Jesus cultivated relationships with all the wrong people, at least according to Jewish prejudices. In John 4, he passes through the Samaritan town of Sychar and encounters a woman drawing water from the town well.
Everything about this episode is highly offensive to John’s first audiences. He’s in Samaria (gasp!), speaking with a Samaritan (ugh!!), and this Samaritan happens to be a woman (seriously!?). Later in the episode (v. 40), the townspeople ask Jesus to stay with them, and he obliges by staying for two days (what!?).
The disciples’ reaction gives all this away (v. 27): “Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”
The Jews of Jesus’ day were not merely not interested in developing redemptive relationships with outsiders. They made every effort to avoid such a possibility.
Engaging redemptively with outsiders, however, is precisely Jesus’ mission.
But that’s not the lesson here. Jesus doesn’t say that his encounter with the woman is his mission. He says it is his food.
Jesus isn’t there to assess, to recommend, to preach, or to pass judgment. He asks her for water. He’s there for sustenance.
As he says to his disciples, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (v. 32). Again, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work” (v. 34).
The life-giving sustenance of the Son of God is to encounter “the other” redemptively.
Israel, in cutting itself off from the nations, had actually cut itself off from its source of life. When they gave up being agents of God’s love and life to the nations, they ceased to be the people of the God who made promises to Abraham to redeem the nations of the world.
Interestingly, in vv. 35-38, Jesus does not tell his disciples to get busy carrying out their mission. He tells them to start harvesting their food. Their sustenance is to carry out Israel’s mission among the nations they had formerly considered outside of God’s saving purposes.
So, Jesus is sustained through missional encounters. Jesus’ disciples will be sustained in the same way.
I wrote yesterday that it may not be the case that evangelism is the task of the church. But this in no way means that churches can become insular communities cut off from genuine encounters with others. Doing so cuts churches off from God’s life-giving power.