Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

"But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.”. . .

“I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us. ”Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”....

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

{John 4:6 – 7, 9 – 1 9 , 2 5 – 2 6 , 2 8 – 2 9 n l t }

Two Tombstones

I had driven by the place countless times. Daily I passed the small plot of land on the way to my office. Daily I told myself, Someday I need to stop there.

Today, that “someday” came. I convinced a tight-fisted schedule to give me thirty minutes, and I drove in.

The intersection appears no different from any other in San Antoni a Burger King, a Rodeway Inn, a restaurant. But turn northwest, go under the cast-iron sign, and you will find yourself on an island of history that is holding its own against the river of progress.

The name on the sign? Locke Hill Cemetery.

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As I parked, a darkened sky threatened rain. A lonely path invited me to walk through the two-hundred-plus tombstones. The fatherly oak trees arched above me, providing a ceiling for the solemn chambers. Tall grass, still wet from the morning dew, brushed my ankles.

The tombstones, though weathered and chipped, were alive with yesterday. Ruhet in herrn accents the markers that bear names like Schmidt, Faustman, Grundmeyer, and Eckert.

Ruth Lacey is buried there. Born in the days of Napoleon—1807.

Died over a century ago —1877.

I stood on the same spot where a mother wept on a cold day some eight decades past. The tombstone read simply, “Baby Boldt—Born and died December 10, 1910.”

Eighteen-year-old Harry Ferguson was laid to rest in 1883 under these words, “Sleep sweetly tired young pilgrim.” I wondered what wearied him so.

Then I saw it. It was chiseled into a tombstone on the northern end of the cemetery. The stone marks the destination of the body of Grace Llewellen Smith. No date of birth is listed, no date of death. Just the names of her two husbands, and this epitaph:

Sleeps, but rests not. 
Loved, but was loved not. 
Tried to please, but pleased not. 
Died as she lived—alone.

Words of futility.

I stared at the marker and wondered about Grace Llewellen Smith. I wondered about her life. I wondered if she’d written the words . . . or just lived them. I wondered if she deserved the pain. I wondered if she was bitter or beaten. I wondered if she was plain. I wondered if she was beautiful.

I wondered why some lives are so fruitful while others are so futile.

I caught myself wondering aloud, “Mrs. Smith, what broke your heart?”

Raindrops smudged my ink as I copied the words.

Loved, but was loved not...

Long nights. Empty beds. Silence. No response to messages left. No return to letters written. No love exchanged for love given.

Tried to please, but pleased not...

I could hear the hatchet of disappointment.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Chop.

“You’ll never amount to anything.” Chop. Chop.

“Why can’t you do anything right?” Chop, chop, chop.

Died as she lived—alone.

How many Grace Llewellen Smiths are there? How many people will die in the loneliness in which they are living? The homeless in Atlanta.

The happy-hour hopper in LA. A bag lady in Miami. The preacher in Nashville. Any person who doubts whether the world needs him. Any person who is convinced that no one really cares.

Any person who has been given a ring, but never a heart; criticism, but never a chance; a bed, but never rest.

These are the victims of futility. And unless someone intervenes, unless something happens, the epitaph of Grace Smith will be theirs.

That’s why the story you are about to read is significant. It’s the story of another tombstone. This time, however, the tombstone doesn’t mark the death of a person—it marks the birth. Her eyes squint against the noonday sun. Her shoulders stoop under the weight of the water jar. Her feet trudge, stirring dust on the path. She keeps her eyes down so she can dodge the stares of the others.

She is a Samaritan; she knows the sting of racism. She is a woman; she’s bumped her head on the ceiling of sexism. She’s been married to five men. Five. Five different marriages. Five different beds. Five different rejections. She knows the sound of slamming doors.

She knows what it means to love and receive no love in return. Her current mate won’t even give her his name. He only gives her a place to sleep.

If there is a Grace Llewellen Smith in the New Testament, it is this woman. The epitaph of insignificance could have been hers. And it would have been, except for an encounter with a stranger.

