Summary: In John 4, Jesus encounters a woman whose been looking for love in all the wrong places. But after shareing his love with her she is changed forever.
Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places
In John 4, we meet an anonymous Samaritan woman who’s entire life is about to be transformed by the untold love of a Jewish carpenter. I imagine this encounter as a stage-play with three separate acts. But, that being the case, before we can get to the opening scene we’ll have to set the stage.
Jesus was tired. He and his followers had left Judea and headed north for Galilee. “But on the way,” the Bible says, “he had to go through the country of Samaria” (vs. 4). Glance at any map of the Holy Lands and you’ll notice that the most direct route from Judea to Galilee takes you right through Samaria. However, the average Jew would never have gone that way. Most Jews would have crossed the Jordan river and traveled along its eastern shore just to avoid Samaria, then crossed over again into Galilee.
Jesus, however, was anything but average. So, he traveled westward through the region of Samaria. Now, he and his followers had been walking in the arid desert heat for roughly thirty miles. Although Jesus is God, he is also a man. The feet that used the mountains as their footstool were weary. The throat which called into existence the heavens and the earth was dry and soar. Jesus was tired. He was also thirsty.
Jesus and his followers approached the small Samaritan town called Sychar. Jesus knew that there was a running spring in the village that feed a well which had been dug out centuries before by Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, “near the field Jacob gave his son Joseph” (vs. 5).
The Bible says, “Jesus was tired from his long trip, so he sat down beside the well” (vs. 6), while his followers went ahead of him into town to buy some food. Now, the curtain opens, our unnamed woman enters stage right, and act one…
A Scandalous Conversation
…begins. “It was about twelve o’clock noon,” the Bible says, “when a Samaritan woman came to the well to get some water” (vs. 7). The conversation began innocently enough; Jesus asked her, “Please give me a drink” (vs. 8). His request seems insignificant—and obvious. He was tired and hot. He’d walked a long distance. He had nothing with which to draw water himself—no buckets or pales—so he asks for some water. What’s so scandalous about that?
The woman immediately recognized the taboo nature of his solicitation. “The woman said, ‘I am surprised that you ask me for a drink, since you are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman.’” (vs. 9). For one thing, it wasn’t proper in those days for a man to just start talking to a strange woman in public. But more importantly, there is a parenthesis at the end of that verse which says, “Jewish people are not friends with Samaritans.” That’s quite an understatement. The footnote in my Bible adds, “This can also be translated ‘Jewish people don’t use things that Samaritans have used.’”
You see, Jews saw Samaritans as unclean. “The Samaritans were a mixed race,” Wiersbe explains, “part Jew and part Gentile, that grew out of the Assyrian captivity of the ten northern tribes in 727 B.C.” When the Jews were held captive by the Assyrian empire, many of them intermarried with their captors and became known as Samaritans. Since the Samaritans couldn’t prove their Jewish heritage, the Jews rejected and despised them. They weren’t allowed in the Jewish Temple, so they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim where they too worshipped the God of Abraham. They followed the first five books of the Torah, those written by Moses, but reject the rest of Scripture. Thus, they had some knowledge of truth, but with a somewhat distorted view of who God really was.
For Jesus to speak to a Samaritan woman and even to ask to drink from the same cup that she had used was, well… scandalous. But listen to his reply, “If you only knew the free gift of God and who it is that is asking you for water, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (vs. 10).
And this is where it would be nice if the Biblical writers had included some inflection details, because I think I detect a bit of sarcasm in her retort, “Sir, where will you get this living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with. Are you greater than Jacob, our father, who gave us this well and drank from it himself along with his sons and flocks?” (vs. 11-12).
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty. The water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life” (vs.13-14).