7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 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.) 10 Jesus answered her, “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.”
I just preached on this passage last week, and afterwards I was reflecting on it and I realized that I missed a major insight! Look at Jesus’ profound answer to her: if you knew the gift of God, and who it is speaking to you, you would ask Him. It really strikes me that this notion of knowing the gift is so important!
We already know
We usually walk around thinking that we know most everything that is needful to us. We have studied our theology, we have read widely. We have been educated, and we have long experience in the world. We already know! Jesus comes to us, and in our mind, He is going to tell us things that have long been apparent to us. However, this is what He is saying to this woman: you do not know! She knew some incidental and unimportant things about the history of the well, and some wrong things about how to worship God, but she did not know who was asking her. She certainly did not know this very important thing: the gift of God!
This pride which assumes that we already know is at the very root and heart of our sin. It is the great enemy of beautiful spirituality. As sons of Adam, we know good and evil (Genesis 3:5-7) and we assume this makes us like God. But God is greater than this knowledge – God comes bearing a gift. Gifts operate on a different basis than the knowledge of the conscience, because they are given without thought of deserving or earning. No payment is required for a gift. This is the the thing she did not know: the gift of God.
The element of …
You know what it’s called when you receive a gift, and you don’t know what it’s going to be? It’s called a surprise! People who are too learned and too arrogant to think that God could surprise them are not looking for a gift they don’t know. They are looking to impress people, including Jesus, with what they already know. It’s as if we want to say, “I’m so wise and learned and experienced, that even God can’t surprise me.” Isn’t it amazing that Jesus referred to His ministry in this way – the gift we don’t know? I think you can always tell when people have really grasped the power and scope and breadth of the gospel: they are surprised! They have seen that they did not know the gift of God, and they have been surprised by it. There is what my some of my friends have been calling “gospel astonishment.” There is an aspect in which we see that we did not know the gift of God, and somehow Jesus pressed through all of our theological pretense and nonsense to lead us to the amazing realization that we have been unconditionally and definitively loved. God has come in the flesh; He did not merely speak from a cloud in a booming voice that He loved us. That would be quite easy for Him, and would incur little cost to Himself. No – He came and showed us He loved us. He died for us.
There is a tendency for us to think that we know the gift of God because we have accurate doctrine. The gift of God is certainly not going to come along and contradict orthodoxy! So we think, yes, I know about the incarnation. I know that Jesus is the word made flesh. I know that He is God with us. But I think we need to retain room for surprise here. What does it mean to really know that? Were you there when He crafted the universe and designed the stars and invented gravity and masterminded the first living cell? Where were you? Can you really wrap your head around the idea that this great creator became flesh and dwelt among us?
The four living creatures around the throne never lose their astonishment!
I maintain that if meaningful prayer is not repetitious (Matthew 6:7 NASB), then when the four living creatures continue to worship God saying “Holy Holy Holy” (Revelation 4:8), they carry a fresh sense of surprise every time it comes around. God is forever creating, He is always surprising! They are seeing something completely inevitable and completely fresh and new every time they say it. Since there is no meaningless repetition, there is forever a fresh sense of astonishment. Even they are saying, we did not know the gift of God! God continues to give, again and again and again, and His beauty and power and holiness are shown in fresh waves of incredible revelation. How beautiful it is, that forever we do not know the gift of God! The more we know the gift of God, the more we are inspired to ask, because what is revealed is a new facet and depth of His kindness and warmth and grace and love. This is the nature of His holiness and the flavor and fragrance of His gift.
Come soon Lord Jesus! Surprise us! We do not know the gift of God and who it is who is asking us! We are so thirsty for Your living water! Sustain us in this desert of selfish pride and conflict! Amen!