4 Now when Jesus[a] learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[b] 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
27Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving[f] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea in the south back home to Galilee in the north. It was a long journey. “He had to go through Samaria,” John the Gospel writer says. But if you look at a Bible map, you’ll notice that the most direct route from Judea to Galilee doesn’t go through Samaria at all. It’s out of the way. If you have to go to Samaria, it’s because you have business there, something you want to do, someone you want to see. So, they take a side road and after walking for hours, unnecessary hours, I’m sure some of them are complaining. They arrive at a well. Jacob’s well, in fact. It’s midday. It’s hot. They’re hungry and thirsty. Jesus is tired. So, his friends go to the closest town to buy some food. As he sits by the well in the heat of midday, a woman approaches. And now we have a very interesting situation. It would make a first-century Jewish reader highly uncomfortable.
In the first place, she is a Samaritan, and for something like 700 years there had been a festering and deep and hostile division between the Jews of Judea and Galilee and their second cousins, the Samaritans. It has to do with which temple was the real one and whose laws were the real thing, who was pure and who was impure. Jews and Samaritans had nothing to with each other, had pretty much excommunicated each other from the one true faith and for centuries had cultivated a deep and profound racial and religious hatred. Normally Jews on the way from Judea to Galilee would have gone out of their way to avoid Samaria, not intentionally traveled there. So here he is, a young Jewish rabbi, sitting at a well in Samaria, and he sees a Samaritan coming toward him. It’s time for him to get up and move a hundred feet away, say, to avoid a confrontation that is going to be uncomfortable, unacceptable, and, in fact, illegal. It will render Jesus impure.
Furthermore, it’s not any old Samaritan. It’s a woman. And the law is clear that males, particularly rabbis, are not to have anything to do with women, other than their wives, in public.
It’s time for Jesus to get out of there. And instead he does the most astonishing thing, shocking actually: he asks her for a drink of water. She objects. “You know better than that. You’re not supposed to have anything to do with me,” she says.
He says, “If you knew who I was you would give me a drink and I would give you ‘living water.’”
And then the conversation takes an odd turn. We’re about to find out something about her that makes it all the more urgent that Jesus get out of there as quickly as possible. “Go bring your husband,” he says. “I have no husband,” she responds. “You’re right,” Jesus observes. “You had five husbands and you’re living with a man who is not your husband.” And now the encounter is way out of bounds. She’s a Samaritan and a woman and a sinner. That’s probably why she is coming to the well in the heat of day instead of the cooler evening hours when women ordinarily visit the well. She’s an outcast among her own people.
Their conversation continues. She more than holds her own. She is not intimidated by him. And he isn’t afraid of her. Something very new is going on here. Most important of all, he has not rejected her. She is guilty of flagrant immorality and everybody knows it. She has become accustomed to the enormous stigma with which her personal and sexual behavior marks her. She has come to terms with universal rejection. Here, perhaps for the first time in her life, is a man who doesn’t react to her as men always do: as a potential sexual partner or as a social outcast unfit to be seen with. This man has neither tried to seduce her nor condemned her. He has talked to her. Accepted her. It was the most stunning and unexpected experience of her life, so stunning that she drops her water jar and starts to run back to the village to tell her neighbors—the ones who will listen to her, that is—about this amazing man.
Just at that moment, his disciples arrive with lunch and they’re horrified. “What are you doing?” they ask. “Why were you speaking with her?” It was for them, I think, one of the turning points, one of the great lessons they learned from him. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” John wrote later. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” If there ever was a moment for legitimate, justifiable condemnation, this was it. She was guilty, a sinner. The law allowed three husbands. She had five and after that simply stopped trying to appear respectable. At the very least, he should have pointed out her precarious moral status. He didn’t do it, and twenty centuries later many of his friends don’t get the point. He came not to condemn but to save; not to exclude but to include; not to judge but to redeem.
The final detail is amazing. The woman becomes the first evangelist. She couldn’t be ordained in the Presbyterian church, because she hasn’t repented of something the Book of Confessions calls sin. Not to pick on the Presbyterian church, she couldn’t be ordained in the Lutheran or Methodist church, and the Roman Catholics wouldn’t touch her with a 10-foot pole. Frankly, she doesn’t much care: she gave up on organized religion long ago. All she does is bear eloquent witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in a way his own disciples have not even approached. She runs to the village, tells everybody who will listen about this amazing man who knew all about her and didn’t reject and condemn and exclude. And she asks in the midst of the tears running down her face, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” — a question, not a proclamation; a suggestion, not a declaration of theological certainty.
And the most amazing thing of all: “many Samaritans believed.” And there we have it -INTENTIONAL AUTHENTIC EVANGELISM.
- It is simply sharing the Good News.
- It is authentic. -genuine/worth acceptance
- It is intentional. -done by intention/design
- It is not merely expressions of kindness
- It is not good moral ethics.
- It is sharing the Good News that we have in our lives.
- It is sharing a part of our identity – our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Commentary provided by John Buchanan, Scott Hoezee, Meda Stamper, Ozvaldo Vena and NT Wright