Even with all of our modern conveniences, water is a necessary part of daily life. This is no different from life in first century Palestine. In the absence of indoor plumbing the only place water one might procure water was from a stream or a well. Today, we’re going to start our series with a familiar, though unnamed woman. A Samaritan who needed water.
The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well:
As with all of scripture, there is so much truth and beauty bound in this passage, we are going to have to be selective to what we attend. We could spend the entire four weeks on this one exchange, but to stay on track, we can only stay for three days. For today, we must start by reading the account of Jesus and this woman. I know it’s very likely that you know the story, and could recite the gist of it by heart. But, we are going to need to set aside what we have already heard about this encounter and engage the text anew. If you’re not near a Bible, I’ve included a link [John 4:4-30]. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Our goal today is to see what the text actually says, and set aside what we have been taught or have always assumed about this woman, but is not found in the text (or other reliable, historical documents).
The following are key points we learn from the text:
1. The text tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”
2. It was noon.
3. Jesus was alone.
4. The woman he encountered was alone.
5. The woman he encountered was a Samaritan.
6. She desires the living water of which Jesus speaks.
7. She is not married to the man with whom she’s currently living.
8. She knows about the prophesied Messiah.
9. Jesus offers her the clearest, most efficient personal Christology in scripture yet: “egw eimi,” I am he.
10. The woman leaves her present task to go and tell her fellow townspeople that the Messiah is among them.
I had always pictured Jesus strolling through the countryside, en route to somewhere important, making a pit stop in Samaria. My family makes frequent trips south to visit extended family, and our tried and true rest stop is Raton, New Mexico: the halfway point. We end up there at noon more often than not. So in my mind, Jesus and the disciples were on their way elsewhere when they got hungry and thirsty and pulled off the freeway to refuel before heading back onto the road.
Yet, scholars agree that this was not a geographical necessity; according to Peter Phan, there is an alternate route from the Jordan valley up to Galilee through the Bethshan gap, without a traveler ever having to pass through Samaria.* And because the Jewish people viewed the Samarians as perpetually unclean due to their non-Jewishness, it is very likely that a group of Jewish men would take a route that kept them out of Samaria. Thus, as the disciples are away procuring food, Jesus has gone out of his way, literally, to meet this particular woman at this particular well.
Much has been made of John’s inclusion of the time. John tells his readers that it is noon; some scholars deem this an unlikely time for drawing water, and make assumptions about the woman’s character based on this fact, including that she has no friends or is not welcome by the other women, which is why she draws her water at noon, alone.** Were this the only reason for John’s inclusion of the information, it would further this woman’s typography as an outcast, one whom even the Samaritans would not accept. However, John’s gospel is characterized by his inclusion of time and locations; and this particular example thereof is likely employed for the purpose of expressing a duality between this encounter and another very recent one, between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee. But, we’ll have to explore this in more depth on day three.
Many teachers, preachers, and scholars have made sweeping judgments about the Samaritan woman’s character, based on her assertion that she is not married to the man with whom she lives. And while the people who have come after John have branded this woman a harlot, a prostitute, or a whore, Jesus does not utter such a label; nor does John provide one. Thus, Tuesday next we will examine who this woman was…and who she wasn’t.
Today, consider what the text says.
Jesus “had” to go to Samaria; yet we know it was not a geographic necessity. Under what compulsion did he go? To meet a woman in need of a Savior.
Prior to this encounter, Jesus has spoken with learned men and leaders of his community, as well as fringe dwellers, like the disciples. Yet it is to this outsider that he gives the most clear and concise Christology; when she talks of a promised messiah, Jesus says, “I AM HE.”
As soon as she hears this, the Samaritan woman abandons her daily task of fetching water necessary for her survival. She runs into her village and calls her community to this stranger. She heralds the Promised Messiah to a people deemed unworthy by the religious elite of their day. And she brings her community to him; draws these outsiders to the One who can give Living Water.
Would that we all could be more like her.
Enjoying this study? Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus
*Peter C. Phan. “An Interfaith Encounter at Jacob’s Well, A Missiological Interpretation of John 4:4-42.” Journal of the International Association for Mission Studies. 27 (2010): 160-175.
**Craig S. Keener, “One New Temple in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; Acts 21:27-29; Mark 11:17; John 4:20-24),” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 12 (2009): 82.