There’s not much in life better than a genuine Philly cheese steak sandwich – if you can find a real one anywhere beyond Philly and the suburbs. Oh yes, lots of places advertise them; but I don’t even try anymore. The pure Philly-style steak of my childhood and college years in and near the City of Brotherly Love has been corrupted with all sorts of accoutrements not native to the real deal. Get rid of those green peppers and mushrooms and lettuce, etc. That is simply junking up the genuine article!
So when I find the real delight, it is quite exciting. But there are things in life that are more energizing and exciting than favorite foods we eat … maybe even more energizing than any food, even when we are particularly hungry and in need of nourishment. It could be a reunion with a long-lost friend or relative, or perhaps the unexpected arrival of incredibly good news … whatever, but something so great that it makes you even forget you are hungry, and now you feel revived and ready to go!
That is something of an illustration of what we see in our passage and reading today. Jesus is tired upon the journey from Judea to Galilee, he is sitting by a well while the disciples have gone into the town of Sychar to buy food, and he has been engaged recently in an incredible custom-breaking conversation with a Samaritan woman.
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
The disciples are surprised by the whole scene upon their return from the town, while the woman with incredible excitement that she has apparently spoken to the Messiah forgets her water jar and rushes into town. There she relates her unique story to the people. Imagine that scene! Here is a woman of ill-repute status encouraging everyone to come see the fulfillment of religious faith and centuries-old expectation. Would you have believed her? Would you have followed her out of town to the well? Would you expect such news to come from such a person?
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
So as the crowds are coming out from Sychar to see what the woman has excitedly been talking about, the disciples are merely concerned with Jesus’ physical well-being. He is clearly refreshed; though they are quite sure he has had nothing to eat from any other source. Jesus tells them that he has “food” about which they do not understand – the nourishment and joy of accomplishing the Father’s will and being about his mission on earth.
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Jesus recites for them what were likely some proverbial agricultural sayings at the time – sort of like how we might say of the weather, “Red at night, sailors’ delight; red in the morning, sailors’ warning” – ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? Jesus tells them to look up and see what a harvest is now available – possibly even gesturing and drawing their attention to the crowds of people moving toward them from the town.
Planting a garden is great; growing seeds and seeing them emerge is fun; but the best part of it all is actually getting to the harvest and picking those red-ripe tomatoes or large green peppers! I’d like gardening a whole lot more if I didn’t have to do any of the planting, weeding, or watering. And the disciples were in that category – the prophets and Christ himself had done the hard work. The season of the great harvest had now come with the advent and work of Jesus, the Christ.
And that harvest was even at that moment going to be witnessed by the disciples, as …
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
For two days, Jesus and the disciples stay with these outcast people, and the harvest is great among them as many believe – both based upon the testimony of the woman AND the teaching of the one whom they termed the Savior of the world.
So what lights you up? What excites you and gives you purpose and meaning in life? Hey, it is great to find success in what you do … I loved coaching and winning state championships. But honestly, that’s the “food” of this world. Maybe for you it is your family and vacationing that means just about everything to you. But if all you’re doing is enjoying this in the context of the stuff of this world, it has no eternal nutritional value.
None of us on the ministry staff at TSF apologize to any of you one little bit for encouraging you to invest your life in matters of eternal relationship. We can direct your energies in no better direction than reaching out to others, especially those who are yet to come to know Christ, and serving also with others in this great task of the spiritual harvest. Here is where your soul will be satisfied; here is where your hunger for meaning in life will be satiated. Because, at its best, everything else doesn’t rise above a Philly cheese steak!