‘Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.’ Like many people, successful author Zadie Smith has found satisfaction elusive.
In this encounter, Jesus does something that in his day would have been considered shocking. He speaks to a Samaritan woman. This might not sound like much, but in his culture, a religious man would never consider speaking to a woman in public. An ancient text said, ‘Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.’ Jesus also ignores the deep racial and religious prejudice that Jews feel towards Samaritans. Jews consider Samaritans ‘heretics’ because they combine some Jewish teachings with pagan practices.
We join Jesus at noon (the sixth hour, as it was the custom to count the hour from sunrise), in the sweltering midday heat, when he is tired and thirsty.
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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 livestock?’
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.’
It was the custom for women to go together to the well to draw water in the cool of the morning. Why might this woman be drawing water alone and in the heat of the day?
Why is she so surprised that Jesus asks her for a drink?
How does Jesus describe the ‘living water’ he offers? What does Jesus mean when he uses the words ‘thirst’ and ‘thirsty’ in verse 13?
How do you think the woman is responding to what Jesus claims to offer? Is her request in verse 15 serious or cynical?
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 worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
21 ‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, 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 worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers 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, the one speaking to you – I am he.’
Jesus unexpectedly moves the conversation on to the subject of the woman’s relationships. Why do you think she responds with less than the truth in verse 17?
How might her past relationships explain why she went to the well alone at noon and not with the other women in the morning?
Why do you think Jesus exposes the reality of her past relationships? How will this help her find living water and satisfaction for her thirst?
Unsettled by his insight into her life, the woman starts to recognise that Jesus is at the very least a prophet. Her comments in verse 20 are not a change of subject; rather, she is asking which temple she should go to in order to fi nd forgiveness and be restored to God.
Jesus responds in verses 21-24 by saying that his coming in to the world changes everything. People will no longer need to go somewhere to fi nd forgiveness and worship God because his coming means people can know God personally and intimately, as ‘Father’ (‘worship in the Spirit’). Nor will there be any confusion about where the truth lies because in his coming Jesus reveals the truth about God. Later in the Gospel Jesus describes himself as ‘the truth’.
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ 30 They came out of the town and made their way towards him.
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.’
Describe the reaction of the disciples when they return to the well in verse 27. Why do they react in this way?
Given all that we know about this woman, what strikes you as so surprising about her actions and words in verses 28–29? How do you think she feels now? Why?
According to verses 39–42, what do the people of the town come to believe, and what persuades them?
Reflecting on the whole encounter, what is the living water that Jesus claims to bring? If he is the ‘Saviour of the world’ what has he come to save people from?
Jesus locates our emptiness or ‘thirst’ in our alienation from God. He promises to bring us into an intimate relationship with God as Father, which will completely satisfy our thirst.
A sense of emptiness is a common human experience. Rock star and humanitarian ambassador Bob Geldof was once asked whether he had found satisfaction: ‘Not at all. I don’t know what that would mean. I am unfulfilled as a human being. Otherwise, why are these large holes here [thumping his chest]? Everything I do is because I am frightened of being bored, because I know what is down there in those holes. I am frightened of it; it makes me depressed.’
How do you respond to what Bob Geldof says? Where do we tend to look to find satisfaction? Are you optimistic or cynical about the possibility of finding lasting fulfilment?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.