Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 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.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
This is the first part of one of my favorite stories in the Gospel of John. It’s a long story, like several others in John. And like several of those other stories in John, the person Jesus is talking to doesn’t immediately ‘get’ what he’s talking about, so he has to give some clarification to help the Samaritan woman understand. But it’s also an inspiring story of how Jesus reached out to an unlikely person, and how she became a vigorous witness to her experience with him.
The story begins with Jesus choosing to travel through Samaria on his way to Galilee. That would have been very surprising to most Jews who heard or read the story. Religious Jews thought of the Samaritans as heretics, and as an “unclean” people because of their mixed ethnicity. So most observant Jews would walk all the way around Samaria to avoid setting foot in that area.
But as surprised as Jewish readers would have been to hear that Jesus had traveled through Samaria, they would have been even more surprised to hear that when the Samaritan woman showed up at the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. You probably remember that during the ‘Jim Crow’ period in our nation’s history, white southerners refused to drink out of the same water fountains as African-Americans. The religious Jews had a similar attitude toward Samaritans – that’s why the woman is so surprised when Jesus asks to drink out of her water jar.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t just ask for a drink – he offers something in return, as well. Jesus offers the woman “living water.” The woman is puzzled by this offer, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Jesus doesn’t have a vessel to draw up water from the well. And second, the phrase “living water” was a way of referring to flowing water, the kind you’d find in a clear stream. And the water from a well was not like that. So that’s why the woman finds Jesus’ offer so puzzling.
But Jesus says that the living water he offers can more than just quench thirst – it also begins to flow out of those who receive it, and into the lives of others. It seems pretty clear that the woman doesn’t completely understand what Jesus is talking about, but she seems to be starting to see that there is something very special about him.
Then Jesus reveals that he has knowledge of her past that the average passing traveler would have no way to know: She’s been married five times and is now living with a man she’s not married to.
It’s common for Christian preachers and other interpreters to describe this Samaritan woman as promiscuous or immoral because of her unusual marital history. The people of her town might well have been suspicious of her, too. (It’s been suggested that that’s why she was at the well at mid-day instead of first thing in the morning, when most women went to the well – to avoid dirty looks and gossip.) But in the story, Jesus does not condemn or criticize the woman. He just reveals how much he knows about her life.
The woman declares that Jesus is “a prophet” – a person with power or authority from God. And having come to that conclusion, the woman asks him about a religious controversy between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews refused to allow Samaritans to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. When the Samaritans worshiped in their own country, the Jews declared their worship to be blasphemous. They even sent troops to burn down a temple the Samaritans built for themselves. So, the woman asks, where were they supposed to worship?
But Jesus says that a new time is dawning, a time when it won’t matter where you worship. In this new time, what will matter is that people worship God “in spirit and truth.”
The woman perceives that Jesus is speaking with unusual authority, and she begins to suspect that Jesus might actually be the Messiah who had been promised by the prophets.
And what Jesus says next confirms her growing suspicion. But there’s even more to his answer than comes through in our English translation. What Jesus actually says is probably more accurately translated as, “I, the one talking to you – I am.” His answer seems to allude to the ancient Hebrew name for God, which is commonly translated as “I am.” So Jesus seems to be confirming that as the Messiah, he is actually a physical manifestation of the Living God of Israel.
There’s a lot to think about just in the first half of this passage and in tomorrow’s Reflection, we’ll think about the second half.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you that when you walked among us, you did not limit yourself to the pure and the righteous, to the ‘in crowd.’ Instead, you reached out to the outcasts and the rejected, the gossiped-about and the marginalized, and you revealed God’s love to them. Help us to reach out in your love to those the world rejects and marginalizes in our time. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The listed readings for today are Psalms 6 and 121; Jeremiah 1:11-19; and Romans 1:1-15. Our readings come from the NIV Bible, as posted on Biblica.com, the website of the International Bible Society.)