Fourth Week of Lent: A Woman at a Well

Now he had to go through Samaria.  So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”  (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “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.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.  Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything.”

Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”  (John 4:4-26)

Last week we looked at Israel’s forty-year journey through the wilderness and connected it with Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness.  This week we find Jesus passing through Samaria en route from Judea to Galilee.

Jews and Samaritans had a troubled relationship, going all the way back to the days of the Babylonian captivity and before.  After the reign of Solomon, Israel split into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was invaded by Assyria in 722 BC, and all of its people were carted off to Assyria.  A few remained behind, however.  These intermarried with the Assyrians, which gave rise to the Samaritan race.

Jews looked upon Samaritans with tremendous disdain.  To them, the Samaritans were “sellouts” who despised their Jewish identity and were willing to compromise it for the sake of convenience and worldly acceptance.  (Kinda like the way some evangelicals talk about others who don’t quite go along with the party line.)

The antipathy which Jews felt for Samaritans was so great that many Jews who made the trek from Judea to Galilee or the other way would detour across the Jordan and along the east side so as not to have to pass through Samaria.

But Jesus felt no such antipathy.  He was willing to take the straight shot up through Samaria.  In that culture, this in and of itself was remarkable.

But he didn’t stop there.  He went so far as to talk to a woman and ask her for a drink of water.

Our story takes place at the sixth hour–six hours after sunrise, which would put it right at the middle of the day.  This is the hottest part of the day, and anyone who has to do anything outside is not going to do it at that time of day.  Anyone who needs to fetch water from the well is going to do it either in the morning or in the late afternoon, when it is not as hot.

Which is why this woman was out at the well in the middle of the day.  She knew that if she went then, she could count on having the well all to herself.  And she needed to have it all to herself.  She had an unsavory reputation in this village, and she did not care to face the harangues of her fellow villagers.

So she pulls up to the well, and there is this man sitting there.  He asks her for a drink.  The fact that he would even talk to her was very remarkable in that culture.  Even more remarkable was his willingness to ask her to do something for him.

Jesus has only uttered one sentence, and we have already seen how far he is willing to go to bring the message of his kingdom to those who are the lowest, the least, and the most despised of his culture.

The woman sneered at Jesus.  He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan.  Surely he knew the reasons why she was out there at the well in the middle of the day.  Either he intended to heap further derision upon her, or he had other intentions toward her that were, shall we say, less than honorable.

But as the conversation unfolds, we see that Jesus’s intentions were nothing of the sort.  He promised her a source of living water that would well up from inside of her.  When she did not get what he was talking about, he then proceeded to tell her everything she had ever done.  She was so amazed that she ran back and got the whole village to come and see him.  And when they saw, they believed.