Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"A Most Unlikely Evangelist"

John 4: 1-30, 39-42

Psalm 36: 7-9

Some years ago, Mercedes Benz aired a commercial which featured one of their cars running

into a concrete wall during a safety test with minimal impact to the crash dummy inside.  A voice

over asked a Mercedes engineer why their company didn’t enforce their patent rights on their

car’s cutting-edge, energy-absorbing body.  In fact, this aspect of Mercedes’ design has since

been copied by almost every other auto manufacturer in the world in spite of their exclusive

patent.  In a German accent the engineer replied: “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.”

    What a great statement!  Some things in life are just too important not to share.  As Christians,

we believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is one of those things ‘too important not to share.’

In other words, we should have a zeal and a passion for what is called evangelism.  Now, I’m not

talking about the sort of evangelism I witnessed a few years ago at a cruise-in downtown, when

some dude walked up and down Lincoln Way waving his Bible [I don’t know if it was his Bible, or a

Bible] and yelling at the top of his lungs.  Maybe he was satisfying some need of his own, but I

didn’t see one person engaged or evangelized. 

      Nevertheless, we believe that we are called by our very role as Christian folk to share the gospel

with our family, friends, neighbors, and the world; to let them know, at the proper time, in

the proper context, with sensitivity and respect, what the Lord has done for us, and what the

Lord might do for them.  The Christian faith has been advanced throughout the ages by people

like you and me doing just that; sometimes through words; most of the time through acts of

mercy, kindness, compassion, and charity.  We declare the good news of Christ via the testimony

of our very lives, making all of us evangelists.

      This morning, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a Christian evangelist; perhaps the very

first; one whose willingness, whose zeal, whose passion to spread the good news has been

recorded for posterity.  But I must warn you.  This person is as unlikely a candidate for the role of

evangelist as you’re apt to find.  Let’s hear her story.

          (Read John 4:1-30, 39-42)

    What makes this Samaritan woman such an unlikely candidate?  First of all, she is a Samaritan,

hated enemy of the Jews.  Second, she’s a she.  But don’t you know that women have always

been at the forefront of the Christian faith?  We’re reminded of the passage in Luke 8 in which it

is stated that “Mary, called Magdalene…. and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and

Susanna, and many others…..provided for (Jesus and His disciples) out of their resources.”  In

fact, I’d go so far as to say that most churches today would be at risk of collapse if women in the

church were to withdraw their support and efforts.  But it is only in these latter days that women

are being recognized in the church for their selfless acts of service.

      Yet there remain churches all over the world which are struggling even today with the role

women should play in the community of faith; many blocking women from serving as pastors or

in key leadership positions only on the basis of gender. The struggle is especially evident in Roman Catholic,

orthodox, and some fundamentalist communities.  Welcome, but definitely not

equal.  That’s been and remains the attitude of many churches today as throughout history.

      So it’s really remarkable that this particular evangelist happens to be a woman.  She herself

was as surprised as anybody.  When she first met Jesus, she was shocked that He even spoke to

her.  It was at a well outside her village of Sychar.  She had gone there, as she did daily, to draw

water.  She had assumed she would be the only one there at that hottest hour of the day.  Yet

 

here was this man – a Jew – and He spoke to her – a woman and a Samaritan.,  She was aghast

in a day and time when and in a culture where women genuinely were second class citizens; seen

as possessions more than persons.

      It is reminiscent of a scene once described by former Supreme Court Justice William O.

Douglas.  He was visiting a part of the Muslim world that segregates women much as they did in

Judea some 2000 years ago.  One evening, as Douglas was talking with two Muslim women, the

husband of one arrived on the scene.  He came fuming and cursing.  “His face was livid,” Douglas

wrote in his memoirs.  “He lunged at his wife with closed fist, hit her on the side of the face, and

knocked her to the ground.”  Later, the husband came to apologize to Justice Douglas, not for his

own behavior, but for his wife’s. He hoped Douglas would not think too badly of his wife for what

she had done.  What was the wife’s disgraceful conduct?  She had spoken to a man other than

her husband.  Such was life in Judea in Jesus’ day.  No wonder the woman in our lesson was

shocked, and I’m sure fearful and suspicious, that Jesus would talk to her.  Jewish men simply

didn’t speak to unfamiliar women; especially Samaritan ones.  So these are two of the unique

features of this most unlikely evangelist.

      But there is another feature which makes this woman even a more unlikely candidate.  She

wasn’t a particularly well-behaved woman.  It appears she had a thirst for men; lots of men.