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On this particular day, she came to the well at noon. Why hadn’t she gone in the early morning with the other women? Maybe she had. Maybe she just needed an extra draw of water on a hot day. Or maybe not. Maybe it was the other women she was avoiding. A walk in the hot sun was a small price to pay in order to escape their sharp tongues.

“Here she comes.”

“Have you heard? She’s got a new man!”

“They say she’ll sleep with anyone.”

“Shhh. There she is.”

So she came to the well at noon. She expected silence. She expected solitude.

Instead, she found one who knew her better than she knew herself.

He was seated on the ground: legs outstretched, hands folded, back resting against the well. His eyes were closed. She stopped and looked at him. She looked around. No one was near. She looked back at him. He was obviously Jewish. What was he doing here? His eyes opened and hers ducked in embarrassment. She went quickly about her task.

Sensing her discomfort, Jesus asked her for water. But she was too streetwise to think that all he wanted was a drink. “Since when does an uptown fellow like you ask a girl like me for water?” She wanted to know what he really had in mind. Her intuition was partly correct. He was interested in more than water. He was interested in her heart.

They talked. Who could remember the last time a man had spoken to her with respect?

He told her about a spring of water that would quench not the thirst of the throat, but of the soul.

That intrigued her. “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

Her heart must have sunk. Here was a Jew who didn’t care if she was a Samaritan. Here was a man who didn’t look down on her as a woman.

Here was the closest thing to gentleness she’d ever seen. And now he was asking her about . . . that.

Anything but that. Maybe she considered lying. “Oh, my husband?

He’s busy.” Maybe she wanted to change the subject. Perhaps she wanted to leave—but she stayed. And she told the truth.

“I have no husband.” (Kindness has a way of inviting honesty.)

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You probably know the rest of the story. I wish you didn’t. I wish you were hearing it for the first time. For if you were, you’d be wide eyed as you waited to see what Jesus would do next. Why? Because you’ve wanted to do the same thing.

You’ve wanted to take off your mask. You’ve wanted to stop pretending.

You’ve wondered what God would do if you opened your cobweb-covered door of secret sin.

This woman wondered what Jesus would do. She must have wondered if the kindness would cease when the truth was revealed. He will be angry. He will leave. He will think I’m worthless.

If you’ve had the same anxieties, then get out your pencil. You’ll want to underline Jesus’ answer.

“You’re right. You have had five husbands and the man you are with now won’t even give you a name.”

No criticism? No anger? No what-kind-of-mess-have-you-made-of-your- life lectures?

No. It wasn’t perfection that Jesus was seeking, it was honesty.

The woman was amazed.

“I can see that you are a prophet.” Translation? “There is something different about you. Do you mind if I ask you something?”

Then she asked the question that revealed the gaping hole in her soul.

“Where is God? My people say he is on the mountain. Your people say he is in Jerusalem. I don’t know where he is.”

I’d give a thousand sunsets to see the expression on Jesus’ face as he heard those words. Did his eyes water? Did he smile? Did he look up into the clouds and wink at his father? Of all the places to find a hungry heart—Samaria?

Of all the Samaritans to be searching for God—a woman?

Of all the women to have an insatiable appetite for God—a five-time divorcée?

And of all the people to be chosen to personally receive the secret of the ages, an outcast among outcasts? The most “insignificant” person in the region?

Remarkable. Jesus didn’t reveal the secret to King Herod. He didn’t request an audience of the Sanhedrin and tell them the news. It wasn’t within the colonnades of a Roman court that he announced his identity.

No, it was in the shade of a well in a rejected land to an ostracized woman. His eyes must have danced as he whispered the secret.

“I am the Messiah.”

The most important phrase in the chapter is one easily overlooked.

“The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!

Could he possibly be the Messiah?’” ( John 4:28–29 nlt)

Don’t miss the drama of the moment. Look at her eyes, wide with amazement. Listen to her as she struggles for words. “Y-y-y-you a-a-a-are the M-m-m-messiah!” And watch as she scrambles to her feet, takes one last look at this grinning Nazarene, turns and runs right into the burly chest of Peter. She almost falls, regains her balance, and hotfoots it toward her hometown.

