The Samaritans were the descendants of Israel’s northern kingdom who had intermarried with their Assyrian captors after they were carried off into exile in 722 BC. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as traitors who had exchanged the bloodline of Abraham in order to settle in a pagan land.
Jesus and his disciples came to the Samaritan village of Sychar at the hottest part of the day and stopped there to rest and eat. The disciples went into the village for food while Jesus stayed by the well outside of town. While he was there, a woman approached. That she came to the well during the hottest part of the day suggested she was a social outsider who had to get water when no one else was around. She was surprised to come upon this man and even more surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink.
“But you are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman,” she said. “Why are you even talking to me?”
Jesus answered, “If you knew who it is that asks you for a drink, you would be asking me and I would be giving you living water.” (Jn 4:9-10)
The woman regarded Jesus for a moment as she processed what he said. Were they even talking about water anymore? She said, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and this well is deep. How are you going to get that kind of water?”
With that, they were now deep in the pools of metaphor.
Pointing to the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst again. In fact, what I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
She said, “Where can I get that water? My life is hard, and I’d love to be able to leave it behind.” (Jn 4:13-15)
Though she was talking about her daily midday trips to the well, her life was full of burdens greater than this. In her wake lay a slew of dead and broken relationships, and with them the pain they heaped upon her fragile frame. She put on a brave face to stand her ground and talk like this with Jesus, but he saw right through her.
“Go get your husband, and I’ll tell you all about this water,” Jesus said.
She said, “I don’t have one.” She knew he knew better than to imagine she was a married woman.
“I know,” Jesus told her. “You’ve had five husbands and the man you live with now is not one of them.”
This was such a personal, painful detail to come from the mouth of a stranger. He was correct, but what would he do with this revelation? Would he shame her? Abuse her? Take advantage of her?
To deflect the intimate light she’d just come under, she started asking Jesus questions about the differences between Jews and Samaritans—specifically about where God wanted his people to gather for worship. But Jesus didn’t begin this conversation so that they could talk about geography. He disarmed her in order to get to her heart through her wound.
He said, “Your people and my people argue about many things. A time is coming and in fact is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. These are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (Jn 4:24)
The woman said, “My whole life I’ve heard that the Messiah is coming and that when he comes, everything will be made plain.”
Jesus said, “Listen. I am he.” (Jn 4:25-26)
The woman was shaken. When she first encountered Jesus, she assumed nothing much would come of their meeting. She came from the wrong race, religion, gender, and moral reputation for anyone like Jesus to care. But in this moment, he hadn’t just shown kindness to her. He had exposed her insatiable thirst for comfort and control and revealed her most painful secrets and then told her he could satisfy her deepest thirst forever.
Jesus didn’t see her the way she saw him. He saw in her a troubled woman longing to be satisfied on a deep soul level. He saw her attempts to slake her own thirst through pluck and a long line of men. But he also saw a person who was created for worship and someone who would al- ways be thirsty apart from it. He saw a woman made in the image of God who wanted something God had put in her heart to desire—himself. And Jesus was telling her that the way to a satisfied heart came through him. It was as though as they sat beside the well, Jesus and this woman were the only two people in the world. He didn’t regard her by her reputation, but according to what her heart was created to hunger for.
She was a symbol of the world Jesus had stepped into—a world of people created to know and love their Maker. But so much in and around them was broken. The brokenness filtered through every single human relationship, from an unnoticed woman alone in the desert to the tetrarch of Galilee who had John the Baptist locked away in his dungeon. But that unsuspecting world was beginning to change as Jesus’s ways and words continued to spread.
About the Post: This post is an excerpt of chapter 7 of my 2015 release Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).