Jesus was gaining followers and as a result the attention of the Pharisees, who were actively plotting against Him. So He left Judea and headed back to Galilee, Jesus’s hometown, the place from where no prophet was supposed to come. Ordinarily the Jews traveling between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south would take the longer route across the river Jordan and seldom take the shorter route that passed through the region of Samaria. The Samaritan occupied land was never to be walked on by the Jews as it was the land of the corrupt and pagan people with whom they were at odds since the time of the Assyrian empire. The Jews and the Samaritans both considered the other group morally unclean because of their respective practices. In the Gospel of Luke we even read about the Samaritans villages vehemently ejecting Jesus and His disciples from their land as they were Jews. However on this journey between the two Jewish regions, Jesus chose to go through Samaria and even rested in the ancient town of Sychar, the land that Jacob had given to Joseph and his sons.
Sychar was most probably the Old Testament city of Shechem associated where Abraham built an altar, where Jacob bought a land from the Shechemites and where his daughter was raped. Nothing ever happened accidentally or coincidentally with Jesus but always had a purpose. The route and the timing of the journey were all setting the encounter of Jesus with another daughter of Jacob. Unlike the prominent Pharisee from the last chapter, John did not give us the name of the Samaritan woman at the well, perhaps telling of the standing that women had back then in the Jewish culture. So while Jesus was taking a break from His journey and the disciples had gone into town to grab their lunch, a sole woman came to draw water at Jacob’s well in the middle of the day.
Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”John 4:7
The Samaritan woman was taken aback at the request, as she never expected to even strike up a conversation with this Jewish traveler much less draw water for Him. She inquired from Him as to how could Jesus even make such a request given the history between the two tribes.
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.John 4:10
Jesus talks about living water that He can give to the woman, the same living water that we see Him talking with the Jews about at the festival of the Tabernacles (John 7:38–39). Ezekiel in a vision (Ezekiel 47) sees the Lord showing him the works of a water so powerful that every creature that comes in contact with that water shall live for eternity, every tree that soaked that water, its leaf shall never wither and it shall bear new fruit each month. John in his revelation describes the river as the water of life bearing twelve different fruits and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.
The living water represents His Spirit in us who gives us the joy that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven. The joy in our hearts that gives us a new life, a new beginning with the knowledge that the slate has been wiped clean. That is what Jesus has to offer. Satan uses guilt and a feeling of unworthiness to keep us away from this river. But the water is freely and abundantly available to those who seek it. The Lord waters us with new life so that we may produce new things for His glory. Such is the power of the water that Jesus was offering to the Samaritan woman who kept confusing it with the water she drew from the well.
Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?John 4:12
There is a hint of hero worship in the way the Samaritan woman describes the well and its original owner as is the case with most of us and our spiritual heroes. But by comparing the water that Jesus had to offer to that of Jacob’s well, the woman was creating her own barriers in understanding the true meaning of Jesus’s words. In the same way when we compare the things of this earth to God’s words, we are limiting our own understanding of it and thereby also limiting the power of those words in our life. That is why when Jesus was offering the living water that will relinquish all thirst, the woman wanted it for earthly reasons.
Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”John 4:15
Jesus was offering her something that was beyond comprehension, but what she took away from his offer was that she would get some physical relief if she did not have to haul water everyday from the well back to her home. She would probably get some emotional relief of not having to listen to the snide remarks of the townsfolk when she would meet them at the well. Similarly we confine our needs to the physical and emotional relief and do not give a second though about the spiritual relief that we so desperately need. Jesus wants to give us spiritual blessings but we want only earthly blessings from Him.
A Prophet from God
Like He did with Nathanael, Jesus revealed the truth about the woman which led her to conclude that He was a prophet from God. Rather than confessing and repenting for her ways, she proceeds to ask Jesus follow up questions on the differences between the Jewish and the Samaritan culture. Even satan plays a distraction game with us and diverts us from confessing our sins and repenting, lest we may turn back to God. Her superfluous question regarding the place of worship was her way of distracting the ‘prophet’ standing before her from her iniquities. The Jews regarded the temple at Jerusalem as the only place to worship God while the Samaritans had a temple of their own on mount Gerizim. We have so many denominations based on minute differences in the way of worshiping and interpretation of laws that we have forgotten that God wants true worshipers that worship Him in Spirit and not how their religion or denomination dictates them to do. Denominational differences is another one of satan’s tricks for us to stay away from realizing the truth and the same is happening with the Samaritan woman as she is focused on the wrong things. Jesus answered her doubts by denouncing the worshipers of both temples built by human hands.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”John 4:23-24
God is not limited to one place, nor does He identify with only one nation. He is omnipresent as evident from David’s rant about not being able to escape from God’s presence (Psalms 139:7–12). The place or the manner of worship is not important. All that matters is our heart that we are bringing before God. Church services, bible study sessions, community initiatives are only ways of helping others connect with God. Alone time with God is our only way to reach Him and that is how we should be worshiping Him.
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”John 4:25
Her immediate response to such a strong statement from Jesus is again a distraction where she says that she would rather wait for the Messiah who will come to explain these things to them. We also would rather delay righteous living till Christ comes and do not realize that Christ has already come in our lives.
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”John 4:26
I Am He
The Pharisees in their heart would have known the true identity of Jesus but choose to ignore all the signs that the scriptures taught them as they were slaves to the religion that they followed rather than the God they claimed to follow. We know that God is closer to people with the broken hearted (Psalms 34:18). Even Jesus told the Pharisees that it is the sick who need the doctor (Matthew 9:12). The people who are satisfied by their righteousness will never find the need to look for the Messiah as they proclaim that they do not need to be saved. But for people who are aware of their shortcomings and know that their sins are separating them from God, they will need Jesus to connect them back to God. Which side would we rather be on? The ones depending on their own righteousness or the ones who have given up hope and can use all the help needed from God.
- Why did Jesus ‘had to go’ through Samaria?
- What does this living water mean?
- Is there a hint of hero worship in the way the Samaritan woman describes the well and its original owner?
- Why was the woman suddenly interested in the living water that Jesus was offering?
- How should we be worshiping God?
- Why did Jesus reveal His identity to this woman but not to the Jewish enquirers?