Did you notice what she forgot? She forgot her water jar. She left behind the jug that had caused the sag in her shoulders. She left behind the burden she brought.

Suddenly the shame of the tattered romances disappeared. Suddenly the insignificance of her life was swallowed by the significance of the moment. “God is here! God has come! God cares... for me!”

That is why she forgot her water jar. That is why she ran to the city.

That is why she grabbed the first person she saw and announced her discovery, “I just talked to a man who knows everything I ever did . . . and he loves me anyway!”

The disciples offered Jesus some food. He refused it—he was too excited! He had just done what he does best. He had taken a life that was drifting and given it direction.

He was exuberant!

“Look!” he announced to disciples, pointing at the woman who was running to the village. “Vast fields of human souls are ripening all around us, and are ready now for the reaping” ( John 4:35 tlb).

Who could eat at a time like this?

*** 

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For some of you the story of these two women is touching but distant.

You belong. You are needed and you know it. You’ve got more friends than you can visit and more tasks than you can accomplish. Insignificance will not be chiseled on your tombstone.

Be thankful.

But others of you are different. You paused at the epitaph because it was yours. You see the face of Grace Smith when you look into the mirror.

You know why the Samaritan woman was avoiding people. You do the same thing.

You know what it’s like to have no one sit by you at the cafeteria.

You’ve wondered what it would be like to have one good friend. You’ve been in love and you wonder if it is worth the pain to do it again.

And you, too, have wondered where in the world God is.

I have a friend named Joy who teaches underprivileged children in an inner city church. Her class is a lively group of nine-year-olds who love life and aren’t afraid of God. There is one exception, however—a timid girl by the name of Barbara.

Her difficult home life had left her afraid and insecure. For the weeks that my friend was teaching the class, Barbara never spoke. Never. While the other children talked, she sat. While the others sang, she was silent.

While the others giggled, she was quiet.

Always present. Always listening. Always speechless.

Until the day Joy gave a class on heaven. Joy talked about seeing God.

She talked about tearless eyes and deathless lives.

Barbara was fascinated. She wouldn’t release Joy from her stare.

She listened with hunger. Then she raised her hand. “Mrs. Joy?”

Joy was stunned. Barbara had never asked a question. “Yes, Barbara?”

“Is heaven for girls like me?”

Again, I would give a thousand sunsets to have seen Jesus’ face as this tiny prayer reached his throne. For indeed that is what it was—a prayer.

An earnest prayer that a good God in heaven would remember a forgotten soul on earth. A prayer that God’s grace would seep into the cracks and cover one the church let slip through. A prayer to take a life that no one else could use and use it as no one else could.

Not a prayer from a pulpit, but one from a bed in a convalescent home. Not a prayer prayed confidently by a black-robed seminarian, but one whispered fearfully by a recovering alcoholic.

A prayer to do what God does best: take the common and make it spectacular. To once again take the rod and divide the sea. To take a pebble and kill a Goliath. To take water and make sparkling wine. To take a peasant boy’s lunch and feed a multitude. To take mud and restore sight. To take three spikes and a wooden beam and make them the hope of humanity. To take a rejected woman and make her a missionary.

*** 

There are two graves in this chapter. The first is the lonely one in the Locke Hill Cemetery. The grave of Grace Llewellen Smith. She knew not love. She knew not gratification. She knew only the pain of the chisel as it carved this epitaph into her life.

Sleeps, but rests not. 
Loved, but was loved not. 
Tried to please, but pleased not. 
Died as she lived—alone.

That, however, is not the only grave in this story. The second is near a water well. The tombstone? A water jug. A forgotten water jug.

It has no words, but has great significance—for it is the burial place of insignificance.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2008 Max Lucado from the book Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God published by Thomas Nelson; September 2008, $24.99 US, ISBN: 978-0-8499-2124-7