I’m confident that all of us have been in situations in which we are called on to introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about our lives. We most likely would tell our name, mention how many children or grandchildren we had, what we did for a living, and possibly name a hobby. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that no one would take that opportunity to list our faults, bad habits, or past indiscretions. We wouldn’t do that because we don’t necessarily want people to know. And, if we know that they know, we do our best to avoid any line of conversation that would bring up any uncomfortable facts about ourselves.
Imagine for a moment that the woman in today’s scripture was visiting our group and was asked to introduce herself and tell us a little bit about herself. What would she say? What could she say?
“Hi. My name is Megan and I live just outside the city limits. I’m not currently married although I have been married before. Actually, I’ve been married five times. I do have a live-in boyfriend right now. I don’t really have any friends or any family that I’m close to. Oh, and I am not 100% Christian. I believe some of what you believe, but I have my own thoughts that are different from yours. I just came into your class to see if you had some fresh coffee.”
Now, don’t tell me that some of you wouldn’t be sitting there wide-eyed and with your jaws dropping. Don’t even try to convince me that Megan wouldn’t be the topic of conversation over Sunday lunch today as well as for days to come. The encounter would be repeated so many times that it would become well-known throughout the church. If we saw her enter the Worship Center, tell me we wouldn’t nudge our spouse or the person sitting next to us in the choir loft and say, “That’s her. That’s the woman that came into our class that I was telling you about. The one that’s been married a gazillion times and is living with some man now!”
The details may have been different, but we’ve all experienced that scenario, haven’t we? We’ve encountered people whose life stories and life choices are questionable and perhaps contrary to our own.
-The woman who has multiple children with different fathers.
-The young teenage girl who finds herself pregnant while still in high school and unmarried.
-The man who left his wife and children for a much younger woman.
-The man who left his wife and children for a much younger man.
-The husband whose wife always has some kind of unexplained injury (broken arm, black eye, busted lip).
-The young boy who is always in the principal’s office or in the back of a patrol car.
These people and many like them are defined and labeled because of their life stories and choices. We mentally mark them in some way as being defective and “less than”. We do that because we don’t know their real stories or we’ve misunderstood their choices. We base our prejudice or our disdain on those who don’t measure up to our expectations or our preferences. And we do this without even attempting to know the person behind the gossip, behind the rumors, behind the stories. But Jesus. Jesus took time to talk with a woman who was used to being talked about.
John 4:1 GW “ Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John. 2 (Actually, Jesus was not baptizing people. His disciples were.) 3 So he left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.
4 Jesus had to go through Samaria.”
The way that verse 4 is written, insinuates that the only way to get to Galilee from Judea was to go through Samaria. That’s not true. Although Samaria would have been the quickest and shortest way to get from Judea to Galilee, Jews would often go East of the Jordan River and travel through Perea in order to avoid Samaria and its citizens.[i]
When we think of Samaritans, we often think of “good Samaritans”. The definition in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary for a good Samaritan is “one who voluntarily renders aid to another in distress although under no duty to do so.”[ii] The parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in Luke 10 has influenced individuals throughout many years to live a life aiding and assisting others. Organizations such as the Good Samaritan Society which tends to the needs of senior citizens, Samaritan’s Purse which gives relief to those affected by poverty and natural disasters, and even the Good Sam Club, a club for those who like to camp in RV’s was born from “a subscriber that recommended distributing decals to trustworthy RVers willing to offer assistance to fellow RVers.”[iii]
However, Samaritans had a very different reputation back in the days of Jesus. The Samaritans were half-Jewish, half-Gentile. They were mixed not just biologically and culturally but also spiritually. They ascribed their Jewish beliefs to only the first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). And even with those, they developed a unique understanding that was unlike the Jews. Samaritans rejected the writings of the prophets as well as Jewish traditions. For these reasons, Jews despised the Samaritans even more than they despised pure Gentiles.[iv]
That is why Jews would do as many people around here do. Take I-285 to avoid going through downtown Atlanta. They went out of their way to avoid going through Samaria. In fact, at one time Jesus specifically tells His disciples to avoid the Samaritans. “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go onto the road of the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.” (Matthew 10:5 BSB) But verse 4 of John 4 tells us that “Jesus had to go through Samaria”. Why? It’s simple, really. For you. For me. For anyone of us who has made mistakes, chosen the wrong path, or lived a life others consider “less than”. We’ve all been that woman at the well – coming to Jesus covered in sinfulness, carrying our empty jar in hopes of filling it with something that satisfies us and quenches our thirst.
John 4:5 GW “He arrived at a city in Samaria called Sychar. Sychar was near the piece of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus sat down by the well because he was tired from traveling. The time was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman went to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” 8 (His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food.)”