It’s one thing for the Lord to permit a woman of Samaria to share the good news.  It is another

thing for the Lord to permit a woman with all the problems this woman had to be a witness for

Christ.  After all, she had been married several times.  And on the day she encountered Jesus, she

was living with a man she wasn’t married to.  Of course now days, such behavior would hardly

raise an eyebrow.  But it did back then.  There were Jewish laws on the books which actually prescribed

that an adulteress be stoned to death.  Most of us remember that story later in John’s

Gospel about the woman caught in sin whom Jesus saved by declaring, “Let anyone among you

who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  So we can only imagine how surprised

this sinful woman at the well was that a man of Jesus’ piety and stature had any dealing with the

likes of her ---- a woman, a Samaritan, a sinner.  Three strikes and we’d assume she’s out.  But not

according to Jesus’ count. 

      Jesus can be such an embarrassment, can’t He?  He just didn’t take into consideration how

righteous people might respond to His actions.  He embarrassed His own disciples more than

once; His unconventional behavior; the folk He hung out with; the places He dared enter; the

customs He dared violate.  But the disciples felt that Jesus had gone too far on this one.  They

knew why the woman Jesus was talking to had come to the well in the 105 degree heat of the day

when no one else in their right mind would.  She was the village outcast.  She couldn’t associate

with other women.  She had to keep herself out of public view.  Yet Jesus saw in her possibilities,

potential, even that of an evangelist when there was yet no such thing.

     Not only does Jesus speak to her.  He addresses her in a way which itself is shocking.  He called

her “woman.”  Pastor, so what?  The Greek word translated from Jesus’ native Aramaic is gunai.

This is a term of tenderness and endearment reserved for only the most special of women in

one’s life.  A contemporary expression might be “dearest lady” or “dearest heart;” even “honey.”  

Jesus in fact  addressed this woman with the same word with which He addressed His own

mother at a wedding in Cana, and later as He hung upon the cross and said, “Woman [gunai,

dearest heart] behold you son.”  Yes, Jesus called a woman who was regarded in her own village

 as hardly worthy of the time of day “dearest heart.”  And Jesus treated her like a dearest lady.  He

listened to her.  Her accepted the reality of who she was without compromising His own convictions.

  He helped her to hold a mirror in front of herself, and see the need for change.  And He treated her

with dignity as a child of God.  So much so that this woman was the first person

mentioned in the New Testament to whom Jesus’ revealed His true identity when He said to her,
“I am he (the Messiah, the Christ), the one who is speaking to you.” 

      Never before had she been treated by a man like this.  The men she had known had likely

used her and abused her; treated her like anything but a dear lady.  This Samaritan woman

probably didn’t like men very much; perhaps even hated them.  At the same time, she couldn’t

be without a man in her life.  You may have known someone like her; would rather live with an

abusive man than no man at all.  Not one man had given her what she really thirsted for, even as

she kept up her desperate search; jumping as it were from bed to bed.

      Then she encountered Jesus and discovered in Him what she had longed for all these years.

She needed to know that her life mattered.  She needed to know that in spite of her failures, in

spite of her weaknesses, in spite of her sin, she was a person of worth.  She didn’t know who she

really was until she met this teacher from Nazareth.  Then her life changed, and she would never

be the same again.  She had brought her jug out to that well to draw water.  But in her moments

with Jesus, she had discovered something far more significant. She had been given “living water,”

“a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  I’m sure this woman would have liked to have

stayed in Jesus’ presence all afternoon, but the disciples arrived, wondering what in the world

Jesus was up to now.  Then we’re told that “the woman left her water jar and went back to the

city.”  Why did she leave her “water jar?”  Could it have represented for her the former; the

bitter and brackish; the water which could never satisfy her deepest spiritual needs.  The old was

gone.  The new had come.  The past was closed.  The future was open. 

      The end stress of the episode is striking.  This woman who had fouled up her life in so many

ways turns into an evangelist; a messenger of good news.  She tells her fellow villagers – those

from whom she hid herself – “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!

He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  Her reputation notwithstanding, people from the village go

out to the well to see for themselves. They even beg Jesus and His disciples, their sworn enemies,

to stay with them.  A good number of people from Sychar believed in Jesus “because of the

woman’s testimony.” 

      There we have it: the story of a most unlikely evangelist.  A woman.  A Samaritan woman.  A

Samaritan woman with a past.  Then she found in Jesus what she really thirsted for: a sense of

worth.  She found out who she really was: a child of God.  She found out what she really needed:

living water gushing up to eternal life.  She found her real calling: to proclaim that Jesus was that

living water – something in life just too important not to share.  So it should be with all of us who

have encountered Jesus.  Because we too have good news that is just too important not to share. 

Now let’s leave behind any old water jars and return to our villages – our families, our friends,

our neighbors, the world, and be evangelists for Jesus Christ.  Amen.