Jesus was never too weary or hungry to have a compassionate conversation.
My last post was on Jesus’ compassion for the crowd. Let’s be honest–that’s not exactly a real-life scenario for most of us. How many of us are ever going to be in a position to feed 5000 people? Today let’s look at a far more likely scenario: the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 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.”
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.” –John 4:13-15
In this story, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Galilee by way of Samaria. As the disciples are off getting lunch, the Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Jesus engages her in conversation, deftly answering her religious and political questions with answers that speak to her heart. She ultimately believes fully in him “and the whole town with her.”
What can we learn about compassion by Jesus’ interaction with this Samaritan woman?
Look and see needs—your own and theirs. Jesus was weary from his journey. If you read this entire chapter, you find he left Jerusalem because he was making too many waves and the religious establishment was out for him, so he had a lot on his mind. He sent the disciples out to find food and opted to sit at the well. Very likely he was truly thirsty. Jesus asks this woman to provide a drink. When you ask someone to fill a need you have, they are more likely to open up to you. Being vulnerable allows others to become vulnerable to you!
Skirt social conventions and speak. Sometimes you need to do something that’s a little uncomfortable to be a compassionate presence. Jesus had two social taboos he ignored here: first, he spoke to a woman he was not acquainted with, second, he spoke to a Samaritan, an ethnic group of Jews who had intermarried with other tribes who lived in the area. Jesus simply saw a person in need and reached out.
Identify openings. The Samaritan woman creates an opening by pointing out Jesus is a Jew and they don’t normally ask anything of Samaritans. Jesus, rather than following up this comment with a discussion on the ethno-political debate between Jews and Samaritans (which you can see Jesus again avoid later in the passage), Jesus counters that if she had any idea what he could offer her, she would be the one flouting social convention. Jesus sees that she is open to conversation, so he takes the conversation deeper.
Speak truth and wisdom, not knowledge and information. Notice how Jesus answers her questions. He doesn’t. He answers the questions behind the questions. This woman did not need more information–she knew all about the reasons for the ethnic divide. What she needed was the truth–about herself (“This man told me everything I’ve ever done.”) and about who Jesus is (living water).
A great harvest requires a change in plans. When it’s time to harvest, you must drop everything to get the crop in. When we encounter someone who is ready to accept the gift of life that Jesus offers, settle in and be prepared to stay for a while. Jesus stayed 2 days in this town teaching before moving on to Galilee
Reciprocity. Jesus no longer needs lunch after this encounter and he’s forgotten about his thirst, too. Being the bearer of truth that yields a transformed life is the food and drink of heaven. It sustains us in a way that physical food never will. Giving of your time to invest in someone ready to receive the truth of Christ pays huge dividends in the currency of heaven.
Compassion for those we meet along the way is tricky, but well worth the attentiveness it requires. We may be rebuffed, or meet someone who is simply not ready for the truth we offer (like the Rich Young Ruler)–but what an amazing gift when we encounter a soul who is ready to receive the living water Christ has to offer.
What other ways do you see Christ’s compassion to the Samaritan woman in this story?