Christ and the Samaritan Woman: Learning How To Have Casual Conversations That Count1

For years, I pastored in what was basically a commuter church, one whose doctrine was so specialized that only hard-core adherents “belonged,” or could belong. That’s a whole other story, and will soon be available in my soon-to-be-published memoir I’ll be sharing with you one day.

But long story short, I learned that church was not supposed to be a closed family reunion, more intrigued with preserving its historic culture or its most-favored doctrinal distinctive. That’s what seemed to me to have become the cause of the denominational divisions we have in the church. Each was given a doctrinal blessing from God—be it Eucharist, orthodoxy, charismatic gifts, or biblical Sola Scriptura individualism—-but it seemed that propitiatory walls began to be built around those distinctives, and to some degree, each other. And we’ve confused sincere seekers ever since.

So I learned (somewhat painfully) that Christianity was not supposed to be about bringing people to my preferred Christian practice or culture. I learned Christianity was simply about Christ, and doing what Christ commanded in Matthew 28 (which I paraphrase as “making disciples who make disciples).

I had to go on a steep learning curve to figure out just how to do that.

And guess who taught me a really cool way to do that—-Jesus, by turning a simple request for a drink of water into a village (or company) conversion experience. Notice how brilliantly he shifts gears in this story.

John 42 – With A Few Explanatory Comments

Now Jesus . . .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.)

To me, it seems that Jesus was simply thirsty. He needed a drink. And he immediately seized the situation to make both this unusual request (as explained in the verse below) into a disciple-making moment.

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.)

I don’t think Jesus planned this that day. But I think he was “on” enough to use his “need” to build a new and little bit of an attention-grabbing relationship.

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.”

The honestly thirsty Jesus seizes the moment. He simply places his foot on the conversation clutch and seizes the opportunity to shift conversational gears. Let’s watch the gear changes. He takes her physical literalism and turns it into spiritual symbolism.

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?”

First Gear: Physical Thirst Isn’t the Only Kind of Thirst

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.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Second Gear: Don’t Give Up When They Are Still Physical

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Granted, Jesus had a special spiritual insight here most of us don’t have. But you have spiritual hunches often—and you may be more on target than you realize. Maybe there’s a time to experiment and see if it might work.

Jesus escalates the conversation. It’s gone from a need for water to where we are supposed to worship.

Third Gear: Be Brave Enough to Completely Stop Talking About Just the Water

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Fourth Gear: Jesus With a Simple Phrase, Declares a Life-Changing Truth

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
And when you read the rest of the story, this conversation got results. The whole town showed up to see Jesus. And it all started with a simple need Jesus had and shared with a nonbeliever. Maybe on purpose (at work on purpose)—sound familiar.

He initiated a relationship with a nonbeliever for something he simpy needed at the time. And the rest is history.

OK, I Can Hear the Excuses

Yes, we know this was Jesus, and yes, he had spiritual insights we don’t. But let me tell you how my need for plaster one day got a lady who had not been to church for years and show up with her husband the next day.

It was a snowy winter day. I was sitting in the basement of our church watching the snow fall, getting ready for a Sunday service on a Saturday afternoon. I noticed that a plaster repair truck was parked at one of the houses I could see from the window where I was sitting at my desk preparing a sermon. We needed plaster work done in the church, so I chose to seize the moment and be the friendly neighborhood pastor. I figured if Jesus’ thirst was part of his motivation for approaching the Samaritan lady, it was ok for me to use the “need” the church had to strike up a conversation with the neighbor. Christ needed water. I needed a plasterer. It seemed a logical stretch and reason enough to initiate a friendly neighborhood chat.

After an initial conversation about the plaster, the Lord began His work. Something was going on in the family that was troubling her. The neighbor was grateful to be able to unburden her concern. Prayer was offered, and she sincerely welcomed it. Christ was
present in the prayer and the moment. The next day, this neighbor and her mate showed up at the door of the church.

The Point

I would have never believed this could have been done until I simply tried to do it. I knew it might fail. But I figured if Jesus was in me, he could do the same thing in me. And it worked. He did.

We can learn how to have conversations that count at work and help people become “followers” of Christ (disciples) who can make “followers of Christ” (disciples).

And after we do, what do we do next?

Think “C.A.N.S.” It’s something you “cans” do. And I’ll show you ways it’s being done in workplace settings.

1 I did not invent that phrase. Multiple organizations, Christian and others, have whole programs that use it. But it fits here so I’m using it.
2 Scripture quotations taken from the New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

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