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“Hide & Seek” on John 4:4-29 by Joe Ellis — March 3, 2024

Jesus and this unnamed woman... Together in the heat of the day... Jesus, a Jew... The woman, a Samaritan... Their people, bitter enemies...

Just by looking at Jesus, she can tell he’s a Jew. That’s her first response, tensions of race. Their people have an unkind history toward each other — it's about land rights. She wonders: ‘Why is this Jew asking me for a drink? What’s he playing at? Why is he here?'  

But we wonder at her response: has this woman learned some hard lessons around trusting men? While she assesses Jesus, we assess her backstory. What happened that she had to come to the well at the hottest part of the day — the time of day people avoid if they can? Is she here because the pitcher she fetched earlier was kicked over and now she’s got the hot, miserable job of going back to the well? Or is she here because she hopes nobody else will be there, because people don’t often receive her presence kindly? Whatever it is, she arrives alone. And here is this man, this Jew, asking her for a drink.

She protests. “How can you ask me for a drink?”  Then he surprises her, telling about a source of living water — Jesus says he knows about someplace to get fresh, gushing, refreshing water — not like the stagnant dirty water of this well. She’s drawn in. 'That sounds nice.' But just as she seems comfortable, Jesus says: “Go, call your husband.” She replied, “I have no husband.”  She’s intentionally concealing, but what? Jesus knows, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” We wonder what happened. Was she widowed five times? Was she continually married off to older husbands? Was her chastity sold for someone else’s profit? Was she terrified at lasting intimacy, jumping from partner to partner to partner? We wonder — but even if we had all the granular answers to those questions, we still wouldn’t see her the way Jesus does. Jesus sees her. Jesus truly sees her. She has felt seen, so much so that later she tells others with exhilaration, “He has told me everything I have ever done. Can he be the Messiah?”  She’s felt seen.

When God seeks you, you know what it is to be found?

Remember the story of Hagar in the wilderness? Being ill used by Abraham and Sarah — forced intercourse with Abraham, the slave sent away with child — and twice, God seeks her out in the wilderness as she’s there desolate. The first time God finds her next to a spring in Genesis 16:7, and next time she stands by a well in Genesis 21:19. Maybe it was the same well as in our story in John 4. Both times God seeks her in the wilderness, speaks to her, and blesses her. After her first meeting with God in Genesis16:13, she gave him a name, saying, “You are El-roi; the God who sees.”  She said, “Here I have seen the one who sees me.” In Genesis 16:14 she crafted a Hebrew name for the well, “Beer-lahai-roi” meaning “the well of the Living One who sees me.”

When God seeks, we know what it is to be found. Here in John 4, Jesus has also sought out this woman by a well. He sees her, despite her giving every indication of not wanting to be seen. He sees the pain that we can only guess at: perhaps of failed, thwarted, or aborted intimacy. He senses her thirst, the deepest of thirsts that any human can carry: the thirst for intimacy. This thirst to be known, to be loved, to be held, to be cherished.

And here Jesus comes seeking her, sent by the Father to find her. The Father sent His Son to seek out this thirsting woman. Jesus speaks to her heart, despite her so many attempts to distract from her palpable thirst. Jesus calls her attention to her thirst when he says, “Go call your husband.”  And her reply “I have no husband.” Jesus is showing her the way to satisfy her thirst. She unknowingly asked for this earlier when she said: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirst again.”  Now that she is aware of her thirst, here is the way to the water: “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.”  The water that is on offer is the Spirit of God. As Jesus says later in chapter 7:37, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John then explains that Jesus is talking about the Spirit. But it's not only the Spirit that’s on offer — not just some ecstatic experience (perhaps she’s had her fill of those). It is the Spirit and Truth.

Truth — perhaps so important to someone who has been heartbroken as many as five times. Empty promises for intimacy. Using the word “love” as a cover for greed, or lust, or power and control. Perhaps this woman has learned not to trust what you see on the surface, knowing all that glitters is not gold. She knows what seems too good to be true often is just that. But the Father seeks worshipers in truth.

The Greek word for truth is alētheia — it has two parts: A means not, lētheia means concealing. So ‘alētheia‘ is ‘not concealing’. The Father is not-concealing, not duplicitous, not false. He is genuine, He is real, He is true — the genuine reality. To this woman who has experienced so much concealing, duplicity, falseness, and grief, the Father sent His Son to find her, to see her, to draw her to Himself. The Father is seeking worshipers such as these: thirsty for true intimacy. True intimacy with the Holy One, the One who alone can satisfy our thirst. Spirit and Non-concealment.

Daring to be seen, wondering if this worshiper-seeking-Father, could be true, she wonders in John 4:25, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you — I Am.”

I’m wondering what you might want to say to this worshiper-seeking-Father? I wonder how you might want to respond to this Father who seeks to find you with His Spirit, and in non-concealment.

Perhaps you might want to un-conceal yourself, and pray something like this:

Father, all this talk about thirsting for intimacy, and to be seen and to be known — that’s all just terrifying. I get why that woman would put up so many defences. Father, this is where I’m at.

Or maybe you want to pray:

Father, I want to be seen. I want to be seen by you, just like that woman was seen by Jesus. Sometimes I feel like I go through this life not being seen by anybody — let alone you. I so desire to be seen by you.

Or maybe you want to pray:

Father, I am so thirsty to be known. I am so thirsty for you. I hear your Son talk about your Spirit as a gushing stream of fresh, cool water. I’ve felt so dry lately — Father, won’t your Spirit flow into me as well?

Or maybe you want to pray:

Father, I want to see you un-conceal yourself. I’ve seen so much that is false. I just want to see what is true, I want to see you.

Or maybe something else is stirring within you. What is it you’d like to say to you Father?


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