Today’s reading is John 4:1-42 (NIV):
Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he 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.
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.)
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.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “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.”
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.”
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.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
The Disciples Rejoin Jesus
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
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.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Many Samaritans Believe
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Christian or not, many people around the world who have read the Gospel have to admit that Jesus was one of the greatest teachers in human history. Passages like our reading today are great reminders of Jesus’ ability to incorporate history, revelation, symbolism, and understanding in the orchestration of lessons that not only resonate with his disciples at the time, but also with the millions of people who come after.
Even Christ’s nonverbal actions reverberate meaningful lessons. In today’s reading, Jesus’ increasing popularity is causing trouble in Judea, requiring that he travel back to Galilee to continue his teaching. If you look at a map of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, it seems completely reasonable that Jesus would accomplish this journey by traveling through Samaria, as the country was sandwiched right in between Judea and Galilee, with the river Jordan acting as a blockade to the east. However, racial prejudices of the time often made the Jewish people rather unreasonable, such that travel through Samaria was largely avoided at all costs. Jesus’ decision to travel through the country, and later, to interact with the Samaritan woman at the well, is evidence of his divine purpose to bring salvation and grace to all people through ministry to specific people.
Still, it is in Jesus’ verbal and interpersonal genius that the true teaching moment comes to light. As Jesus begins to interact with the Samaritan woman, it is clear that she recognizes the history between Jews and Samaritans and how strange this encounter is. As if things couldn’t get any stranger, Jesus responds to her confusion over his request for a drink of water with an offer of water himself, describing a “living water” from God. After a few more exchanges regarding the benefits of this living water, the Samaritan woman is convinced that this living water sounds like a pretty great thing that could highly improve her life. She naturally asks Jesus where she can get some of this water. Jesus then goes off on a seemingly even less related tangent and asks her to go and get her husband. The interaction ultimately ends with the Samaritan woman’s deep conviction that Jesus is not only a profit, but the long-awaited Messiah. Through the woman’s testimony, Jesus accomplishes the conversion of many Samaritans.
Okay, what is going on here? How did we get from Jesus asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water to many Samaritans believing that he was the Messiah? When we closely examine Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, we find a masterfully crafted lesson aimed at speaking to her heart and giving her the faith to invite many of her people – who most likely held her in deep disdain given her social philandering – to believe in Christ.
The Samaritan woman’s daily journey into town to draw water from the well is a task which she finds inconvenient and difficult; Jesus’ offer of living water which “will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), is extremely enticing to her, even if she doesn’t understand how great the gift that Jesus is offering her actually is. Jesus shatters the borders of history and society to come engage with this Samaritan and offer a solution which will meet her needs and simplify her life. Though the Samaritan woman thinks that he is offering a solution to her physical needs, Jesus is actually offering her spiritual satisfaction and readying her heart for discipleship through his spirit. When he asks her to go get her husband and then confirms that he already knows she had spent time with five men she isn’t married to, Jesus doesn’t just prove himself to be a great prophet; rather, this moment is an example of Jesus acknowledging the woman as a sinner, accepting her confession, and offering her the living water anyway, even after full disclosure of her sinful past. In just a few verses, Jesus lays out much of the foundation of Christianity for all of humanity.
When Jesus finally reveals to the Samaritan woman that he is the long-awaited Messiah, she is completely ready to accept him and hurries to tell her whole town about what she has learned. In John 4:27-37, Jesus is inspired by this woman’s faith and continues the lesson for his disciples. Again, there is a juxtaposition between physical and spiritual satisfaction. Jesus, “tired as he was from the journey” (John 4:6), was evidently hungry and thirsty, highlighting his fully human need for nourishment. However, he shows his disciples that accomplishing spiritual work overcomes our physical needs any day. Showing love to God’s people serves as a harvest for spiritual food, and his spirit serves as water for spiritual drink. The final trick of Jesus’ master lesson is its relevance to our lives more than two thousand years later, as we struggle to stay focused on the needs of the spirit in a world which demands that we pay attention to the needs of the flesh. After understanding Jesus’ words only in part, the Samaritan woman recognizes that it is too good of an offer to miss out on and quickly accepts. How much more should we, who know how the Gospel ends, be ready to drink of the living water and tell everyone we know about it?
Elizabeth D’Haiti ’20 is a Freshman living in Pennypacker.