Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 4:1-3 (Holman) AWhen Jesus knew how the Pharisees heard that He was making and baptizing more disciples than John, (Though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were,) He left Judea, and went again to Galilee.@
Jesus= success was attracting more attention than Jesus desired at this time. He would die at the Pharisees= hands, but later, when the right time had come. It was not yet time for a head-to-head encounter with them. Our Lord, not wanting a premature collision with the religious leaders, left Judea for Galilee.
John 4:4-6a AHe had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria, called Sychar, near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob=s well was there. . .@
The fastest and most direct route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria. Near Shechem, Jesus approached property having huge historical significance.
Centuries before, Jacob had bought this parcel of ground from Hamor the Hivite, father of Shechem who raped Dinah (GN 33:19). Jacob bequeathed this ground to Joseph (GN 48:52), who was buried here (Joshua 24:32).
A well was (and is) located here. Jews and Samaritans believed the well had been dug by Jacob himself. The well is over 100 feet deep and over 7 feet in diameter. Digging and lining it would have been extremely difficult. The fact anyone would build a well this large in a neighborhood of abundant natural springs shows it was probably built by a stranger in the land. Jacob, when he lived near Shechem, was a stranger in the land. Thus, it truly is very possible he did dig this well.
Only one well of this kind has been found in the area. Few Holy Land sites have less doubt clouding their authenticity than the site of Jacob=s Well. People can visit there, and be relatively sure they have been where Jesus once was.
John 4:6b A. . .and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.@
Jesus was tired and thirsty, but did not use his fatigue and need as an excuse. The Creator was bowed low. Christ created us in strength, but came seeking us in weakness. On this day, His weariness would prove a blessing to one, and show in microcosm what His weakness made possible for all people.
John 4:7-9 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. AGive Me a drink,@ Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food. AHow is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?@ she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
This encounter shows God loving all the world, not in theory, but in action. It illustrates Christ stepping forward to initiate a relationship with a stranger.
When we ask God, AWhat is my mission field today?@ we have to be willing to encounter strangers, strangers who don=t look like us, dress like us or behave like us.
How did He accomplish this and what lessons can we learn from Christ=s approach? Jesus used five techniques to engage this stranger.
One, Jesus identified with the Samaritan woman=s humanity. He was tired, thirsty and hungry so He sat down. More than likely she could identify with Jesus because she too would be tired from the trip to the well.
Two, He engaged her in conversation. He moved past all social and cultural barriers and showed interest in her. Orthodox Jewish custom forbade dialogue with this woman for at least four reasons: her race, sex, religion, and morals. But Orthodox Jewish custom was not a binding influence on Jesus. Had He let it control Him, none of us Gentiles would be in the kingdom and women would still be considered property.
Three, He opened the conversation by asking for a drink which peaked her curiosity. She said, (JN 4:9) AHow is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?@ Now He had her interest. She was asking the questions.
Four, He was practical, He used His surroundings to get His point across, He used the well. Jesus talked to her about drawing out living water from the well which again caused her to ask even more questions (JN 4:11). ASir,@ said the woman, Ayou don=t even have a bucket and the well is deep. So where do you get this living water?@
Now, He didn=t say, Alet=s have a religious discussion!@ He continued to focus the conversation on what would benefit her, living water.
Five, He was accepting and loving. When He asked her to go get her husband and come back, she had to admit she had no husband. Then Jesus did something we can=t do B wouldn=t it be great if we could B He said, you are right; then he told her life history with men. He accepted and loved her as she was.
Before we can get to the method we have to get at the heart of the matter B love. Love must be our motivation to walk across the room. Love for Jesus which spills over to love for people. That is where He started. That is where we must start too. Love must always come before a method. Otherwise folks will wish you hadn=t bothered to walk across the room.
We need to be radically inclusive. Over the last few years Tony and I have been approached by about 6-8 church members (not people we are close to) who have made comments about one of our extended family members sexual orientation. While their comments were not attacks against me personally, they were certainly not filled with love, radically inclusive or focused on my family member=s ultimate issue B his need for salvation. When we focus on someone=s ultimate issue we can be radically inclusive without any fear of watering down the gospel or compromising truth.
Ultimately, you know the story, Jesus told her He was the Messiah. She believed and ran to bring others.
Now, the question of the hour is: How do we engage strangers? Do we step forward and start the conversation? Do we sit down and invite others to join us? Do we ask questions about their life and listen to their stories? Are we accepting and loving? Do we have our story ready to tell when they ask questions of us?
What would we have done if we learned that our new friend, the stranger, was living with a man out of wedlock. Jesus was trying to help the woman. Can we love all people in such a way that we want to help them?
Jesus told the disciples following this experience what we must tell ourselves: AOpen your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest@ (JN 4:35).
Orthodox Jewish custom forbade dialogue with this woman for at least four reasons: her race, sex, religion, and morals. But Orthodox Jewish custom was not a binding influence on Jesus. Had He let it control Him, none of us Gentiles would be in the kingdom, and women would still be considered property.
In Jesus= day, one Rabbi said, ABurn the words of the law rather than teach them to a woman.@ Orthodox men and women were not to converse with each other openly. A man did not speak to a woman on the street, even if she was his wife or mother or sister.
