By Sam E. Stone
Early in Jesus’ ministry he reached out to those ignored or snubbed by others. The Samaritans were such a group. Considered “half-breeds,” these were the children of Jews who had intermarried with pagans. Many from the Northern Kingdom were exiled years before, but some remained in the land. They married Gentiles brought to live there by the conquering Assyrians, and became known as Samaritans.
Today’s lesson takes place early in Jesus’ ministry in Samaria—the central part of the Holy Land. Galilee (where Jesus grew up) is to the north, and Judea (where Jerusalem is located) is to the south. The town of Sychar is located on what is the most direct route from Capernaum to Jerusalem. But this wasn’t the route Jews would normally take. Usually they would go down through the Jordan River valley to the east, taking the longer way to avoid contact with the hated Samaritans. The Samaritans normally refused hospitality to any Jews who came through their land (see Luke 9:51-53).
Jacob’s Well in Sychar of Samaria was a well-known place. It was not unusual for women from the village to be found drawing water there. That was normal. But this woman came later in the day, at a time when the other women were not present. Most Jewish men would not talk to a woman in public, but Jesus did. His disciples had gone into the nearby village to get food. As Jesus waited, he asked her for a drink. She replied, “How can you ask me for a drink?” Except for business dealings, Jews and Samaritans would have nothing to do with each other. They would certainly not share the same drinking vessel, for this would make a Jew “unclean.”
Jesus challenged her. “If you knew . . . who asked you for a drink . . . . ” He spoke of living water, the gift of his grace (John 1:14). The woman could find something far better than a cool drink on a hot day. Notice how Jesus used casual conversation as a way to introduce spiritual truth. While it appeared that Jesus needed her help, she was the one in need. He then offered living water to her. Elsewhere the Holy Spirit is described in this way (John 7:37-39).
She took his words literally and said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than . . . Jacob?” Jesus turned her thoughts in a new direction. “Who-ever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” He drew a contrast between earthly and heavenly blessings. “The water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” J. W. McGarvey observes, “A beautiful figure of the joy in Christ. In heat, in cold; in drought, in shower; in prosperity, in adversity; it still springs up, cheering and refreshing the soul, and this unto all eternity (Revelation 21:6).”
Verses 16-20 (not in the printed text) record the conversation that followed. When she asked Jesus to give her this water, he replied, “Go, call your husband and come back.” She attempted to give a quick, casual answer. “I have no husband.” Jesus responded, “You are right
. . . you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.” She tried to change the subject, raising the question of where one should worship.
“A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” The old ways of Jewish worship soon would be coming to an end. After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the church would begin, ushering in a new age and a
new dimension of worship. God’s people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will serve him wherever they may be (Malachi 1:11). By saying, “We worship what we do know,” Jesus affirmed that the Jews attempted to follow all of the Old Testament, while the Samaritans did not. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
When the woman acknowledged her expectation of the Messiah, Jesus told her directly, “I who speak to you am he.” This is Jesus’ first recorded acknowledgement that he is the anointed one of God, the Christ foretold in Scripture. The woman returned to the city—without her water jar—and began telling the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Her witness bore fruit as many returned to see for themselves.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.