John 4:4-17, 28-30
A Hot Day in Samaria
This passage is about the time that Jesus encountered a woman at a town well. Scholars debate whether the story is allegorical or literal. Either way, my mind gets blown.
For starters, a woman in those days (and today in some cultures) was forbidden to venture out without a male relative accompanying her. One would assume that women were also prohibited from talking to vagabonds. So, something’s up from the get-go in Chapter 4 of John’s story.
Secondly, keep in mind the ancient hatred between Jews (that’d be Jesus, in this case) and Samaritans (the woman at the well). Water from a Samaritan’s cup would become ceremonially unclean for a Jew drinking it, which is exactly what Jesus said He wanted to do – drink from a Samaritan’s cup.
Thirdly, Samaritan heat sucks the sweat out of you, leaving crusty rings of bodily salts on your robe in places you didn’t know you had sweat glands. Running errands and traveling under the scalding midday sun just was not done.
And yet, before time and creation existed, Jesus knew He’d be meeting that woman at this well.
“Now Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.”
Blue hills in the distance crumbled down into the valley where there are more rocks and stones than soil. Entering the town, Jesus heard a pack of dogs snarling in the distance. No one else was in the streets. No one else was at the well. He waited. Soon, Jesus heard that woman’s sandals crunch the graveled path to the well.
She saw Him there, but nevertheless, she approached, for she was disgusted with restrictive customs and the men who invented them to their own advantage.
“7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
Jesus probably smiled warmly at her. He could have miraculously conjured up water as He did fishes and bread or top-shelf wine, but He’s on a mission and that woman was in His plan.
9 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.[a])
10 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.”
In your mind, picture the woman glancing all around, bewildered, perhaps getting irritated, while another part of her was captivated, intrigued. She and this Jewish traveler share the same God, after all, and she noticed something different about this wanderer. Although she’d forgotten all about dipping her vessel down into the well…
11 The woman said, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Heatwaves parched the fields shimmering in the distance. A donkey brayed. Then all was silent. Jesus hadn’t lifted His gaze off the woman.
She peered up and down the stony path. Seeing no one, hearing no stirrings of townspeople, she decided to call this Journeyer’s bluff. She was skilled at this sort of repartee, no doubt.
15 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.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Ha! This traveler was one of those itinerant shysters.
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 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.”
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.
How countercultural for God to use a woman to announce His presence on earth! What blows my mind even further is that the townspeople believed the tarnished woman’s testimony.
God chooses the ones who appear to the least likely people to do His great works. That’s how He got the Samaritans’ attention, that’s how He gets our attention. That’s how He ensures that we can’t explain away incidents like this encounter at the well as just another hot day in Samaria.
Jesus’ disciples rejoined Him, and like me and possibly like you, their minds were on food: maybe some olives, goat stew with bread to sop it up, that sort of fare.