Read John 4
As we enter the fourth chapter, John has moved north and a little east on the Jordan to Salim. To his east was Samaria, a land and a people detested by the Jews.
Jesus had remained in Judea, but now the religious leaders had an interest in him so Jesus thought it time to go to Galilee. In other words, his time had not yet come. Tension and confrontation with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law would come with increased frequency and intensity, but not yet.
Jesus was headed to Galilee. In almost every translation, we are told that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Had is the word we use today. Behooved made it into some translations. Necessary, proper, inevitable, and even a duty are other translations of the Greek word δεῖ (die).
Most modern translations just say that he had to go that way, but he didn’t. Any self-respecting Jew would have traveled the extra miles along the Jordan to the east, turned north, and then hung a left before reaching the Decapolis.
Jesus took what was a more direct route. Not knowing his exact starting point, we can’t say it was the most direct route, but he was headed to Galilee through Samaria and stopped at high noon in the town of Sychar. His disciples went into town looking for something to eat.
Perhaps Jesus had a divine appointment to be at this well at that time. Perhaps he was constrained by his mission on this earth to spread good news beyond Judea before he confronted the religious teachers.
Jesus parked himself by the well while the troops went looking for lunch. Evidently, he was alone. Water was normally drawn in the morning and evening. Before we continue with this account, take a moment to be thankful for water. We have water. We take it for granted. Water is plumbed into our homes. When we want a drink, we just get one.
I have been to parts of the world where water is carried for miles. Water is heavy, about eight and a third pounds per gallon. So, five gallons of water is over 40 pounds. That’s not much to carry for a hundred yards or a quarter mile, but today there still are places where people walk for 5 or 10 miles to get their water.
Two thousand years ago, the Romans had done a lot to bring water to the people, but that was for a select few. Most people of that time, walked to get their water. Water for the home was women’s work and it was done early and late.
Picture Jesus resting against the elevated perimeter of the well and a woman approaches to draw water. He said, I would love it if you would get me a drink.
Somehow the woman knew Jesus to be a Jew and she thought it odd that a Jew would ask a Samaritan to draw water for him. Most Jews walked around their land but this one was here and he wanted a drink.
The story could have taken a different turn if the woman had just said, Here you go, buddy, drink up and speak nicely of Samaritans.
But this woman was a little cagey. She would not even commit to a drink of water. Jesus told her if she knew who she was talking with, she would have been asking him for water.
She was still skeptical, noting that Jesus didn’t even bring anything with which to draw water. Really, where is this water coming from? Are you greater than Jacob who gave us this well?
Jesus noted that you could draw water every day and still be thirsty again the next day, but the water he had would quench her thirst forever. It would well up inside her. It would be living water.
Some might speculate as to why this woman was at this well at noontime. The next part gives us some insight into why she might come when there were no others, even though it was the heat of the day.
The woman asked Jesus for this living water. Jesus told her to go get her husband. That seems like an odd instruction. What? Does the husband have to sign for this special water?
The woman said that she had no husband.
Jesus noted that she had spoken correctly. She had 5 previous husbands and the man she was now shacked up with was not her husband.
Busted! She was busted but cagey for she shifted the conversation from herself to religious sort of things figuring this man to be some sort of prophet.
So, she brought up what was surely a recurring topic of conversation. The Jews say that you must worship in Jerusalem. We have been worshiping on this mountain for who knows how long. Maybe I can dance around examining my personal life a little longer.
Jesus said that the Jews had it right. Tough break, but don’t throw in the towel because the Father is looking more for genuine worship than for its geography. The time had come for people to worship in the Spirit and in the truth.
The time had come for worship to be genuine not perfunctory.
The woman was still leery so she kept the conversation directed towards backyard topics, things that everyone talked about so that they didn’t have to reveal much about themselves. It’s the sort of talk that you found in coffee shops back when you could go inside and sit at a table.
She said, “Heard that the Messiah is coming.” That should shift the conversation somewhere else. “When he comes, he will explain everything.”
The woman was surely thinking: That should deflect any further focus on me.
Jesus really threw her for a loop when he did just that. He shifted the focus to himself. He said, “I am the Messiah.” This was a unique, perhaps the first first-person revelation by Jesus, not to mention the power revealed when the Almighty speaks the words, “I Am.”
Somedays even when you think your excuses are in order, God cuts to the truth and there is no retreat or escape. The woman left her water jar and went back into town. More on that later.
This is a very unique encounter between the Lord and a woman of less than good standing. He did not admonish her. He did not condemn her. He did not excuse her lifestyle.
Jesus simply spoke the truth. He was the Messiah. He brought life. In the previous chapter, John noted that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Today, we know that the words of the Lord are true. That he brings life. That in him there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.
Yet, when faced with confronting how we live, how often are we more like the woman at the well than someone desiring to confess to our Father in heaven?
Nothing is hidden from God, so why play games with ourselves? God already knows. We can only fool ourselves.
Our religious talk surely ranks among our greatest enemies. It steers us away from true relationship. It gives us comfort when we should be discomforted. It causes us to challenge the promises of the Lord.
Nothing is hidden from God. Let’s live that way. The only one we fool with a cagey approach to our Lord is ourselves. Whatever our past or our current situations or the condition of our hearts, God already knows. So, why pretend to keep him in the dark. It’s an impossible task.
He wants us to live in the light where every dark thing is exposed, and as such, can be discarded and replaced by truth.
As for the woman in this account, don’t discount what she does when the truth is revealed to her. More on her later.