He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 His disciples had gone into the city to buy him some food.
9 The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other.)
10 Jesus responded, “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.”
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water!”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.”
17 The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.”
“You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. 18 “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”
19 The woman said, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”[a]
27 Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.
31 In the meantime the disciples spoke to Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
32 Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
33 The disciples asked each other, “Has someone brought him food?”
34 Jesus said to them, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it’s time for harvest’? Look, I tell you: open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest. 36 Those who harvest are receiving their pay and gathering fruit for eternal life so that those who sow and those who harvest can celebrate together. 37 This is a true saying, that one sows and another harvests. 38 I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work.”
39 Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world.”
It’s exhilarating to be able to give good news, isn’t it?
I mean, we have whole traditions around giving good news now. Making announcements are now just as important as the actual thing they are meant to announce. We love sharing good news. From Wedding announcements–greeting cards with engagement pictures on them saying “She said yes!” on them, posing in adorable ways–to gender reveal parties for babies–parties huddled around boxes of gender-coded balloons to reveal to friends and family that you’ll have a boy or a girl–the biggest moments in our lives are telegraphed in exciting and creative ways. Graduation parties do much the same thing. Even the heart pounding anticipation of opening a letter from a university, potentially holding good news that you have been accepted into your dream university, as small as it may be, is enough of a tradition to be codified in the modern human experience.
Getting good news feels amazing. Being able to give good news? Even more so. Because you get to see someone else receive something wonderful, that makes it a blessed experience. So to see the birth of a grand tradition like being able to get to share the good news of Jesus should be a much more important story than I think it is.
There’s a lot to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
There are a lot of story aspects, and details, it’s easy to get distracted from the end result–that this woman became the first evangelist. Before the disciples and the apostles, an unnamed non Jewish woman became the pioneer of a grand Christian tradition. To experience her story is to experience the first of an important part of our own Christian lives, the witness to salvation, and sharing that witness to others.
A Misunderstood Meeting
I feel like there’s a lot to be misunderstood about this meeting between Christ and the woman at the well. Because of this, there needs to be some clarification to understand why this meeting means so much.
First, we probably should talk about the well. I know, that’s what everyone comes to church for, right? A history of obscure middle eastern water sources? Seriously, though, this well is important despite appearances. It means something to both Jesus and the woman, and to the story itself.
First of all, the Well of Jacob isn’t actually mentioned in the bible before or after this. This is the only time it’s mentioned. It is a real well, though, in the city of Sychar in Samaria. There is some reference to it in Genesis, but only obliquely:
After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel. Genesis 33.18-20
On this ground the well was built, and for hundreds of years, Samaritans revered it as a holy and important place connecting them to the past and to their heritage.
Now, who were the Samaritans, you might be wondering? Samaria is a region in Central Israel/Palestine that used to be a part of Israel, but during the great wars in the times of the kings, they allied not with Israel but with the Assyrians. In this, they became traitors to the Israelites. History did not look kindly upon them. Henceforth, Jews didn’t associate with them, and thought them beneath them, as traitors and villains.
And yet, they shared in common the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This well was an enduring sign that they believed they belonged to God, even though they may have betrayed the Israelites. This well was important to the Samaritans, and thus to this Samaritan woman.
Let’s talk about this Samaritan woman a bit too, because there is much misunderstood about her as well.
Don’t get me wrong, there was much I was mistaken about as well. It’s something so often preached about that we don’t even think about it. As Jesus converses with her, he reveals that he knows something that was rather intimate–that she has had 5 husbands, and the man she lives with is not her husband. Immediately, good Christians for centuries have come to the conclusion that she had a licentious past. Rather, there is honestly a far more innocent reason for this. See, women didn’t really have the agency to be divorced back then. So more than likely? She’s a widower, being passed from husband to husband through levirate marriage laws, betrothed to the next brother or next of kin in line. She probably had nothing to do with the fact that she was married five times, but trapped in an arcane system that we have no modern context for.
