Image by Yoann Boyer

Samaritan Woman at the Well

John 4, v4-42, Autumn Conference 2020

Who was the Samaritan woman?

This woman has no name given to her. She appears only in the fourth gospel. She lives in Sychar, Samaria near plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. She lived at a time when men prayed, “Oh Lord I thank you that I am not a dog, a woman or a gentile.” That tells you how unimportant she was in patriarchal society.

Samaritans belonged to the people marginalised and despised by the Israelites. She knows about her inferior condition as a woman before a man and conflicting situation as a Samaritan before Jews. Thus we find her astonished reaction and unbelief in verse 9 is the result. “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”

The Samaritan woman is living on the fringe of society. She is not very young and yet has to come to collect water in the noon time alone when the rest of the women would go in groups to collect water early morning or evening. Water collection was a time to socialise and integrate with one another as a community. The Samaritan woman is probably weary from the many times that she has been rejected, hiding because of shame and guilt and longing for living water. She lived in a society that bit her down so she looked for love in the wrong places.

At twelve when she came to the well she did not expect to see anybody. Can you imagine what she feels like when she sees Jesus sitting there? Jesus was headed to Galilee via Samaria which Jews avoided like a plague. There was ancient animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. Hence Jews would not set foot in Samaria. But Jesus came to break the barriers of racism and sexism and it was necessary for Him to take this route.

Sychar is a significant town in Samaria. There are no rivers in Samaria hence it is very important to have a well there. Jesus and His disciples had walked for about two days in the heat, dusty roads in sandals and Jesus was tired and thirsty so He sat at the well while His disciples went to get the food. This should be a great comfort to us that Jesus who is fully God and man is fully acquainted with all our humanness and sorrows.

Jesus is alone at the well and the woman has come to get the water alone. Jesus started the conversation with the woman even though He knew the Jewish law that a man should not talk to a woman in a public place. And this was not just any woman but a Samaritan woman! According to the Jews daughters of Samaritans are menstruas since birth so they are unclean and men get defiled by them.

Jesus does not care about religiosity. Jesus violates the normal rules to engage with a thirsty, isolated woman who is on the fringes of her society in order to meet her at the point of her deepest needs. The Samaritan woman does not know who Jesus really is and therefore misses the point of what He offers her by understanding Him literally and seeing Him as a substitute to Jacob. In some ways the Samaritan woman has an attitude yet Jesus knows her, listens to her, cares for her as no other man has ever done and seeks her. Jesus treats her not as a sinful woman or inferior woman but as an equal to all human beings to whom He can reveal truth of Himself.

Jesus offers her living water which is gift of salvation without asking her to get her life in order. “Come all ye that are heavy laden and burdened and I will give you rest”. Jesus is able to quench our thirst once and for all. Behaviour changes when the heart is changed so we should learn to be gracious to young believers as they grow in life with Jesus. We all know that sometimes it is one step forward and two steps backwards so applaud the one step forward.

Jesus loves us despite all the mess of our lives. There is nothing we can hide from Him. He knows about our addictions, critical spirts, gossipy nature, laziness, greed etc. Jesus says give me your heart first and I will give you refreshing living water. Just meet me at the well and I shall fill you to overflowing joy. Jesus takes us wherever we are and He leads us step by step.

The Samaritan woman is beaten down and is used to playing games so she does that with Jesus as well. She is a bit sarcastic as well and has good perception as she knows that Jesus has no way of drawing water from the deep well. She avoids His profound statement and tries to keep the conversations light as she has learned to survive in this way. She has learned to just exist and not really live.

Jesus is the unconditional lover of our souls and He is not put off by her efforts of distraction. He knows her deepest longings and cuts right through the chase and asks her to go get her husband. (v16) Can you sense her discomfort at this point? Here is a total stranger, a Jew man who has invaded her life! Husband? “I don’t have one” She tells Him half-truth but Jesus does not shame her, load her with guilt or condemn her. He simply turns her half-truth to absolute truth. In their culture they were allowed up to three divorces but this woman had six relationships without being fulfilled and remained thirsty.

Compassionately and as an equal Jesus challenges her thinking that worship is to a person and not in a place. Herein lies a lesson in geography and theology! Authentic genuine worshipper is the one who worships in spirit and truth. In verse 23 Jesus says, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”

Most profound words were then spoken by Jesus, “I who speak to you am He.” What a marvellous message to a hungry desperate woman who had such a great need and longing for the truth. Her indifference was expelled and she became very open to Jesus because her thirst was quenched. She found the Messiah who changed her life. Receiving Jesus’ offer of life and salvation moves from unbelief to seeing, hearing and knowing to believing and faith to union with Jesus to bearing witness to life where all divisions, longings and needs and emptiness are gone for good.

The Samaritan woman was a foreigner from a despised religious group but her story made a clear statement about the role of women in the early Christian communities. The woman was not silent, nor was she limited to the private world of women. She found a voice and she moved out into public arena into male space. She did not wait for permission to speak but took the initiative. When Jesus Christ reconciles us to Him He reconciles us to all others as well. Vertical relationship with Him leads to horizontal relationships with others. Even though the people from her community had rejected her she ran to unashamedly invite them to come and meet Jesus. She left her jars of water at the well. Does that not remind us of others who left their fishing nets and tax collectors booth to follow Jesus Christ as His disciples? The disciples were told to go and spread the gospel message but the Samaritan woman did it without being told to do that!

The Samaritan woman experienced progressive stages of faith in Jesus:

1 She met Jesus

2 She learned about Him

3 She came to believe in Him

4 She went and told others about Him

Who would be the Samaritan woman today?

Nearly all of us are like Samaritan women. We are weary from times of rejection that we have experienced in our lives. We are hiding in certain areas of our lives because of shame and guilt. We are thirsty of living water. Often times we come to the well of religion, the well of an empty relationship, the well of work and striving in the heat of the day. We hope that others won’t see us or recognise us. We hide behind many things.

Jesus is the liberator of women. He meets us right where we are. Jesus shows mercy where others call for judgement. We need to take off our masks and phoniness and become transparent before a holy God. Jesus values the valueless and He can take our messed up lives and our ashes and turn it into beauty. Let us go to Jesus and learn from other women from scriptures and learn how He used messed up women for His honour and glory. He can do the same for us too.