The Woman at the Well
Jesus encountered many people during the course of his public ministry, all of whom have something important and instructive to tell us about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ ministry was all about. These encounters with various folks are especially highlighted through Gospel of John. Last week, we spent time with Nicodemus in John 3. This week, we turn to John 4 and spend time with the woman at the well.
If you would like, take a few moments to read John 4 and the encounter between Jesus and this woman here.
There are a number of important moments and statements made during this exchange; however, the majority of our focus and attention is generally pulled to the latter half of the story. For today, I ask us to consider those few opening statements that Jesus shares with this woman. They are as follows (we will take each individually for reflection below):
- “Give me some water to drink.”
- “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”
- “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
Jesus begins by requesting water from this woman who has come to the well at midday. As she correctly points out, there is little overlap between her and Jesus socially and religiously, and they should have very little interaction with one another as a result. And yet, this is not Jesus’ mode of operation. In fact, not only does Jesus break down the barriers between them in this interaction, but Jesus also assumes something that we as readers should understand would never be assumed in his day and age. Jesus understands that this woman has something to offer Jesus! Her status in life (as we understand more about in the second half of the story) lead us to ostracize her. To lead her to the well at midday. But Jesus is waiting there and ready to meet her nonetheless. She has something of value to Jesus (her very own self).
Second, Jesus makes clear to this woman that although she has something of value to offer Jesus, the true gift is from God–the giver of all good gifts. Jesus wants this woman to seek more than just well water. He wants her to have living water, a priceless gift from God.
And finally, Jesus lets her know that the water he is speaking about is not earthly or well water. It is a spring of water from within that will bubble up into eternal life. This is one of the many statements that Jesus makes that seems quite cryptic and metaphorical–it is easily misunderstood. The woman desires to have this water rather than the well water so that she won’t have to come back to the well day after day. Her desire is pure and should be commended, and yet Jesus knows still that there is room left for understanding and growth.
The woman at this well, according to Jesus, has something of value to offer him, and he desires to draw that out from her. Even so, Jesus knows that the gift from God is much more valuable and he desires to give it to this woman. And finally, Jesus wants this gift to lead to an eternal spring from within that leads to eternal life.
This entire encounter with the woman at the well is transformative. We could even call it miraculous–after all, what does a Samaritan woman and a Jewish man (much less a Rabbi) have to do with one another?
But Jesus knows what we often forget: this gift of eternal, living water brings us all equally into the presence of God if we will but taste it.
In John 3, Jesus invites Nicodemus to be born again of the Spirit. In John 4, Jesus wants this woman at the well to taste the gift of living water. I hope that we will accept these invitations that Jesus extends as well, and that we will be born of the Spirit and allow the spring of eternal life to bubble up from within.