Yet we still can’t get rid of our preconceptions. And because of that, we miss a lot of what was really important here. It’s not that Jesus forgave her, or shamed her, or anything negative. It’s that he knew her. Knew her before she knew him. It’s that he had foreknowledge of her life, it’s ups and downs, and approached her as a friend without even meeting her before. Because he recognized her as a friend, we ought to as well, and not look on her with pity or with shame. She is no more shameful or sinful than we. She was a person, and an important one at that, as we would go on to emulate her example as fellow witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Receiving the Good News
So now that we’ve gotten some of the background on this story, there isn’t all that much to the story.
Much like with Nicodemus, this isn’t as much a story as it is a conversation. Jesus rolls up into a Samaritan town. He’s thirsty. He asks a woman for some water at a well.
Already, though, he’s broken some boundaries. Unless you are family or married, you don’t just roll up and approach a woman like that back then. And yet, as I said, he greets her as a friend. Not only that, despite him being a Jew and her a Samaritan, two groups that don’t mix, he greets her as a friend. Despite whatever boundaries may have been there, Jesus didn’t care. He came to that well not to ask for water, but to have a conversation.
From there, the conversation goes from Jesus asking for some water, to her challenging him, his status against hers, and his impropriety.
I actually admire this woman, because she has the courage to call Jesus on his somewhat baffling behavior. Not even his own disciples were able to do so as ably as she did, and here she is. So kudos to her: she’s already proving to be a sharp wit and powerful conversationalist on her own.
Jesus prods at her reluctance by saying she should be asking him for water, really, because he’s got water that, if drunk from, will leave you never thirsty again. Which, if a stranger told me that, I’d probably not take it nearly as well as the Samaritan woman did. She quizzed him on this, and then he gives her the reveal: he knows about her. He knows her history, her identity–he knows her. Astonished by this, she has a ready-made response: so you’re a prophet eh? Ok, Jewish prophet-man, your people have told us our faith is bad, that we must worship at the temple, and yet we are barred from entry. You and your people have a lot to answer for.
I mean, the gall! The absolute nerve of the woman! This conversation’s taken more u-turns than a mountain drive. Yet Jesus actually agrees with her. He says its true that Jews do this, but he says that there’s going to come a time when that’s not going to be the case. Someday, people will be able to worship God wherever they are, without any artificial divisions, in spirit and truth. So he gives her this round.
She takes control of the conversation again. She says that she’s a believer in the messiah, that someone will come to save them and lead them. Not everyone believed this, but it was a growing movement in Judaism at the time. She was saying this to test him, to see how he believed. She never expected that he would respond positively, but that he would reveal his identity–that he was the Messiah.
A New Occupation
At that, the conversation ends. I imagine there was a moment of stunned knowing and understanding. He tipped his hand. She knew him now, as much as he knew her. And from there, she left.
From that moment on, she had a new life, and a new job, one she started to immediately do. She began telling everyone that she had met someone at the well who had known her entire life without meeting her, that he was a prophet, and that she could testify that he was the one who said I Am. That this was the Messiah. She became the first evangelist.
At that moment a new profession was born, something all of us followers of Jesus are called to do. We now get to follow in this brave woman’s footsteps. This woman who we are used to shaming now is the person we get to emulate. She’s the pioneer of our role as witness. She shared how she met Jesus. And she did it with everyone she met. She makes it look easy.
I won’t sugarcoat the fact that it takes courage to be an evangelist.
It’s really hard to talk about faith, especially to someone we don’t know. It’s hard to talk about faith, period. There’s going to be people who don’t want to know about it, or hear about it. But that’s where it takes tact and practice.
Am I telling you to be obnoxious in your evangelism? Not at all. What I ask you to do is be authentic. Be open about it. Don’t rely on platitudes and clichés. Talk about your individual experience. Talk about your walk with Christ. Talk about your ups and downs. Talk to others as Christ talked to this woman, not letting boundaries interfere. He broke the walls down. Now you get to walk where they once were to people who could use the good news.
This should be an exciting task, though. You get to give good news to people! You get to choose how you do it, too. You can be creative. You can do it your way. You can do it on your terms. And you can do it to anyone.
I pray that you get courageous, as this woman was. I hope that if you have experienced Jesus, you can bear witness to how he’s changed your life. If you’ve met Jesus, you get to share the good news. That’s one of the best jobs out there, giving good news. Have fun with it. Be open. Be honest. In Jesus Name, Amen.