The Woman at the Well (part 2)
Not just anyone can cop an attitude with Jesus, but this woman did! Let’s sit down with Jesus and the woman He met at Jacob’s well outside Sychar, a small town in Samaria. (For more on the context and background, check last week’s post.)
John 4:1-42. You might want to pull out your Bible or click on the link. I’m not going to quote all the text here.
After He raised a ruckus in the temple at Jerusalem and then drew record crowds to big baptism services, things got a bit dicey for Jesus down in Judea, so he decided to make Himself scarce. (This is where we started last week.)
It was at least a three-day journey from Jerusalem to Capernaum. Somewhere around the middle of the second day (judging distances on the map in my Bible), Jesus decided it was time for their lunch break. He was tired, so He sat down by Jacob’s well and sent the disciples into the nearest village, called Sychar, to buy food. It was about a mile away.
A couple of thoughts here:
- Middle-Eastern climate…middle of the day…I hope there was some shade. You can imagine that, with water just below, there might have been some trees. Or perhaps someone constructed a small shelter.
- Why did all the disciples have to go buy food? Couldn’t two or three have handled it? Much of the time, Jesus traveled with an entourage. Besides the twelve disciples, there may have been other followers, including some women. Did none of them stay behind with Jesus? John never says Jesus was alone…or not alone. If some other people were there, especially some women, the cultural questionability of this one-on-one wouldn’t have been so bad.
Jesus sat down by the well to wait on the disciples to return with his lunch. Maybe he took a little nap. We don’t know how long he sat there, but you can be sure He saw the woman and she saw Him long before they spoke. What was she thinking? The area was usually deserted when she arrived. Perhaps she set her jaw, unwilling to turn back after the mile-long walk in the sun, but also unwilling to engage strangers. Perhaps she thought, “I’m just going to get my water and head home. I’m not going to look at him, and he’ll ignore me, too. He probably thinks I’m crazy anyway. I’ll just mind my own business, get my water, and turn around. That’s all I have to do.” (My introverted self completely understands, dear woman.)
The woman expected to be accosted
by Jesus, not accepted.
But then Jesus just had to go and say something! He had nothing with which to draw water (John 4:11), and it was the middle of the day, and he was thirsty, so it’s not surprising that Jesus would ask her to share the water with Him. The woman, however, was surprised. When this Jewish man—obviously a teacher of some sort—addressed her directly, her abrupt answer reflects the judgement she expected to receive from “people like him,” that is, from Jews.
How much more will those
who receive God’s abundant
provision of grace and of
the gift of righteousness
reign in life through the
one man, Jesus Christ!
Jesus doesn’t take the bait—the first of many she will cast in the next few minutes. He continues respectfully, but rising to her challenge. He says God has a gift for her. What is the gift? His latter responses will confirm it, but the gift is eternal life, which includes freedom from guilt and religious regulations.
Next, catch this short but very revealing phrase: “If you knew…who it is that asks you for a drink…”. Jesus isn’t trying to be vague. He’s just easing the woman into such a startling truth. The fact is, Jesus wants this woman to know Who He is! In a minute, He’ll tell her straight-up.
Then Jesus does that thing He’s so good at, where He takes an everyday, tangible object and uses it to make a spiritual point. (See the fig tree in Mark 11 or any of the parables in Matthew 13, including my post, We are Kingdom Seeds.) This time it’s water.
The natural sense for living water was water that flowed or moved, as opposed to standing/stagnant water which would hold onto diseases and impurities. People sought out living water for drinking, washing, etc. Picture swamp water and mountain stream water; which one would you rather drink? Of course, when Jesus said it, He had a different meaning. The living water was the gift—the eternal life He offered her.
Again, a couple of things come to my mind.
- The stagnation of the Jewish religious system compared to the freshness and vitality of Jesus’ Way.
- The habits of our own lives where we circle in an eddy rather than jumping out into the middle of the stream to ride some rapids and really move!
I love it that the woman takes him so literally: “Where you gonna get water? You don’t even have a jug.” I mean, isn’t that why Jesus originally asked her for a drink? She didn’t walk up and ask Him for a drink. So our heroine is skeptical, and she goes on the offensive. She starts asking the questions. Essentially, “Who do you think you are?” Maybe she even put her hand on her hip.
“Whoever believes in me,
as Scripture has said,
rivers of living water will
flow from within them.”
-Jesus (John 7:38)
Jesus wasn’t talking about the water at the bottom of the well, but we already knew that! I think the woman was beginning to understand it too, but she plays dumb for one more round. Or maybe she’s just super-practical. She hates coming to that well, not just because it’s a long and tedious walk, repeated every day, but because her reputation precedes her.
Think for a second about that phrase, never thirst (4:14). I think of permanent satisfaction…and I’m convicted a little because I’m not always satisfied in Jesus, but I could be. What Jesus offers is far more than a cold drink on a hot summer day. The drink becomes a spring of clear, cool water permanently nourishing our souls, sustaining us so we never long for spiritual satisfaction again. It is, as I’ve written before, permanent joy always available to us. He offers it to me and you just like He offered it to the woman.
Jesus could tell he wasn’t getting anywhere with His beautiful, poetic analogy (as much as we like it). We do that sometimes; we speak of Heaven’s beauty and the peace of following Christ when the other person is like, “No really, I just need a drink of water.” I think Jesus realizes He will need to be a little more direct with her before she really “gets it,” so he lets go of the water analogy and sets her up in a different, more personal way.
Let’s stop here. It would be a cliffhanger if you didn’t already know the story so well. Come back next week, and we’ll wade through the deepest part of their conversation, then look at her exuberant response.
I love to walk through Scripture like this–taking each verse and thinking on it, asking questions, waiting for Spirit-revealed answers. What especially strikes you about the interaction between Jesus and our heroine? Leave a comment below, and I’ll get back to you!