As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man. —Proverbs 27:19
Samaria was off-limits to self-respecting Jews. The Jewish population there mixed its blood with Gentiles, rendering it unfit for the covenant people to spend time there. Most Jews traveling from Judea in the south of Israel to Galilee in the north took a lengthy detour around Samaria rather than soiling their feet in the dust of Samaria. But Jesus was different. He traveled into the heart of the country.
Jesus met a woman there steeped in her Samaritan heritage. She told Jesus, "You Jews say we should worship in Jerusalem, but our people worship on this mountain." She stood up to Jesus. She knew the Jewish disdain for the Samaritans, and she was willing to share some of her own with Jesus.
You can get angry reading this story in John 4. There may have been people with credentials to stand up to Jesus, but this woman didn’t have them. First, her moral life was a shambles. Jesus pointed out to her that she had five husbands, and the man she was living with now wouldn’t even share his name with her. Secondly, her spiritual life was barren. She brazenly admitted that her worship was as adulterous as her personal relationships: "Our people worship on this mountain," she said.
I read ignorance and brashness in the Samaritan woman’s demeanor and speech. I don’t know if I would have continued the conversation with her. But Jesus is on a spiritual mission. What kind of candidate is this woman for becoming a disciple?
Jesus read something different in her brashness. He read honesty. Underneath the repeated rejection by men, the shallow spirituality, and the vanity of her nationalistic pride was a purity of spirit that even many of the religious leaders lacked. Preachers were often rebuffed by Jesus, challenged, even attacked. But not this woman. Jesus stuck in there with her, countering her objections, and disclosing his own heart.
Jesus revealed something to this woman that he refused to reveal to the arguers and debaters of the law. Risking personal disclosure Jesus told her, "I who speak to you am he" (the Messiah, John 4:26). Crowds pursued Jesus. Pharisees pestered him. The court interrogated him. Everyone wanted to know, "Jesus, who are you?" The woman never asked, but Jesus told her, "I am the Messiah?" I wonder, "Why tell this woman?"
Paul said that God chooses to place the treasure of the gospel in clay pots (2 Cor. 4:7). People are those clay pots. We are the vessels that carry the message of salvation to lost and dying people. We take the message of hope to a homeless man, a pregnant teenager, a crippled vet. We embody and proclaim the message of forever to people who can’t see past today.
But certainly, there are some vessels more worthy of bearing that message than others! In Jesus’ day and ours, there are people who are bright, moral, and decent. They surely qualify as the fine china that should bear the treasure. But Jesus picked the five-time divorced, spiritually confused woman at the well to disclose his nature and bear his message to the rest of her Samaritan village. Into this common clay pot Jesus poured himself.
"As water reflects a face, so a woman’s heart reflects the woman." Jesus can read the hearts of people. He could read the heart of this woman; and behind the pride, ignorance, and degradation, he saw something redeeming: honesty. Jesus read this woman without judgment or condescension. He knew her story and still offered her the opportunity to bear the treasure of the Gospel. She did. Every person we meet, even a woman at a well, is a potential vessel for God to store his treasure.
From "Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and other Gems from Proverbs." Due out hopefully in August.