Jesus, thirsty and tired from his journey, asks an unnamed woman for a drink of water. He’s at the town well—seated beside it, John says. It’s noon and it’s hot. No other people are around, not even the disciples. John tells us they’ve have gone into town for food. This is how she answers.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she says.
The question tells a lot. First, she isn’t shy, and she has no problem calling herself a Samaritan. She is on her home turf, but that advantage doesn’t prevent her from seeing, at least so she thinks, something she and everyone one else knows—how much Jews despise Samaritans. Her upfront question goes right to the heart of the matter. In fact, she’s making an issue of the thing, and what she says comes across as a challenge. It’s as if she’s thinking, Okay, so you hate us. Why are you even in our town anyway? And you aren’t just ignoring me as if I might make you unclean just by looking at you, but asking me for water?
There’s also something odd about her being here. Who draws and carries water at the hottest time of day? Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, isn’t far from Samaria. One commentator explains, “From this point [a height outside Nazareth] a most beautiful and extensive view is obtained, ranging on a clear day from the Mediterranean on the West to the Mountain of Bashan on the East; from Upper Galilee and Mt. Hermon on the North to the uplands of Gilead and Samaria on the South” (Atlas at biblehub.com). Jesus will remember getting water from a well in his childhood in Nazareth. In John 4, we see a fact about Jesus’ ministry scholars often note. The gospel records move from details of Jesus’ humanity to indications of his equally obvious identity as God, the supernatural power characterizing his ministry an example. Both types of detail occur in the Woman at the Well story, but I’m thinking about what could have been Jesus’ natural reading of the person he has asked for a drink, something anyone growing up in the first century in nearby Nazareth should perceive: She is avoiding other people. No one will be at the well at noon. It’s the worst time for drawing water.
The woman seems to be quite comfortable talking to a man, and her reply to his request shows a Samaritan’s reaction to Jewish scorn. She’s not letting this Jew’s question go without a challenge. It’s not too hard to imagine her thoughts: He seems polite enough, but what’s he doing here, and why is he starting up a conversation with me?
Jesus’ answer is stunning. When he speaks, he isn’t just responding to this woman’s challenge with one of his own, he’s talking to the ages—to you and to me and to everyone who has read or will read the record John will preserve. He ignores the chip on her Samaritan shoulder and instead opens the heart of a message he will repeat: “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” (John 4: 10)
Living water! The revelation marks John’s record in several places. First, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5). As in Samaria, his reference here is to the Holy Spirit and everlasting life (John 3: 16). Later, to the crowd looking for him after he’s fed the five thousand, Jesus speaks of thirst quenched: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6: 35). He is more specific when he cries out on the last day of a feast, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John adds, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7: 39a).
Can we miss the love of Jesus in his response to the woman at the well in Samaria? He will make an offer of eternal life using figurative language about water, addressing her and all who will read John’s record. Jesus is offering himself. With the metaphor, he bridges the space between the moment and all time, between the particulars of right now and the future. This woman’s physical need for water he links to the spiritual life she seems not even to know she needs. He offers himself, and on the cross he will be poured out. Paul declares, “He emptied himself” (Phil 2:7a). At Sychar, Jesus will return to water and clarify what “living water” means.
from the Edgefield Advertiser, oldest newspaper in South Carolina, November 9, 2021
from istockphoto-182812025-170667a.jpg with thanks