People who met Jesus : 25 : The Samaritan Woman
Jn 4:4-10 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar ….. tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well….. 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.”
As we come to consider the lady in our verses today her very designation is what makes her stand out. Like the crippled lady we considered previously she is someone who Jesus approached, not someone who came to Jesus. The first part of her designation is quite natural. This is the province of Samaria and so anyone who came from the little town would be likely to be a Samaritan. Nothing strange there! The emphasis is made because Jesus was a Jew and the Jews and Samaritans never got on. There is not space here to go into their history; sufficient to say there was hostility between them. We see Jesus here crossing racial, cultural and social divides in approaching this woman and her response to his request confirms this.
Now Jesus doesn’t simply say something like, “Oh, racial divides mean nothing to me.” Instead he drops an enigmatic bombshell in front of her. There are two areas where you are ignorant, is what he is saying gently. First you don’t know what God wants to give you and, second, you don’t realise that I am the one who can bring you that gift! If you had realised these two things, you wouldn’t be questioning me about social niceties, you would be asking for the gift that I alone can give you.
I think if Jesus had said that to me out of the blue I would have stood there with my mouth open wondering about it. What is he talking about? This woman ploughs in where angels fear to tread and takes what he says literally and starts questioning him about the practicality of him drawing water for her. Jesus doesn’t respond to that but declares, “Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13,14)
Now she may not understand this for her answer seems to suggest that she is still thinking in material terms, but who knows, she might be glimpsing what he means: “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.” (v.15) Now she may be unclear but Jesus decides to take her on in the process. To receive eternal life, something else has to happen first so he asks something (even though he knows the answer), “He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (v.16) to which she replies, “I have no husband.” (v.17). Well that’s the first sign of honesty, of willing to face her situation.
But then Jesus reveals that he knows all about her: “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.” (v.17,18) When we come to Jesus, when we start thinking about becoming a Christian, coming to God, however else you might express it, we need to realise that He knows all about us already, so there is no point in trying to hide anything from Him. To this she responds that he must be a prophet and in the dialogue that follows the subject of the Jewish Messiah comes up and Jesus declares, “I who speak to you am he,” (v.26) one of his most specific claims. Her response was to go and tell the people back in the town what had happened.
As with so many of these encounters, they often reveal more about Jesus than they do about the person meeting him, yet there is more to be considered about her. Yes, she may be summed up as a lady with a less than stable background. The fact that she’s had (and been rejected by five husbands – for that is how Jewish divorce took place) indicates that here is a lady who either feels rejected by life, or who doesn’t care what people think anyway.
We make that latter comment because, of course, another reason for her being divorced five times is that she could have been found guilty of adultery. Now according to the Jewish law that should have resulted in stoning but it seems fairly clear from the Gospels that the moral state of the land was not good when John the Baptist came, so it is not unlikely that that was not followed. Her willingness to dialogue (argue) with Jesus almost suggests that the latter is more likely. She does not appear to have low self esteem, which would follow from being rejected five times. It seems more that she is forthright and has actually been in control of her destiny. It is her folly, therefore, that has brought her thus far – where she is living (as it used to be said) ‘in sin’ with yet another man.
Now what is remarkable about all this is that Jesus clearly knows all about her and is not in any way put off. Indeed, to the contrary, he seeks to minister to her need and show her the way to eternal life. This is Jesus who not only steps over racial and cultural boundaries but who steps over all boundaries to seek the lost. He will not do or say anything that makes him like the people he seeks to reach, but he will love and accept them just like they are as he reaches out to them. Only thus can they receive God’s love and be changed.
However ‘bad’ our life, Jesus loves us and desires to reach out and save us. That must be one of the primary messages of this account. The challenge to us who are his disciples is, will we do the same?