John 4:5–42 (NRSV)
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan
woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Often there is so much to speak and consider in the narratives of scripture. This particular passage is just one sort of passage. There are several parts to consider: we could speak about the town of Sychar, the uniqueness of Jesus’ conversation with a Sarmatian, the uniqueness that Jesus is speaking to a woman, the woman’s background, water, food, the confusion of the disciples, the differences between Samaria and Judah and their places of worship. I could continue the list because there is just so much in this passage if you wanted to look under the surface. And then most of us have heard this story and various interpretations of its meaning several times over the course of our Journey with Christ. It is a common story, it might even be one of our favorite narratives of Jesus’ ministry because it is just unique, it is out of the norm of his usual places of teaching. It is personal and one of the few times we see Jesus in a state where both his divine and human natures are clearly seen at once.
For us to really get a grasp for this story it is important to consider the timeline and terrain for a moment. The gospel of John basically begins just before Jesus is baptized, well let me correct myself it begins at the beginning of time, but then rushes forward to John in the wilderness crying out to the people to repent. John is out there preaching and then he sees Jesus, and identifies him as being the lamb of God. A couple of John’s disciples follow Jesus home and begin to listen to the teachings. They each get their closest friends and the group of disciples grow. This group of disciples go with Jesus to a wedding. This wedding is where Jesus’ first sign takes place, the one where he has servants fill six jugs full of water and when they dipped the water out and served it to the host, it had become wine. These jugs each held around thirty gallons, so Jesus’ first miracle was to produce one hundred eighty gallons of wine. I mentioned over the summer that most weddings even in ancient times were during the season of Pentecost approximately June so this first gathering was most likely during the summer. It is mentioned that Jesus then spends a few days around the sea teaching.
The next time we meet him, is when he is in Jerusalem during the Passover. John says that during this first Passover Jesus caused quite a scene driving out the venders and money changers, and stays around Jerusalem teaching and ministering to the needs of the people. It was during this first year of Jesus’ ministry around Passover that the Pharisee Nicodemus visited with Jesus at night. Nicodemus was not the only one that saw Jesus as being a formative teacher. Jesus then goes to the Jordan and joins with John in his ministry. John was still teaching and baptizing, but the religious leaders were noticing that many more were coming to the gathering around Jesus to listen and to be baptized by his disciples. The people ask John about this, and John responds that He must decrease so that Jesus can increase.
Jesus was with John approximately thirty miles north of the Dead Sea, and because all the religious leaders were beginning to compare him to John and drawing attention to the fact that more were being baptized by Jesus’ followers than John’s, Jesus decided he would leave the Jordan and go to Galilee. The interesting thing is scripture says that Jesus had to go through Samaria to get to Galilee. Jesus was with John in Salim by the Jordan 30 miles north of the Dead Sea. The city of Sychar is south west of where Jesus is, and he was planning on going North west. I find this curious, either Jesus was traveling all along the Jordan during this time he spent with John, or the reasons Jesus had to go there Samaria were more than just convenience. But it says that Jesus also left Judah to head to Galilee so I am guessing that maybe John’s ministry was not bound to one location along the Jordan.
What we do know is that Jesus went to Sychar. This place is approximately the halfway point of this journey. And near this city is a mountain called Mount Gerizim. This mountain is for the Samaritans the equivalent of the mountain the temple was built upon. They built a temple on this mountain, and made pilgrimages to this place for the various religious feasts. Both the temple on this mountain and in Jerusalem were built approximately during the same period, and both were desecrated by the Greeks. But during the quest for independence during the Maccabean Revolt the Jews were the ones that destroyed the temple on mount Gerizim while they purified the one in Jerusalem.
I mentioned that this mountain was approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Galilee, it is also approximately half way between Jerusalem and Mount Megiddo. I do not really know if that means anything but there it is. Halfway between the city of God and the battle of the end.
