Text: John 4:4-42
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
How many people in the world know, or have known, everything (and I mean everything) about you? Maybe it’s your spouse or a friend or maybe even a child. But do they actually know everything? Do you want them to know everything? Or would you rather keep a few things under wraps so that no one else knows about them?
I think it is fair to say that we all have some things in our lives that we aren’t too proud of and would rather not let other people know about. Maybe a thought that ran through our head that was a little beyond what we would be comfortable telling other people about or maybe a word that we said to someone in private but really regret now and hope never comes up again or maybe some actions in our past that we’d like to just forget. Whatever it is, we’ve all got some kind of skeletons (big ones or small ones) in our closet that we don’t want people to find out about.
But why? Why don’t we want other people to know these things about us? What are we hiding from? The simplest answer, I think, is that we are worried what other people will think about is if they know who we really are. If they know what we did that one time or what we said or what kinds of things go through our heads they might not look at us the same way they did before, they might not love us the same way that they did before. If they knew who we really are they might not want to be with us anymore.
These kinds of thoughts must have been in the background for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in our Gospel reading today. She certainly has secrets that she is hiding. She has things that she does not want the world to know. That is why she comes to the well at the “sixth hour” which means around noon at the hottest point in the day. You only come to the well then if you are trying to avoid people.
Jesus shows us here though that there is nothing that is hidden from Him. Despite whatever efforts this woman might make to keep her past deeds a secret and whatever we try to do to keep our past a secret, Jesus knows what is going on. As they talk there at the well Jesus asks this woman to go and call her husband. There really is no reason to do this, nothing in the conversation to this point would necessitate getting another person involved, but Jesus has a point to make. “Go and call your husband.”
The woman is taken aback by what Jesus says. In this one little sentence He has gone and put His finger right on the sore spot that she is trying to cover up and hide. With this one request He has put her on the defensive. She has to throw up some walls to try and protect the secrets that she does not want out in public. “I have no husband,” she replies.
It’s not a lie, but it’s not quite true either. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;” Jesus says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She has had five husbands in her life and right now she is with a man who is not her husband. We don’t know how she ended up going through husbands like this. They could have died or they could have divorced her. Women in those days couldn’t divorce their husbands, only husbands could divorce their wives, so it might not have even been her fault. We just don’t know. But we do know that she is currently with a man who is not her husband. Jesus’ words even leave the possibility open that this man is actually someone else’s husband, but maybe not. Either way, it is not a good situation and the woman is not proud of what she has done.
How does the woman respond? At first, she tries to deflect at first and change the topic. Understandably, she doesn’t want to talk about these aspects of her past with a stranger at the well. But that is not the end of the story. After the disciples come back to the well and see Jesus talking with this woman, she runs into town, leaving her water jar behind, and tells people (the same people she was trying to avoid by coming to the well at noon!) to come and see this man who told her everything that she ever did. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The Saviour?”
This woman is taken aback that Jesus knew these kinds of things about her, but what is even more remarkable is that even though He knew all of this about her and knew the kind of baggage and history that she had, Jesus had spoken to her and offered her living water that would well up inside of her to life everlasting. Before this conversation at the well Jesus already knew everything about this woman and in spite of what He knew about her He revealed to her that He is the Christ, the one who is to come, the Saviour who will take away the sin of the world. Jesus looks at this woman knowing exactly who she is and exactly what she has done and out of love, mercy, and grace offers her the forgiveness of sins and living water welling up in her to eternal life. Jesus is not downplaying her past and the mistakes that she has made (instead, He drags them out into the open and calls attention to them), but still He loves her so deeply that He would offer this life giving water to her.
Christ Jesus knows everything about you too. Nothing you have done or will do is hidden from Him. He knows the number of the hairs on your head and He knows the things that you don’t want anyone else to know. He knows the things that you especially don’t want Him to know. And yet His love for you is so deep that He would go to the cross for you, die for you, rise for you, wash you in your baptism, and feed you with His own body and blood in communion. His love for you is so deep that He would forgive you even for those things that you don’t want anyone to know.
This is what Paul was talking about in our epistle reading today. In Romans 5 he says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, while we were caught up in sin and unable to save ourselves, Christ died for us in order to forgive each and every one of our sins. This forgiveness is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It sets us free from guilt and shame. It sets us free from trying to strive to make up for the wrong that we have done. It sets us free to live in peace and joy loving and serving our neighbour.
It is important to notice from this story though that this forgiveness that Jesus offers does not ignore sin, it does not pretend that sin never happened. That is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness does not mean sweeping things under the rug and pretending that no one saw it. Forgiveness means Jesus confronting sin face to face, staring it in the eyes, and hearing Him say, “I forgive you.”
Jesus does not ignore the sinful life that the woman He meets at well is caught up in. He doesn’t say to her, “You’ve gone through a few husbands, that’s ok, divorce and adultery are no big deal.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, who knows what’s right or wrong in the world these days anyway.” He doesn’t say, “The world has changed it’s not as big a deal as it used to be.” Jesus simply lays out the facts, “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” Sin is sin.
Just like the woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t hid the fact that you have sinned. We might like to try to hide those kinds of things, but Jesus doesn’t hide them. Jesus also doesn’t make excuses for us or downplay what we have done to make us feel better. Instead, like it or not, Jesus brings your sin, your past, out into the light of day. He points out our sin so that we see it for what it is. We may not have had five husband or wives, but we are just as guilty as the woman at the well was. But nothing about that sin and nothing about that past changes His love for you. Into the brokenness, into the sinfulness, Jesus pours out His blood shed for you on the cross that covers all of your sins and leaves you clean and holy with His righteousness and holiness.
“Come see the man who told me everything I ever did (especially the bad stuff!)” the woman said to the people in town, “Though I am a poor miserable sinner He spoke the most gracious, loving words that I have ever heard! Could He be the Christ?!” Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and He has taken away the sin of the world. Repent, believe the Good News, Jesus Christ has died for you and taken away your sin and guilt. Believe in Him and rejoice, your guilt is taken away your sin is covered. In Jesus name. Amen.