Jesus is tired and He takes a rest beside Jacob’s Well. Noon would have been “considered the beginning of the hottest hour; during this hour, people would seek shade, sometimes eat a light meal and often take a siesta. That the woman comes, alone, at this hour, suggests that she was not welcome with the other women since women usually came to draw water together. [v]
Considering all of this, I think it’s likely that the Samaritan woman is surprised to see someone there. I think she’s very surprised to see a Jewish man sitting there. And she’s even more surprised when He speaks to her.
It was considered improper for a man to have any kind of lengthy one-on-one conversation with any woman, especially if they weren’t related. It was even more so in areas or situations in which there weren’t many people around. Add to that the fact that Jesus is Jewish and she is a Samaritan, two groups that are notorious for not getting along. Plus the fact that she is a woman with a questionable reputation adds more irony to this. What could she have thought? Did she think that perhaps He could tell she was considered promiscuous, and He was engaging her in conversation to possibly make a connection? After all, in this first moment, Jesus is just a man to her. She knows men; she’s had her fair share of experience with men. We are told that she’s been married five times and has a current man who is not her husband. But were there more? Had there been other encounters with men that didn’t lead to marriage? We, of course, don’t know every piece of her history and we don’t know what thoughts ran through her head at that moment, but we do know that Jesus doesn’t waste time getting to the real reason He HAD to go to Samaria.
He first asks for a drink of water. It was customary hospitality that a visitor is offered something to drink.[vi] Her response to Him demonstrates her leeriness of Him. “The Samaritan woman asked him, “How can a Jewish man like you ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink of water?” (Jews, of course, don’t associate with Samaritans.)” John 4:9
Jesus doesn’t directly answer her question. Jesus didn’t need anything from her, but He knew she needed what only He could give. He replies with a statement that challenges her reasoning.
There are times when I’m reading the Bible and it’s as if a word or a phrase takes on new life. I experienced that when I read this verse during my study time. “If you only knew” is a phrase that indicates there is so much more. When someone says to you, “if you only knew”, what they’re telling you is that you don’t have all of the facts. They’re telling you that there’s a major piece of the puzzle you haven’t discovered. They’re letting you know that if you knew what they knew, your whole perception may just change.
Jesus gives the Samaritan woman even more information. “If you only knew the gift God has for you.” Wow! Just for a moment, forget all that you know about this story. Consider having an encounter with someone who just seems different from anyone you have ever met. Someone who is kind to you; something you’re not used to. Someone who doesn’t shun you or ignore you as most do. Someone who isn’t looking to take advantage of you. Someone who looks you in the eye and speaks with gentle authority. And they say, “If you only knew the gift God has for you.” I would have found it hard to hear anything beyond that statement because what this man, Jesus, is saying to her is this: “There is so much more that you don’t even know. God has something special just for you.” Imagine hearing those words when your life is a tangled mess and even if you do your best to untangle it and live a righteous life from that point on, the consequences of your past choices will always make you feel “less than” and unworthy of anything good God has to offer.
I have to wonder if the woman at the well had given up on having a fulfilling life. Had she lost all hope for having a real family? Having great friends? Had she resigned herself to thinking that she had made her bed and her only choice was to lie in it? Did she look at other women and quietly think to herself, “what if?” And this very day, in the midst of doing an ordinary chore, there is a hint of a change, a tiny speck of hope.
Jesus reveals to her that there is indeed something special and something different about Him. John 4:10 NLT “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.”
We’ll see that she doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is saying. Remember, the Samaritans used only the first five books of Moses. The phrase “living water” wasn’t used in those books. It was used in others and those who were familiar with the writings of Jeremiah would have known the phrase.
Jeremiah 17:13 ISV “LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn aside from you will be written in the dust, because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.”
However, she demonstrates she doesn’t understand. “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where are you going to get this life-giving water? 12 Our ancestor Jacob dug this well for us, and his family and animals got water from it. Are you greater than Jacob?” (John 4:11 CEV)
She notices that Jesus doesn’t even have a vessel of His own to retrieve any water. “According to tradition, if a Jew drank from a vessel belonging to a Samaritan, they would automatically be ceremonial(ly) unclean.” She then asks where He would get this life-giving water that is apparently different from the water in the well. The well that her ancestor Jacob had provided.
“ Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again. 14 But no one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give will become in that person a flowing fountain that gives eternal life.”
15 The woman replied, “Sir, please give me a drink of that water! Then I won’t get thirsty and have to come to this well again.” (John 4:12 CEV)
She’s only hearing bits and pieces of what Jesus has to say. She’s only grasping certain phrases. She isn’t comprehending the life-changing impact that’s occurring at that moment. All she is understanding is that this man may have something that will provide her with what she needs so that she never has to come to the well again.
