So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (New International Version)
Samaria, back in Christ’s day, was viewed by many as an infamous place, full of untrustworthy people who were a mongrel mix of Jewish and ancient Assyrian blood. And their religion was most suspect of all – an unholy blend of Jewish and Gentile practices. So, no respectable Jewish person ever got near Samaria or even talked with a Samaritan.
Jesus, however, saw things differently. He did not avoid the territory but confidently walked through Samaria. Christ had no problem stopping to rest on his journey in a foreign area. That’s because Jesus didn’t class people into groups, nor did he attach adjectives to people, such as “those” Samaritans. He had no obstacles between himself and others.
Which is why an organic conversation happened between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Christ simply saw a human being who happened to be a woman and a Samaritan. He acknowledged both her gender and her ethnicity without those being a problem. Not even Christ’s knowledge of her string of husbands was an issue in conversing with her.
Every time I read this narrative of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman, I imagine what all the non-verbal communication was like. I’m sure the conversation was as much about Christ’s affect, gestures, and tone of voice, as it was his well-placed words. I fully believe both his verbal and non-verbal communication was perfectly congruent with each other, giving the woman a compelling sense that her ultimate needs could be met with the living well of a person in front of her.
Water gives life. And Jesus, as living water, gives new life. A bunch of failed relationships testified to the woman’s dissatisfaction. Even though we hear no more about her after this story in the Bible, we as readers get the overwhelming sense that the woman finally found satisfaction. The love which kept slipping through her fingers now had staying power.
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38, NIV)
We need the living water of Jesus as a river flowing straight from him to us — replenishing, renewing, sustaining, and breaking through every barrier in its path like a mighty flood overcoming and pushing everything out of the way that blocks its path so that our love can overflow onto all sorts of people, like a Samaritan woman.
The disciples come along, seemingly confused about this scene of Jesus and a Samaritan woman. So they blurt out something like the stereotypical mother concerned for her son saying, “Sit down and eat some of Mama’s pasta. You need some food!” As if preparing and serving a meal will make everything better.
Food has both the power to bring us together, as well as separate us. A meal can create the conditions for fellowship, acceptance, and enjoyment. On the other hand, sitting down to eat can also be a way to avoid painful emotions, and so, becomes an obstacle, keeping love at bay.
The disciples were uncomfortable and maybe a bit stressed. Looking to fill up with food instead of with God, their sense of unfulfillment was coming out sideways by opening the pantry and looking for comfort food. Jesus saw through the situation and put the focus on the disciples’ spiritual hunger.
Paying attention to our vocation and discovering humble work in the service of God, rather than a vacation to the fridge to cover unwanted feelings, is the essence of Christ’s interaction with his disciples.
People are much more ready for the gospel than we think. There are times we can become insular, lost within our own heads, that we are then unable to see the world as ripe for a harvest of people who are eager to be gathered into a community of redemption and love.
Jesus had a significant interaction with the Samaritan woman – despite the social prohibitions of the time. Shenanigans like this, by Christ, got a lot of people’s undies in a bundle. The disciples, having a front seat to most of Christ’s ways, did a few too many palms to the forehead, believing their Rabbi’s behavior was going to make him unpopular. They feared no one would follow him.
Looks like the disciples didn’t quite get that one right.
The Samaritan woman received Jesus as Living Water, having her ultimate needs met by the Lord of all. The disciples hadn’t quite caught up to this, so fell back on their old ways of physical food and drink to assuage the awkward uncomfortable feelings happening inside them.
The woman became a wellspring of good news to her community. Whereas the disciples eventually became a fountain of the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection, they are here only an annoying drip from the kitchen faucet. A non-descript ethnically suspect woman of dubious character coming to faith was meant by Jesus to open the disciples’ eyes to a new reality:
The good news of Christ is meant for the world, not just Jewish men.
The disciples were given the opportunity to participate a mission of bringing the love of God where love wasn’t present, of helping all kinds of people awaken to the deep spirituality within them, of lifting their downcast faces of guilt and shame to see the Living God bless the world with the body and blood of Jesus.
All of our work, no matter how big or small, is made possible by God, the great Chef of the universe. God has done all the preparations of chopping the onions, mincing the garlic, slicing the carrots, and peeling the potatoes so that we, his followers, can make a savory stew of diverse people sharing a common pot of God’s love and hospitality. It is, therefore, our privilege to be the wait staff who serves the meal to a whole host of persons.
O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.