So, Jesus is walking and is tired so he sits to rest. He is also thirsty. If the timeline is accurate He would be traveling sometime after Passover, and leading up to Pentecost, because he will again go to Jerusalem for a feast. So later in the spring. It was hot, humid and Jesus was thirsty. He sent the disciple on into town, and He just sat there. As he waited a woman came from the city to draw water, so he asks her for a drink.
I mention the confusing geography and all because some believe that the reason Jesus had to go to Samaria had less to do with geography and more to do with theology. Jesus went to this city halfway between Galilee and Jerusalem to unite the two temples. He asks for water, and offers living water. Just like with Nicodemus Jesus uses words that have double meanings. Living water could be flowing water, or it could mean water that gives life. Nicodemus could not understand the double meaning of being born from above or again, and this woman could not grasp the meaning of flowing water or water that gives life. She imagines that somehow Jesus will come up with some sort of aqueduct that would carry the water down to the town. But what Jesus is speaking of is that He would give the spirit of God to bubble up within a person’s soul to give life.
Either way it amazes the woman and she asks for the water, and Jesus said go get your husband. At this point, Jesus is not judging the woman. There is not one judgmental statement out of his mouth only the voice of truth. The woman see it for what it is, saying clearly that he is a prophet. She then asks the prophet, where do we worship here or Jerusalem?
I want us to stop there and consider this for a moment. Every statement out of this woman’s mouth has been about the things that divide and out of Jesus’ things that unite. Jew and Samaritan, Male and female, Jerusalem or Gerizim. If you knew who it was that was talking, He would give you living water. Water that brings life, the spirit that brings new life and starts a rebirth. Jesus travels around the countryside teaching and serving and as he goes people join him along the journey. He encourages the ministry of John by joining him by the Jordan and when division begins to threaten the unity of the message, Jesus removes the disunity by going to a different area. He says that it will be Galilee but he must go there by way of Samaria. Divisions and unity, meeting people where they are and encouraging them to be who they are created to be. Honoring that of God in them and encouraging them to see themselves in the proper light.
Jesus told the woman that the hour is coming and is now here where it will not matter if you worship on this mountain or that one, because the only place to worship is in spirit and in truth. Consider that for a moment, true worshipers will worship in breath, in the wind. But it goes even deeper, there is a shared breath uniting us together under the same spirit all breathing and experiencing the same wind together in a harmonious unity. All of that is wrapped up in this one word spirit. True worshipers worship with our every breath, every word, in relationship. It has been said by some that the name of God is holy and unable to be pronounced because the sounds involved are the sounds of breathing. Take a deep breath in and listen, let it out what do you hear? You hear spirit. Everyone breaths and that breath is a gift from God blown into the nostrils of our first parents which continues to speak the name of God through the course of every moment of every day of every living being that has, is, and ever will exist. True worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth. Truth is also a word that speaks at many levels. It speaks of reality, facts, faith, and security. It speaks of certainty and sincerity. Every breath is shared. It leaves our body and will eventually be used by another in a cycle of life. What are we using our breath for?
Are we using the breath of life graciously give to us by God to speak words of truth and hope, or are we using them to speak words of division? When we take a breath, are we breathing the name of God as a blessing or a curse, bringing life or death, hope or despair. The woman at the well excitedly ran into town and brought others back to see Jesus, and they believed not because she said it but they experienced it for themselves. When people are around you, are we breathing spirit and truth?
Jesus walked throughout the land to unite Jews and Samaritans in spirit and truth, but he also united Jew and gentile as we will see later in John’s gospel. As we approach the season of Easter, the season that marks the beginning of spring and the renewing of and resurrection of life let us walk with Jesus. Let us walk with him following his footsteps and breathing his air, listening to his teachings as we sit at his feet. Let us see in ourselves where we promote division and repent. Let us see in ourselves through the guidance of Christ where we promote unity and celebrate. And let us become true worshipers breathing the very name of God in praise with every breath we take.