John 4: 1 – 26 Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptising more disciples than John – although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
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 noon.
St John has set the scene for his story. Now comes the action.
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.)
Samaritans and Jews both accepted Mosaic law as set down in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), but differed in the details of their faith, in particular, where they were called to worship God.
When St John says ‘For Jews do not associate with Samaritans,’ he is understating matters. The historian Josephus says there were numerous violent clashes between Jews and Samaritans during the first century AD. It’s not surprising that the woman wondered what Jesus was after when he asked her for water. She is reluctant to help him.
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.’
Jesus uses her reluctance to help him as an opening to speak to her about profound matters.
‘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 the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?’
The woman is incredulous. Jesus doesn’t have a bucket. How can he draw water from a deep well? She pours scorn on the idea.
Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that 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.’
Have you ever looked at a spring of water? It’s not usually dramatic. Often it’s just a damp area with little trickles of water bubbling up from the ground. It can be tiny, and yet, ultimately it can become a substantial river.
The Samaritan woman doesn’t take such a poetic view of a water spring. She jokes about Jesus’ offer. What she wants is something to make her day-to-day life easier.
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.’
But Jesus doesn’t mind her laughing. He just proceeds gently to the next step
He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’
The woman is now quite at her ease. Jesus is not a threat. A bit odd, perhaps, but harmless. She’s quite happy to flirt a little.
‘I have no husband,’ she replied.
Then it comes.
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.’
Oof! I wonder how long it took her to recover from the shock? The woman has to re-evaluate Jesus.
‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
Is she now testing Jesus? Or does she genuinely want to know where she should worship God? Or is she just saying something, anything, while she wonders how this stranger knows her intimate personal history?
‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, 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 worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’
Jesus once more gives her much more than she asked for. He tells her that temple worship is to be replaced by worship in the Spirit and in truth
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’
The woman picks up on the change. She wants to show that she understands what Jesus is talking about. The coming of the Messiah was eagerly awaited by the Jews, and, it would seem from this, by the Samaritans also.
Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’
There we have it. Jesus states again that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Samaritan woman is another witness.
Reflecting on this passage, three things strike me.
- Jesus treats the woman with great gentleness and respect. Although at first she is hostile, and later she pokes fun at him, he just continues to teach her calmly. There is no sense of pride or point-scoring about his approach.
- Jesus does not condemn the woman. She’s had five husbands and she’s living with a man to whom she is not married. Jesus does not point out that this is sinful; he just steers her in the direction of a more fulfilling way of life.
- Just like Nicodemus, the woman underestimates Jesus. Her first response is to label him – “Prophet” – probably as a defence mechanism. (For Nicodemus, it is that “God is with Jesus in his signs”). And that is a particular message for me today. I’m tempted to look out for the aspects of Jesus that sit comfortably with my liberal theology. That is emphatically not what I’m called to do. My job in writing this blog is to grow to know Jesus better and to let him draw me closer to himself.
Thank you for the love you show in all your dealings with us. Please help me to be willing to let you draw me closer to you.
In Jesus name