The Other Man
Jesus did much of his teaching in parables. His stories delighted many, puzzled others, and infuriated some.
"Choose your stories carefully when you preach," I was taught at the seminary. "They're what people tend to remember, if anything, from your sermons."
This being the case, from time to time, I forego preaching on Sunday mornings, choosing to share a short story instead. Today was one of those times.
You wish to know my name. It doesn't matter. Just call #6.
Don’t tease me like that,” Ruth protests, struggling to suppress a grin.
“But dear, it’s true. I’ve made an honest woman out of you!”
I am The Other Man.
It’s another scorcher here in Sychar. The sweat drips off my forehead. It’s boiling hot here at the market—even in the shade.
It’s about midday now. I know what this means. She’s gone again. Ruth has gone to the well. She won’t be back for hours.
She doesn’t really have to do this. These days, the other women in town invite her to go with them to the well. Usually, she does. Except on Sundays; on Sundays she goes alone—at the heat of the day.
Ruth goes to the well to remember. You could say that she goes there to worship.
Even though it’s been a decade since that day, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I can still see Ruth running into town. She was breathless. Her headscarf had fallen off
Her hair was a mess.
Our water jar was nowhere to be seen. I was angry. I was looking forward to a drink.
Ruth came up to me. Huffing and puffing, she struggled to regain her breath.
Finally, she blurted out, “I met a man at the well. He’s a prophet. He’s the One we’ve been waiting for!”
She noticed the skepticism and anger on my face.
By this time a crowd was gathering around my stall. They were listening to Ruth. To my Ruth—someone the men usually laughed at, while the women turned away in disgust.
Let me explain.
Ruth and I weren’t married in those days. She’d given up on it. “A five-time loser,” she called herself. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes crying.
The people of Sychar thought my wife was cursed. Sometimes, she thought so herself. She had first been married when she was just twelve years old. But Ruth’s parents needed the dowry, and so they agreed to the arrangement. It didn’t last long. Ruth wasn’t ready for marriage. Her husband soon kicked her out.
She went back home. But her parents had many mouths to feed. They resented Ruth’s return. They arranged another marriage for her. This time, no dowry exchanged hands.
Husband #2 was abusive. He often hit Ruth when she burned his supper, or didn’t do the wash just right; or for no reason at all. Ruth’s eyes were frequently black and blue. One time he even broke her nose. Ruth couldn’t take it any longer. She moved out—and back in with her parents.
Ruth found her third husband on her own. He was a drunk and a deadbeat. I should know. He was my brother. Ruth started to drink, too. They became the talk of the town. My brother’s parties scandalized Sychar. When Ruth couldn’t give him a baby, my brother threw her out. She moved away after that. I heard that Ruth went to live with relatives in a nearby village.
She returned about a few years later. Husband #4 had up and died. Ruth didn’t return alone; a son and daughter tagged along. She went back to live with my brother. Husband #3 became #5. At first, he doted on her children.
But he grew resentful. I guess they were a visible reminder of his infertility. He hit her son once, then again, a month later.
That’s when she came knocking on my door.
I was a young widower at the time. We comforted each other that long night. She never went back to my brother. Weeks later, he moved away; but not before spitting in my face, refusing to give Ruth a divorce.
You should have heard the neighbors talking behind our backs.
I loved Ruth but our relationship cost me dearly. My business suffered. We talked of moving away to get a fresh start.
News arrived that my brother was dead. I asked Ruth to marry me.
“Why bother? What good would it do me,” she replied. “A roof over my head—the children well-fed. That’s all I need.”
Several years went by—until the day they showed up.
Jews from head to toe
I was at the market. You could tell they were none too happy to be in Samaria. They could barely look me in the eye. A tall, rough-looking one named Simon asked for thirteen loaves of bread. Judas paid the bill, careful not to make any physical contact with me.
A few boys picked up rocks and pelted the strangers on their way out of town.
The men cursed us in return, shaking the dust from their feet.
Less than an hour later Ruth came running into town. At first, I was afraid that the strangers had molested her.
She was wild-eyed; our water jar nowhere in sight.
As a crowd formed around my stall, Ruth shared her story. She told us about Jesus. They had met at Jacob’s well. He was alone, covered with dust and exhausted. He asked her for a drink.
Ruth stared at him in disbelief. You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me that?
The crowd laughed at her bravery.
Jesus had laughed, too, she said, before replying: If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.
It was Ruth’s turn to laugh. Mister, what did you mean by living water? You don’t even have a bucket! Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who dug this well.
At this point, Jesus stood up. He walked over to the well, pointing to it: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but anyone who drinks the water that I give will never thirst again. The water that I give will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
As she told her story, Ruth’s voice again grew quiet. “I felt something stir inside. I looked this strange man in the eye. Sir, give me this water, so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming her to draw water.
Go, call your husband and come back, he replied.
I took a deep breath—and answered Him slowly.
I have no husband.
He didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment: You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
As Ruth spoke, the crowd at my stall stared at me.
I was too stunned to say anything.
Ruth continued on: Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that we must worship in Jerusalem.
Back and forth we went. I lost track of time.
Finally, I told him: I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything.
Then Jesus declared: The one speaking to you is he.
Ruth said that just then some men came up. They looked at us—at Jesus and me. A tall man started to say something, but bit his lip, and started to eat.
Ruth looked at us again. “I had to get out of there. So, I ran.”
She locked eyes with me—and the crowd. Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?
We had to see for ourselves. Just like that, we walked out of Sychar toward the well.
Jesus spent two days with us. He stayed at my home. Peter and Andrew, too. For two whole days the town shut down. The rest guests of neighbors.
We hung on his every word. And then He was gone—just like that. The Savior of the World.
That was ten years ago. But it’s not the end of my story. Not quite.
Ruth and I were married. She insisted on it. She wanted to make an honest man out of me.
Jesus never returned to Sychar. But an occasional traveler came by—with stories of miracles: The blind healed, lepers cured, the dead raised to life again. Just who was this man?
Then for weeks we heard no news; not until Philip came to town.
Jesus had betrayed—by Judas. In the middle of the night, he was arrested and quickly condemned by the Sanhedrin. They demanded that Pilate execute him. Reluctantly, he agreed. That’s how the Savior of the World ended up—nailed to a tree.
Ruth wept at the news. She shouted and fell to her knees.
But Philip didn’t stop. He kept on going. His face aglow. He is risen!
As the news sank in, Ruth wept again. Then she headed for the well.
She’s back out there again today.
What about you?
Do you thirst for the living water, too?
We read about the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. John is the only one of the four Gospel writers to include it in his account. For me, the key verse in the entire event is this:
Now he had to go through Samaria.
This is a prime example of what is called Divine Necessity. When John writes that Jesus had to go through Samaria it means that he wanted to go there. Jesus was determined to go through Samaria.
Now he had to go through Samaria.
What is so special about this simple sentence? It's the fact that Jews typically went out of their way to bypass Samaria, so great was the hostility between the two groups.
We see this hostility play out in Luke chapter 9:
As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
Did you notice it? Luke writes of the classic Divine Necessity. He records that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. (This is a more literal translation.)
Jesus was determined to go to the cross. And He was equally determined to go through Samaria to get there.
Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers to include this incident in his account. Luke is also the one Gospel writer to include the parable of the Good Samaritan. This makes perfect sense for me. Why? Luke was the only non-Jewish writer included in the New Testament.
As I continue to think about all of this, I wrestle with a few questions:
Why was it so important for John to include the story of the Samaritan woman in his account?
When did John have a change of heart?
What about us?
When is the last time that we had a change of heart about someone?
When is the last time that Jesus changed our heart?