AThere were even Pharisees who were called >the bruised and bleeding Pharisees= because they shut their eyes when they saw a woman on the street and so walked into walls and houses@ (Barclay).
These travesties meant nothing to Jesus. He saw this Samaritan woman as a person in need. Our Lord never displayed the narrow heartedness which characterized His (and our) age. He preferred to help a hurting lady.
This lady=s worst Acrime@ was her being a Samaritan. The relationship between Jews and Samaritans has, even at its best, always been one of hostility.
The Jews deemed all Samaritans outside the covenant mercies of Israel. Only some 300 Samaritans remain in the world today. The Jews still consider them religious deviants.
This animosity, which still exists, can be traced to the Assyrian colonization of Israel following 722 BC (II Kings 17:24). The Assyrians deported many Jews from the Holy Land, and replaced them with pagan foreigners. The Jews who stayed in Israel intermarried with these foreigners. The children and descendants of these mixed marriages became known as Samaritans.
To the Jews of Judah, this loss of racial purity was an unforgivable crime. These southern Jews, who maintained their identity even after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, hated the northerners for what they had done.
After the southern Jews returned from exile, the Samaritans volunteered to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1ff). When their offer was contemptuously rejected, they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. In 129 BC, a Jewish general led an attack against Samaria and destroyed the Samaritan Temple. This made the hatred between the two groups even more intense.
Strict Jews would not traverse Samaria. They preferred their holy huddle. Instead of being defiled by Samaritan soil, they would travel by a circuitous route through Transjordan.
To the Jews, foods touched by a Samaritan were unclean, except for eggs, fruit, and other foods that an outer layer kept food within from being defiled. These latter kinds of food were probably what Jesus= disciples were going to buy (in verse 8, Ameat@ is literally Afood@).
Jews and Samaritans interacted with each other in business matters and in official political dealings, but casual conversation between the two groups was virtually non-existent. For a Jew to drink out of a Samaritan utensil was especially unthinkable.
Despite all these nationalistic animosities, Jesus said to her, AGive me to drink.@ These words expressed Jesus= acceptance of her. He was opening a path into her heart, which He wanted to own. Though hot and thirsty, Jesus desired faith from her heart more than He wanted water from her well.
In dealing with the Samaritan woman, Jesus did not use a rehearsed program, plan, or campaign. He witnessed Aas He went.@ Sharing the Good News was His life. His willing heart repeatedly created its own opportunities.
We commonly say Paul was the first missionary to the Gentiles. Actually, Paul merely followed the example of our Lord. Jesus Himself broke down barriers. This story shows us the message of Christ was from the first intended for all, regardless of race, sex, religious background, or moral standing.
John 4:10-12 Jesus answered, AIf you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, Give Me a drink, you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.@ ASir,@ said the woman, AYou don=t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this living water? You aren=t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.@
Jesus ignored her reference to the Jewish-Samaritan schism. He took no notice of it, made no statement about it. Some differences are best healed by being slighted, by avoiding all occasions of entering into dispute about them (Henry).
We do not need Ato mount our white steed@ and be Aknights in shining armor@ over every issue that surfaces. Blessed is the person who knows how to be angry only over worthwhile causes. Jesus did not want to win an argument; He wanted to win a soul.
Jesus immediately lifted the conversation to a spiritual level. He is going to introduce this lady to spiritual truth by using a metaphor. He compares the gift of God to living water, which referred to running water, as opposed to still water. Living water represented the Holy Spirit, and the life-giving energies He provides.
The Samaritan woman=s response shows she thought the Lord was speaking with crude literalism. At this point, she had only one serious problem, ignorance. Jesus had touched the heart of the issue when He said, AIf thou knewest the gift of God.@ She did not have a clue about how to find God.
The Samaritan was an open person, smart, willing to believe truth and obey God. She knew something of the Bible, was versed in the customs of her sect, and longed for Athe Prophet.@ But ignorance in essentials lay like a stone before her heart=s door. Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, she needed someone to explain the way clearly.
People by nature know they want something, but can=t pinpoint exactly what they are seeking. Believers must tell them what this longing is.
People in the USA are surrounded by religious jargon, but need the Gospel of Jesus applied directly to them. They can say of religion what the mariner said of salt water, AWater, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.@
General religion is as useless as salt water in relieving spiritual thirst. Religion is useful only when it is applied specifically to the individual.
If we took a spiritual look around us, we would see Springfield filled with people in spiritual ignorance. This is often the only thing standing between a person and abundant life. We need to tell unbelievers about Jesus.
We inwardly sigh, AIf they only knew Jesus.@ It=s time we turn this inward sigh into an outward witness. We do not need vast knowledge. The only requirement is a willingness to share a simple message.
John 4:13-14a Jesus said, AEveryone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again B ever! In fact, this water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.@
Nothing abides forever except what comes from the eternal One. Even His water, though, helps only when a person drinks it, takes it inside self. When we drink water, it enters us, saturates us, becomes a part of our very being. Similarly, Christ has to be inwardly appropriated.
The person who drinks living water will never lack what abundantly satisfies his soul=s desires. Believers have longings, not languishings. Their thirst is a desiring, not a despairing. They do not fear the supply will end, but fear they will not fully enjoy all its abundance.