It’s a pretty long passage so we’re going to take it in chunks and talk about it as we go.
So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
Just a quick bit of geography. Judea, where Jesus started in verse 3, is in the south. That’s where Jerusalem is, where the crucifixion happens, etc.
Galilee, where Jesus is from and where he did most of his teaching and ministry, was up in the north. And between them was Samaria.
It’s a little unclear in the historical record, but Samaritans (the people living in Samaria) were either foreigners planted there by Assyria during the exile, or they were Jewish people who had mixed and intermarried with these foreigners.
Regardless, most “pure-blooded” Jewish people thought of Samaritans as Gentiles - outsiders. And your ritual purity was at risk if you came too close to them.
So this woman is like, “Why in the world would you want to talk with me and risk being contaminated?” Notice she doesn’t give him any water. She just starts questioning him.
Let’s keep reading.
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
There are some interesting parallels between this passage and the one we read last week, in John 3. If you remember, Nicodemus the Pharisee asks Jesus a bunch of questions. He takes Jesus’ metaphors a bit too literally. “How can you be born again?” He pushes back a bit.
And that’s the same thing we see with this Samaritan woman. “How can you give me water?”
It’s a back and forth. In John 3, though, Nicodemus kind of fades from the story and we never see how he responds to Jesus. It makes us wonder as readers - is this story going to be the same? We’ll find out.
Now, I like this woman a lot. Most women in the ancient world would have been far more deferential and submissive when encountering a rabbi like Jesus. But she just starts peppering him with questions.
John paints her as a worthy debate partner with Jesus. She goes toe to toe with him. I love it. She’s spicy.
Remember, they’re sitting here in the hot sun talking about wells and springs and she still hasn’t given him any water. She wants her questions answered first! And Jesus is down with it!
Just a quick aside… Do you know Jesus loves it when we “go there” with him? When we ask the hard questions and push back and wrestle.
He loves it because it means we’re engaged. We’re growing. Our faith is not just static. It’s dynamic.
We go there. It’s one of our core values here at Grace. It’s why we’re having that Bible class for Bible skeptics in March. Because Jesus can take our questions. He can handle it!
And our faith grows deeper when we ask them, just like this Samaritan woman.
Alright, so let’s get back to the story. In verse 10, Jesus says that God has a gift for this spicy woman. And that gift is “living water.”
In the ancient world, “living water” was a way of talking about water that moves. It could be a spring or a stream.
But of course Jesus is not talking about literal water here. Look at verse 14. He says, “The water I give… becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
We talked about eternal life last week. I defined it “life of the age to come.” It’s not just living a really long time. It’s an abundant kind of life, a fruitful kind of life, it’s New Creation life within us and spilling out of us, now and forever.
This is what happens when God’s Spirit is within us, transforming us. We are reborn. We come alive. And that life brings life to others.
This is in contrast to the alternative, which Jesus calls “perishing” in John 3. Where we live for ourselves, and care only about our own needs. Where we quench our thirst only to get thirsty again. And again. And again. The waters of this world.
Jesus offers something different. And I love this. In Greek, he literally says, “[the water I give will become] a spring leaping up to eternal life.” That’s kind of weird… leaping water? But then you think… a spring that leaps? That’s a geyser!
So think about that. The eternal life God wants to give to us… It’s not some status we’ve earned. It’s a living, life-giving force that erupts from within us. That refreshes us and renews everything around us.
That’s the kind of life that Jesus offers. That’s the gift that God wants to give us. And that’s the kind of life he wants this Samaritan woman to have.
Let’s go on.
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
Now at first glance, it may seem like Jesus is being some kind of judgmental jerk here. What does this have to do with living water?
But it’s important to think about the world behind the text. What did it mean back then for a woman to have multiple husbands?
What it didn’t mean is that this woman was divorcing them all and sleeping around. Women weren’t allowed to initiate divorce.
No. What it means is that this woman has either been divorced and rejected by five different men, or she has had five different husbands die.
This woman has no power. She depends on men to live. Living with a man she’s not married to after all of that might not be a matter of loose morals at all, but a matter of survival.
I wouldn’t be surprised if her fellow villagers thought of her as cursed. No wonder she has to come out to the well alone in the heat of the day.
Regardless, whether she is immoral or whether she is a broken woman just trying to make it another day, what Jesus is doing here is not condemning her.
He’s showing her that he knows who she is. He knows what she’s been through. And he wants her - this spicy Samaritan woman with a troubled past - to come alive.
It’s just like what Jesus said to Nicodemus last week:
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
Here’s how she responds.
“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”
So again the divide between Jews and Samaritans comes to the forefront.
I think the subtext of her question is, “Ok, God speaks through you, clearly - you know all about me - and you say he wants me to find true life, but I’m not Jewish. Your God is not going to accept me.”
Jesus’ reply is powerful. “Yes, God’s plan has always been to bring blessing through the people of Israel - the Jews. But he was doing that to ultimately bring blessing to the world.
That plan is now coming to fruition. True life is available to all who worship him, regardless of your ethnicity.”
