Sycar is another name for Shechem and Jacob’s well is nearby at the foot of Mt Gerizim. Jesus having travelled from Judah is tired and in need of a mid-day break. Water was usually brought from the well in the early morning, or in the evening, when it was cooler. Almost certainly the woman comes to draw water at noon, in the heat of the day, when it is unlikely she will meet other women, with whom she would be unpopular because of her lax morals. There was a deep historical antipathy between Jews and Samaritans so the woman is taken aback when Jesus asks her for a drink. In his response to the woman’s surprise, he raises the conversation to a new level and starts talking about living water. He does the same again in response to the woman’s next question. He speaks about water which extinguishes all thirst and wells up to eternal life within a person. Thinking purely on the earthly level the woman is keen to have some of it for the practical benefits it will bring her – no more thirst and no more journeys to this well.
Jesus changes the subject by mentioning her husband. After complementing her on her honesty in admitting that she had no husband, he confronts her with the honest facts of her having had five husbands, which leads her to sense that he is a prophet. She then raises the religious question about whether Jerusalem or Mt Gerizim is the better place to worship God, while Jesus in reply, emphasises the importance of how the Father is worshipped – in spirit and in truth – rather than where.
Next she raises the subject of the Messiah which gives Jesus the chance to state that he is he. By the time she gets to her village, and as she tells the local people all about her meeting with Jesus, she too, now suspects he may be the Messiah. The return of the puzzled disciples and their offer of food gives him an opportunity to tell them about the food that maters to him; doing the Father’s will.
The woman’s testimony about Jesus brings the Samaritans flocking to him. He stays with them for two days after which they come to believe in him because of what they have heard him say. Now they know that he “really is the saviour of the world.”
What an impact Jesus has had on this Samaritan community through his contact with this most unlikely evangelist! She and they have come to faith in him as the Messiah. God sometimes uses the most unlikely people to do his work; a murderer like Moses; an adulterer like David; a persecutor like Paul; an outcast like this Samaritan woman. Each one of us!
By asking a small favour from her, a drink, Jesus initiates a conversation that has led her from ostracism to acceptance, from ignorance to faith, from darkness to light, from spiritual death to fullness of life.
What does this story say to you about Jesus?
How would you initiate a conversation about the faith with a stranger you met on a train, plane, bus, or in the pub, etc ?
Have you ever had an experience which led you to say or think: “Now I really believe/know that there is a God. Now I really believe/know that He loves me” ?
Father Geoff O’Grady