The story of the Samaritan woman is well known. She is a stranger to Jesus, as he is to her. But his interaction speaks volumes about what it means to be a Christian.
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4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria.
- Jesus is concerned about his increasing notoriety. Remember, he is moving his ministry according to a special sense of timing. He doesn't want events to spiral out of control, or his life to end before he has completed the training of the Twelve.
- Jesus was traveling from Judea (in the south) to Galilee (in the north). Whereas many Jews would have bypassed Samaria, crossing the Jordan so as not to have to go through it, Jesus opts for the direct route (v.4)!
- Jesus challenges prejudice and shatters stereotypes!
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
- "The sixth hour" (Greek text) must be translated into a modern time, and the equivalent is affected by our understanding of Jewish time.
- Starting at 6 am, this would yield a time of noon (TNIV, NLT). Beginning at noon, the time of 6 pm results (HCSB). (Water was usually drawn near sunrise and sunset, not in the heat of the day.)
- To play it safe, several translations (NIV, NASB) simply say "the sixth hour."
- On the other hand, it could be that because of her reputation in the town, she went to the well at an odd hour. I am not certain of the exact time, but it was a lonely part of the day, at last at Jacob's Well!
- Jacob's well is still extant and still in use. It is at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, and you can still drink water from it -- which the locals are more than happy to offer.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
- Talking with a woman in public was unacceptable in ancient Jewish culture. For example, Aboth 2 (1d) says, "One should not talk with a woman on the street, not even with his own wife, and certainly not with somebody else's wife, because of the gossip of men." 70a reads, "It is forbidden to give a woman any greeting."
- Although tired and in "alien" territory, Jesus reaches out to the person whose path he crosses (v.6).
- Sometimes when we are willing to take a chance and to engage with a stranger, God moves. It’s obvious and immensely rewarding. Other times all we may accomplish is to plant a seed—which also in time can lead to great things. And of course some people just don’t listen.
- Jesus asks for a drink of water from the well.
- She responds in surprise (vv.7-9).
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”
- Samaritans claimed a similar heritage
- Muslims—a little farther a stretch
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
- Knowing her true spiritual need, Jesus then turns the conversation in a spiritual direction (v.10ff), referring to "living" water. See Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14 for the allusion. See also John 7:38.
- As is typical throughout John, she interprets literally his spiritual, figurative words (v.11). He is speaking on "channel 1," the spiritual, heavenly wavelength, while she is on "channel 2," the physical, earthly wavelength.
- In reference to verse 14, the apocryphal Sirach 24:21 reads, "Whoever feeds on me will be hungry no more, and whoever drinks from me will thirst no more." This passage would have been well known to the Jews, since the Apocrypha was part of the Jewish scripture until around the year 200 AD.
- There is also an allusion to Jeremiah 2 here.
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
- Jesus looks into the heart of this neglected, five-times-abandoned woman (vv.16-18).
- While he does not condone her living in sin (see Hebrews 13:4), he reaches out to her in genuine concern, calling her to truthfulness and spiritual life.
- Jesus offers her living water:
- Living (moving) water contrasts with stagnant (still) water.
- Many of the prophets took up the theme, like Jeremiah and Zechariah.
- The ancient Jews also wrote, "The words of Torah are received (into the heart) till the Torah becomes a flowing spring" (Yalkut Shimoni 2, 480).
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
- The discussion in verses 19-24 is integral to this interaction and the entire gospel of John.
- Jews worshipped in Jerusalem (Mt. Zion). Deuteronomy 12:1-14 stated that God's people must worship in one central location.
- Samaritans worshipped at Shechem (Mt. Gerizim), even though their rival temple had been reduced to rubble a century and a half before this conversation.
- Thus the debate over the proper place of worship divided these two related peoples.
- Jesus aligns himself with neither side, insisting that since God is Spirit (not confined to space or temples), he can be accessed anywhere.
- It´s as though the entire world were one free wireless spot.
- But the one who comes to God must be genuine and sincere.
- Therefore we must worship God "in Spirit and truth" (v.24).
- This does not mean with zeal (spirit) and correct doctrine (truth), as vital as these are.
- It means worshipping the Lord spiritually, not spatially. Truth is personal truthfulness, openness, authenticity.
- For truth as integrity / reliability, see 1 Kings 2:4; Hosea 4:1-2; Jeremiah 4:2; Psalms 15:2, 86:11; Isaiah 38:3; Zechariah 7:9; Ezekiel 18:8.
The story continues...