Read: John 4:1-15
Imagine Billy Graham sitting at a bus stop in downtown Atlanta engaged in conversation with a well-known prostitute. Don’t get me wrong, the woman at the well is not a prostitute, though her moral character is questionable, I am trying to set the stage for a conversation that is completely out of step with anything the disciples could have imagined. It made perfect sense for Jesus to stay up all night talking with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, but to sit and chat with an unnamed Samaritan woman was unheard of. Be shocked and amazed, then listen to the voice of the Spirit as we dive into chapter 4.
Before we begin let’s consider the ironic juxtaposition of the two primary characters. John could have told us a hundred different stories to begin his account of the life of Jesus. After reviewing his notes he chose to give us back to back stories that force us to look in the mirror with new eyes. Chapter 3 presents a Pharisee by name, a religious leader who eventually gets mentioned a few more times, but who seems to exit the story after verse 15. Compare this to chapter 4 where the woman is unnamed, yet goes on to evangelize the whole town (see John 4:39), a Samaritan town at that.
Don’t miss the intentional placement of the stories either. Nicodemus came under cover of darkness, perhaps his own spiritual darkness. The interaction with the woman is at noon, in the middle of the day, out in the open where all can see what was happening. Two completely different settings for very specific reasons for us to see and learn.
The story begins by moving us from Judea to Galilee through the forsaken route of Samaria. John says, “he had to go through Samaria” in verse 4. Historians tell us that the Jews would go far out of their way to avoid Samaria, so what does John mean by saying he “had to” take this route? My answer tends to agree with those that suggest He had to go this route in order to set the stage for evangelizing Gentiles. He had to go this way because this is where He meets us: the lost, the least, and the lonely. He had to go this way because we need to learn how to go into places that would make our religious friends cringe.
John makes a point of showing Jesus’ humanity in verse 6,
and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. John 4:6
As I often confess in these writings, some portions of stories jump out to me like never before. The “had to” series above is one example. Another one is the point here: Jesus was tired. I don’t know if that’s significant, but the idea that Jesus, the One who was and is and will be needs to sit down catches my attention. It’s the middle of the day and he needs a break. Is this a signal for us to stop and pause from time to time? If Jesus needs to take a break, how about you? Obviously, this isn’t the point of the story, but it is an interesting sidenote.
John explains that the disciples have gone ahead into town to get some food leaving Jesus alone. This probably wasn’t all that unusual. Jesus went off to pray by Himself often; He didn’t need disciples tending to Him all the time.
Jesus begins the conversation by asking the woman for a drink of water. Apparently, the well is deep and there is no communal bucket there for just anyone to drop and get some water. You’re supposed to show up with a rope and bucket.
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.) John 4:9
Jesus’ answer is not expected. The conversation quickly turns into a theological discussion.
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.” John 4:10
This lady is sharp! She immediately jumps into the debate with Jesus by showing her knowledge of Jewish history. This wasn’t just a well, this was Jacob’s well and the concept of living water had many important distinctions.
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.”
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.” John 4:14-15
At this point, the story changes focus, so I suggest we pause here and reflect. Imagine we’re sitting with John as he is telling this story. I’m convinced he did this a hundred times — that’s why he wrote it down. John might have let this thought linger before transitioning into the life and history of the woman in the next part. Perhaps he would look into the eyes of those present and ask a few questions like, what water was Jesus referring to? What is this spring of water that leads to eternal life?
Instead of jumping ahead to read the rest of this story, take a moment and pray that the Spirit would speak to your heart about the lesson thus far. Imagine you are at the well and Jesus is talking to you. He actually wants to give you much more than that which you requested. You asked a simple question, but His response is for eternity.
This is our Master. This is our Lord and Savior. I truly believe He stands ready to give us far more than we could imagine if we would humble ourselves and simply ask with selfless hearts.