She’s stuck in a perpetual cycle of needing something to satisfy her and fulfill her.
If she didn’t have to be there, she wouldn’t be there. She knows that people talk about her. She knows that she’s looked down upon. She knows that men just want to use her and women want to talk about her. She knows that people see her as being unworthy of anything good. She sees this opportunity with this stranger as a way to escape. After all, He doesn’t know her or anything about her. Or so she thinks.
John 4:16 CEV “ 16 Jesus told her, “Go and bring your husband. The woman answered, “I don’t have a husband.”
She must be intrigued at this point in the conversation. This man, this stranger has defied all social expectations. He is a man and she is a woman. There shouldn’t be any conversation between them and yet, there is. He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. There shouldn’t be any interaction and yet, there is. Could He be husband #6? She’s thinking he may not know her story and her reputation, but she does. She knows that as far as social ladders are concerned, she’s at the bottom. How long before He finds out? How long before he leaves her like all of the others? She may very well be looking at Jesus as her hero, not realizing He’s really her Savior.
“His object, here, was to lead her to consider her own state and sinfulness – a delicate and yet pungent way of making her see that she was a sinner. By showing her, also, that he knew her life, though a stranger to her, he convinced her that he was qualified to teach her the way to heaven, and thus prepared her to admit that he was the Messiah, John 4:29.”[vii]
John 4:18 CEV “That’s right,” Jesus replied, “you’re telling the truth. You don’t have a husband. You have already been married five times, and the man you are now living with isn’t your husband.”
Possibly her greatest fear has taken place. This stranger who shouldn’t know about her knows. The root of her embarrassment, the reason she finds herself at the well during the hottest time of the day with no female companions, the one thing that has caused others to talk about her, shun her, and consider her “less than” has somehow been made known to this stranger. Any mask she thought she was wearing was gone. Any disguise or rebranding that she thought she could hide behind had melted away. And there she stood, the truth, the raw truth, not thrown at her accusatorially, but rather, spoken in gentle truth. How does she respond? How would we respond when we are confronted with our darkest and most shameful disappointments in ourselves? We may do just as she did. A quick switch to a different conversation.
John 4:19 CEB “The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.” The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”
The rest of the story is remarkable. The woman leaves Jesus, leaves her empty water jar and she seeks out people rather than avoiding them like she normally did. She shouts with joy that this man had told her everything she had done – the good, the bad, the ugly! Her tabloid life became her testimony.
I want to share a few verses from Acts that you’ll think to have absolutely nothing to do with the woman at the well.
Acts 12:14 NIV “Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
Here’s what baffles me so much about those verses and the story of the woman at the well. “The recorded conversation she has with Jesus at the well is the longest dialogue He has with anyone in Scripture.”[viii] And we don’t even know her name. The servant girl who left Peter behind a closed door even got her name in God’s Word, and yet, for some reason, God doesn’t see fit for us to know the name of the woman at the well.
This woman who encountered Jesus and found new life through Him and then went on to share with others which resulted in many coming to know Him remains anonymous to us. I think possibly the reason she’s never named is so that we can all identify with her. You see Jesus came to Samaria to see her and to save her. It wasn’t a coincidence; it was providence. Jesus sought her out even knowing her history, every bad decision, every sinful choice – just like He did with each of us. We are the woman at the well! We have been given new life through Him and it’s our responsibility to acknowledge our sins, worship Him, and be joyful in telling others about Him. Our sins don’t surprise Him. Proverbs 15:3 ESV “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” But we also need to be Jesus at the well. We need to seek out those who are lost, misdirected, shunned, and looked down upon. We need to stop gossiping and start witnessing. We need to stop loathing and start loving. We need to stop judging and start embracing. How many thirsty people do you need to meet at the well?
Jesus knew everything the woman at the well had done. Still, He sought her out. He also knows everything you’ve ever done and yet, He seeks you. Not to condemn you, but to save you, embrace you, bless you, and love you.
Proverbs 27:19 NIV “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
Learning Investing Following Engaging
Learning – really learning God’s Word. Not just skimming over familiar stories & verses.
Investing – making better use of our time with Him. Investing ourselves, our time, and our gifts for His purposes.
Following – resisting less and responding more. If we only knew what God has in store for us!
Engaging – engage is to commit. Commit ourselves to seek Him not just daily, but continuously.
When we do these things, we will have new LIFE!
[v] Keener, Craig S.; Walton, John H.. NKJV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (p. 9282). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Keener, Craig S.; Walton, John H.. NKJV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (p. 9282). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.