high service. She was groping in the dark, but to Him she was a potential worshipper of His Father. The time had come to draw in the net. With calm assurance the incarnate Word disclosed His identity, "I that speak unto thee am He", He said. That was the moment of destiny for the Samaritan woman. This weary travel-stained Stranger who had led her so patiently along the path to God and to life was the great Messiah in person. Divine light shone into her darkened soul; the "living water" of which He spoke flowed into her empty heart. Saviour and sinner had found each other. There was joy at Sychar's well that day, and there was joy in heaven too.

By this time the disciples had returned with the food they had purchased. What met their gaze amazed them, "they marvelled that He was speaking with a woman". They suppressed their curiosity but He knew their thoughts. He had given them an early lesson, later to be reiterated, that in the kingdom of God there would be no barriers of race, culture or class; "All the nations" would be their field of service.

The waterpot still stood by the well, for the moment forgotten, as the woman sped unimpeded to tell others of her amazing discovery. "Come, see a Man , she implored, and so compelling was her witness that the men of Sychar were moved to come to see and hear for themselves. In the meantime the disciples spread out the meal but He showed no inclination to eat. His mind was occupied with' the harvest to be reaped from that day's sowing, and He wished to share His thoughts with His disciples while the evidence was before their eyes. The principles He enunciated are perpetually relevant.

Thus the curtain closes on one of the most precious incidents recorded by the beloved apostle in his portrayal of the incarnate Word. The choice lines of Sir E. Denny form a fitting conclusion to this short meditation:

Sweeter than rest to Christ the Lord,

When seated by the well,

The blessed work that led Him there

Of grace and peace to tell.

One thoughtless heart that never knew

The pulse of life before,

There learned to love; was taught to sigh

For earthly joys no more.

Fair witness of His saving grace,

In her, 0 God, we see

The wandering soul by love subdued,

The sinner drawn to Thee.

Through all that sweet and blessed scene

Enacted by the well,

More than enough the trembler finds

His guilty fears to quell.