In my mind’s eye, I can see her as she walks towards Jacob’s well, carrying the water pot she will use to gather her water supply for the day. The other women of the community have been to the well, enjoyed the company of friends, gathered their water, and made their way back home by now. She has waited until the hottest part of the day, making her way to the well alone. On this day, however, when she arrives at the well, she will be surprised when she discovers she is not alone. She will meet Jesus, Who, on His way to Galilee, found it necessary to travel through Samaria, a journey that typically would have been avoided by a Jew. His disciples were in the city buying food, so He sat at the well alone, waiting for their return. Or was He actually waiting for her?
When she arrives at the well, Jesus speaks to her, “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7b, NKJV). It would seem as though there were no pleasantries in their introduction; no “Hi, I’m Jesus and I’m passing through Samaria on My way to Galilee. What’s your name? I don’t have anything to draw water with. It’s so hot; would you mind giving me a drink? Please?” When John shared this story, he didn’t indicate that type of conversation, but rather disclosed the fact that “Jews had no dealings with Samaritans” (vs. 9). To Jews, Samaritans were considered unclean because they were interracial. Jesus was crossing cultural boundary lines with this conversation. First, in acknowledging her because she was a Samaritan, and secondly, because she was a woman and she was alone. I can almost hear the sarcasm roll from her tongue as she responds to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (vs. 9) Can you hear it? Or am I the only one whose tongue can hold sarcasm? Is it possible she had a little edge to her response because she became cynical as time went by? Perhaps toward people who made her feel as though she was somehow… less? She was, after all, at the well, alone, in the middle of the day.
Jesus’ request for a drink opened the door for this conversation:
“Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life”” (John 4:10-13, NKJV).
It was here that the woman’s ears perked up, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (vs.15). In the back of her mind, was she hoping she would never again need to arrange her day around her visit to the well? What was she thirsty for? Acceptance? Freedom? Forgiveness? Understanding? Jesus then asks her to “go, call your husband, and come here” (vs. 16). It was then that this Man would cross another line—a line others have crossed with me from time to time. He would get personal and He would pinpoint her sin. “The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly’” (vs. 17-18). She had been honest, but she hadn’t been completely honest. She left out part of her story. She had somehow lost five husbands and was now living with a man. She confirmed this when she replied, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” (vs. 19). Her sin wasn’t her previous five marriages—it’s quite possible she had become a widow—as those were brutal times. Perhaps she had been given a “certificate of divorce” (Mark 10: 2-5). Her sin was her lifestyle. She was now living with a man who was not her husband. I know the sorrow and suffering that comes from loss. While I haven’t experienced the pain of losing my husband, I’ve walked the journey with others who have. Shattered dreams and painful life circumstances can produce deep wounds causing hidden scars that, left unchecked, can turn a heart bitter and hard. Maybe this is one reason we are told to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23); to protect them from becoming infected by the disease of disillusionment when we experience suffering. Had this happened to her? Had she laid down her convictions because she could no longer bear the pain of disappointment? Has that happened to you?
When Jesus pierced her heart with the truth of her sin, she quickly changed the subject. While He wanted to talk about her relationship, and offer her living water, she turned the conversation to religion and the dispute of where to worship. “We believe…and you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (vs. 19). Who hasn’t been quick to change the subject when we’ve grown uncomfortable with where a conversation is headed? It is our way of protecting ourselves; pointing out the weakness found in religion, or the person, when we feel the sting of conviction.
One day while at Bible study with a group of women I recently met, I grew hot under the collar as I shared my frustration over a situation at home. A woman offered good, Godly advice, but rather than sympathizing with me, as I thought she would, she pointed out areas where I might be, how shall I say it… umm…wrong. The more she shared, the more offended I became. How dare she? She hardly knew me—or the situation—which meant she had no right to assume anything, did she? What I failed to see at the time, yet see so clearly now, is this—God placed this woman at the well for me and she was offering me Living Water. She was offering me Life by speaking truth to my situation. There had been honesty in what I said; I just hadn’t been completely honest and the Lord wanted me to acknowledge that. This became a moment of truth for me. Would I defend myself and shut my ears or would I accept the counsel from her genuine concern?
I now know God wanted me to understand the truth, which is exactly what Jesus explained to the woman at the well: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (vs. 23-24, emphasis added). She knew the Messiah was coming, and when Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He” (vs. 26), something incredible happened inside of her.
Once made to feel less by the Jews because she was a Samaritan woman, an outcast because of her sin by the community around her, and unable to trust her convictions, she abruptly acknowledged that Truth stood before her. Jesus offered Himself to the woman at the well and in that moment she became authentic. The woman, who came to the well alone, now left her water pot behind and headed straight for town, encouraging others to “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (vs. 29) This broken woman, who protected herself from others through isolation, now ran into town proclaiming, “Come and see a Man who told me all the things that I ever did.” She no longer had to hide behind her shame—or her pain—she was free to become genuine, and once that happened “…many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified: “He told me all that I ever did” (vs. 39, emphasis added). Others came to Christ because of her honesty, and her authenticity beautified her character.
I don’t believe Jesus came to the well to expose her sin to embarrass her. I believe His desire was to expose it so she could be free from the bondage of her shame and pain. I believe He still desires that for us today. Once we are willing to become honest with Him, worshiping Him in Spirit and Truth, we can become free from our shame and pain. When that happens, something within us changes because…
Authenticity — being real and genuine
Beautifies — adds beauty to
Character — the way you think, feel and behave (merriamwebster.com).