In the gospel of John, this woman is the first person to hear the good news that the gushing spring of eternal life is for everyone, Gentiles included.
There is no need to worship God in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim, because God’s Son is among us, God’s Spirit is within us - living water is right here. What matters is not where we worship. What matters is how.
In the New Testament there are 4 different Greek words translated as “worship” in English. Literally they mean everything from “to serve,” “to be dutiful towards someone,” or “to stand in awe…” But here the word ‘worship’ is,
proskyneō - to bow in reverence
This kind of worship is a posture. Lowering yourself. Bowing down. Laying on the floor even. This is a posture of surrender.
Yet again, there are parallels with John 3.
Last week I talked about how we are perishing when we live only for ourselves and our desires. But that true life - eternal life - can be ours if we surrender to God’s vision for our lives. If we believe in Jesus - if we put our trust in him.
Jesus is essentially teaching the exact same thing here. “The Father is looking for those who will worship him in that way.” Who will bow down. Who will surrender to his Spirit. That is when the spring of true life - the geyser of New Creation - begins to flow.
True life requires surrender.
And this woman seems open to it. Up till now she’s been arguing and pushing back and asking pointed questions, but then verse 25, “When the Messiah comes, he’ll teach us everything.” In other words, “and I’m ready to hear it.”
It’s at this point Jesus makes it clear to this woman - the first time these words come out of his mouth in John’s gospel… “I am that Messiah.” It’s happening. It’s here. And the true life I bring is for you. Will you believe it? Will you surrender to it?
And then, right at that moment, the disciples show back up and interrupt this powerful moment.
Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him.
This moment in verse 27 cracks me up. Because nobody actually says anything. It’s all in their heads. They all just stare at each other for a moment. “Uhhhh…”
And then without a word the woman goes tearing off back to the village. She leaves her water jug there.
Why is she running? Because she’s made up her mind and she’s got some very good news to share.
Let’s skip ahead a bit and see how the story ends.
Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Like I said before, John chapter 3 leaves the response of Nicodemus unspoken. We don’t know how he responds to the teaching of Jesus. And remember, he’s a big deal religious leader.
But this woman? This Samaritan woman? This spicy, confrontational, outcast, cursed, broken woman… She doesn’t just believe. She brings her whole village out to meet “the Savior of the world.”
That’s what they call him.
Because she believed the true life he brings is not just for the Jews. It’s not just for the elite. It’s for everyone.
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Living water. A geyser of New Creation erupting within us.
Nicodemus was on the fence. This woman was an evangelist.
So that’s the story of the woman at the well.
It’s interesting to see how the themes of John are continuing to develop.
What I want to do right now is talk about us. Our lives. And share a couple of questions that come to mind for me as I reflect on this passage. The first is this:
What is your source of life?
This is similar to what I asked you to consider last week. Although this time the metaphor is different.
When you look at your life or even your internal world - what goes on in your heart and your mind - does it feel to you like every day is dry and thirsty and you’re constantly going back to the well for another sip of water?
Whatever that well is… success, popularity, entertainment, money, self-medication, stuff…
Are you still thirsty every day or have you tasted true life? Do you have a refreshing spring of New Creation within you?
I’m asking - are you sustained by the presence of Jesus? Empowered by God’s Spirit? Is he your source of life?
I’m not asking if you’re a Christian. I’m not asking if you go to church. I’m asking if you have surrendered your life to him. Given up control. And allowed Jesus to quench your thirst.
Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.
You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to work for it. You simply have to say ‘yes’ and surrender.
Stop lugging your bucket to the sun-scorched well when you could have a spring inside.
What is your source of life?
Are you “going there” with Jesus?
Like I mentioned, this Samaritan woman was spicy. She pushed back. She questioned. She was skeptical.
And like I said, Jesus likes that. He can take it. Are you asking him the hard questions?
We are in a time when many Evangelical Christians are deconstructing their faith. And in many ways this can be a really good thing. Questioning old assumptions, rejecting unhealthy beliefs.
But these days I’m noticing a lot of people tearing their spiritual house down brick by brick, but instead of rebuilding or reconstructing, they’re just walking away from the rubble.
If any of that sounds like what you’re going through, I want to remind you of something the Samaritan woman experienced firsthand:
Jesus knows you. “You’ve had five husbands and you aren’t married to the man you’re living with now.” Jesus knows what you’ve been through. He knows your struggles. And he wants you to engage. Go toe to toe.
Jesus can take your questions. He can handle your doubts and your skepticism. He wants to help you rebuild your faith - truer, deeper, stronger than ever before. But you’ve got to be willing to go there.
Tell him how you feel and trust that he’s ready to go with you on the journey.
If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.
The spring of true life can still leap up within you even if the simplistic faith you once had doesn’t hold water anymore.
Go there with Jesus. He can take it.
As we close, I want to give all of us an opportunity to put ourselves in the place of the Samaritan woman.
Close your eyes and imagine meeting Jesus at that well. Bring your shame, your mistakes, your isolation, your pain… I want you to hear his voice:
“I see you. I love you. And I want you to come alive. Give your life to me and I’ll give you living water.”
Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, will you surrender and trust?