The Black Sheep of the Family
What color are sheep? White, of course. This is one of the things that make sheep valuable, their white wool. It can be dyed any color you like. Once in a while a sheep is born with black wool. They are rare, but they do happen. Black sheep are not quite as valuable as white sheep. You can’t dye the wool. In fact, back in the superstitious Middle Ages, a black sheep was considered some sort of bad luck, a visit by the devil.
We may refer to someone as the black sheep of the family. It refers to a family member who doesn’t quite fit in. Some regard this as a compliment because they dare to be different. Most often it is used in a derogatory fashion as if there is something wrong with that person. In our gospel reading today we find a black sheep. She had a reputation in town, a well deserved reputation. That is why she went to the well to draw water at odd times. She didn’t want to have all those piercing eyes staring at her. And yet, Jesus was there. He didn’t stare at her like the others. In fact, he spoke to her. Jesus came to save the sinner and the lost. He goes after even the black sheep. But as we study this woman, we will quickly realize that we are all black sheep that Jesus seeks.
5So 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. This is an example of what we call the humiliation of Jesus. It is a term we use to describe how Jesus did not use his godly power. He came to the well tired and thirsty and hungry. This shows the love he has for us. He didn’t use his power to make life easier for himself. And when the time came to suffer and die for our sins, he didn’t use his power to ease it or lessen it a bit.
Jesus wasn’t the only one who was thirsty. 7When 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.) You want to know how radical Jesus was, or better, how loving? He should not have spoken to this woman. In a book put out by one of our missionaries who works with Muslims, he cautions that you should not start up a conversation with a Muslim or near Eastern woman. Culturally that is frowned upon. Same then. Culturally men usually don’t speak to women in public. Also, he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. They were as close as the Hatfields and McCoys. In other words, they despised the other. Jesus shows us how to build bridges. It is simple. Love the other person.
Yet Jesus shocked her when he asked her for a drink of water. 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. ) 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.” 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?” 13Jesus 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.” 15The 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.”
I love how Jesus works here. He breaks down the cultural barriers. In fact, he says she would have broken down the barriers first if she had known who he was. If she recognized him as the Son of God, she would have run to him for the gift of God. This phrase, Gift of God, is used four times in the Bible and always as God’s promise of salvation. If only people know that salvation and eternal life are a gift from God. If only the whole world knew Jesus as more than a tired Jew, but as the Son of God who came to our world to save us from our sin. They would run to him first.
This woman is sensing something special about Jesus. But she is resisting Jesus. She sarcastically points out Jesus has no rope or bucket to draw this special well. He has no shovel to dig it. And right now she is not even thinking about eternal life. How easy it is for us to be so focused on getting a drink of water or paying bills or fixing or improving homes that the same words mean little to us. It seems we are too busy to think about next month let alone eternal life. This woman was witty, but also hopeless. She figured her life was unfulfilling and there was nothing that was going to change that. She took living water to be something like winning the lottery. If you win, you don’t have to work another day in your life. She still is focused on her life and what can make it slightly better. But eternal life is just that, eternal, and it really should on our minds. And Jesus has a way to get us focused on it.
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.” Jesus is not making idle conversation with this woman. Every word, every syllable that comes from his mouth is purposeful and full of meaning. I suppose Jesus could have brought up any detail about her life. As God he knew everything about this woman. But he picks this detail, her five failed marriages and current adultery, because this is what troubles her the most. It is like a yoke around her neck weighing her down. This is why she was a black sheep, an outcast. What is it that is still hanging around your neck? What detail of your life you pray will never be revealed? What is it that makes you cynical about things including God?
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 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.”
She changes the subject as we all do when we are uncomfortable. But Jesus doesn’t let her off the hook. In fact, he tells her that worship isn’t where you worship, or how. It is a change of heart. She hears the words of worshipping in spirit and truth. She really wants that. Maybe, she thought one day when the Messiah comes. 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Yes, the Samaritans were half breeds between Jews and pagans. Yes, they invented a new religion. They still read and taught the first five books of the Bible, and apparently this woman had attended Sunday School a long time ago. She heard and knew something of the Messiah. But even this was an attempt to put it off. How often do we keep saying to ourselves, “Yeah, I want to get into a regular Bible reading, but maybe after Easter.” She seems to be putting Jesus off. “Let’s wait for the day the Messiah comes.”
But Jesus refused to let go. In fact, he reels her in. 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” To hear that is like a sick person hearing the doctor is here. Anything she heard about the Messiah bloomed in her heart like a watered seed becoming flowers. Earlier she didn’t want to talk religion. Her life was nowhere, no one cared for her, her life was out of control. Not anymore. The Messiah has come and she is a dear child of God. She may be a black sheep, but she is part of God’s flock.
How can we repeat this? We could do a prison ministry for those who are confined and have no hope. We could go to a drug rehab center. There are plenty who have a life that keeps spiraling down. But what about here? What about now? We may not be Samaritan adulteresses. Then again, we are. Look around. This flock isn’t a flock of normal sheep. We are all the black sheep. We are all sinners. But the Messiah has come. Our sins are forgiven by the Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep at the cross, all his sheep, all his black sheep.
And look at Jesus. See how his love moved him to start a conversation. See his love refuse to give up even though this woman resisted him. Jesus is patient with you. Even when you give excuses or change the subject or avoid the questions of eternal life, he still reaches out to you. This woman must have been astounded that a man she never met knew her entire life. You have a Savior who knows everything about you. He knows every thought, every bad word, every angry moment, every failure to show kindness and love that has ever entered your mind, and yet he still talks with you, reaches out to you, forgives you. Do yourself a favor. Don’t push him away.
You know the rest of the story. She ran into town and told everyone about the Messiah. Imagine all those folks who regarded her the black sheep, who stared at her, who whispered about her whenever they saw her. She didn’t hide from them. She ran to them and told them. They begged Jesus to stay and he did for two days and a Christian congregation was formed, one that worshipped the Lord in spirit and truth.
On the back of the bulletin is a picture of Jesus holding a sheep on his shoulders. What color is it? His flock consists of only sinners, black sheep like this woman, like you, like me. That black sheep is you. And see what Jesus is doing? He carries each of us on his shoulders. He gives a drink from the well of life, eternal life. Drink and thirst no more. Amen.