Failure, Faith, and Flowing Grace

by Greg Lucas
“And he had to pass through Samaria.” – John 4:4
I love the intentionality of Jesus to meet us in the most desperate times of our life. Jesus’ “had to” through Samaria was not a geographical shortcut for lack of traveling choice; it was a personal appointment to meet with a woman whose life was full of failure. Your route to Jesus, or His route to you, is always providentially intentional.
So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” – John 4:5-7
Not only is Jesus always intentional in dealing with our failures, He’s also personally relational.

The barriers in this story are tremendous. 

First, Jesus was meeting and talking with a person of cultural separation. Even this woman was shocked by His approach. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) After Israel’s fall to the Assyrians, the Samaritans began to intermarry with the Assyrians, contrary to Deuteronomy 7:3-5. This is why the Jews often referred to the Samaritans as “dogs,” or “half-breeds.”

Second, Jesus was meeting and talking to a person of gender separation. Jewish men, particularly Jewish men of stature, rarely spoke to women in public. Even his disciples were amazed at this broken barrier.  “They marveled that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27). But there was no misogyny in Jesus’ ministry. Everyone was invited to come and drink.

Third, Jesus was meeting, talking, and associating with a person of moral separation. Even the Samaritans, her own people, had separated themselves from this woman. She was a notorious sinner, famous for failure, with a reputation for blown relationships and lewd living. And so, she comes to the well to draw water alone, at noon, in the heat of the day, when no one else will be there. But Jesus is there. And he meets her in the most unexpected place, in the most unexpected way, with the most unexpected words. 

What are the barriers to your story? Have you sinned greatly? Do you have a reputation for messing up? Does your past haunt you? Does your future frighten you? Have your friends forsaken you? Is your family disappointment in you? Do you feel alone and ashamed in your failure?

Read on.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew…” – John 4:10
Those three words carry a lot of meaning.

If you knew what I have in store for you. If you knew how much I love you. If you knew how eager I am to forgive you. If you knew how capable I am to rescue and restore you. If you knew how faithful I am to keep my promises. If you knew how I am going to use you for great things. If you only knew who I am, you would not be concerned with these barriers. If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus is always intentional when dealing with our failures. He meets us in the most difficult places at the most difficult times. He is relational in bringing us to faith. He tears down the social, cultural, and environmental barriers. However, Jesus is also confrontational. He never shrinks back from the underlying issues of our sin and shame. 
He said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” – John 4:16-18
Five failed marriages and an adulterous relationship.

Jesus confronts her, and He’s not just getting in her face about her sin. He’s revealing the deep, internal, underlying pain of failure. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” He tells her. Earlier she says, “…give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:15)

There’s something deeply personal and raw about this well, even its location. It is a constant everyday reminder of her failure. It is a constant reminder of her sin. It is a constant reminder of why she is ostracized. Every day she grabs her empty bucket and heads to the well alone, in the burning sun, contemplating her past, her pain, and her reputation.

Jesus meets her there. Right in the middle of all her mess.

  • When she counters the confrontation with excuses, Jesus points her to truth.
“Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.” She argued. “The water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus replied. – John 4:11, 14
  • When she tries to change the subject to religion, Jesus brings it back to true worship.
The woman said, ‘Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus replied, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:20, 23
  • When she becomes emotionally detached, Jesus makes it personal. 
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet…I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:19, 25)

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26)

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”  They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)
What are the greatest failures of your life? Bring them to the fountain of His endless grace. What are the sins keeping you isolated? Pour them in the water of His great mercy. What are your excuses? Dump them into the well of living water, drink in His promises of eternal life.

Leave your bucket of shame behind. And go! Offer the world a taste of the living water Jesus has given you.
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony.” – John 4:39