Life had been tough for the woman. The sun rose on this day without the prospects that anything would be any different. Sunrise was the time which the other women in the village went to draw water and gossip. But not this woman. She was too ashamed to come. Instead, she stayed out of sight until the women had returned from the well. Were they talking about this woman there? After all, she had been married five times already and was now living with a man she was not married to. Rural life in a small Samaritan community was hard. They were held in contempt by the Jewish people who refused to have fellowship or do business with them. The Jews had destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim some time back. Each group claimed to be the true Israelites. A pious Jew refused to go through Samaria going to or from Galilee to Jerusalem and vice versa. Instead, they would cross over the Jordan River into Gentile! Country, which was a big detour. The Jews thought of the Gentiles as dogs, but at least they were better than Samaritans.
As the day developed, something very strange happened. A group of Jews came into the village looking for food. Strange indeed! If the Samaritan woman observed this, she might have wondered what was going on. She was soon to find out.
Chapter four begins with the statement that when Jesus became aware that the Pharisees were aware that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing more people than John that he left the area of the Jordan where He and His disciples were staying. If they intended to take the detour around Samaria which was custom for the pious Jew, the sensible thing to do was to continue up the Jordan River and cross over just before the Sea of Galilee. Much of the extra distance needed to take the detour was already taken. In fact, to go back to go through Samaritan territory would have been a detour.
So it should strike us a bit strange that the text says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. If Jesus was concerned about the opposition of the Pharisees, then taking the longer route through Samaria would not be the first choice. Perhaps there might be a bit of safety in going through Samaria if the Pharisees refused to enter such wretched country. But they would be waiting when Jesus came out the other end.
But the Greek makes it clear that the need to go through Samaritan country came from God. The woman was unaware of the encounter she would have that day, but Jesus was perfectly aware. He knew of His noonday appointment at the well. So, he and his disciples entered into Samaritan territory. The temperature can get quite hot, and drinkable water is a scarce commodity in Samaria. There were a few wells here and there, and to drink from one of them was to drink after a Samaritan. There were no McDonalds to get a bite to eat. One would have to get food from a Samaritan village in case of an emergency, as it was not harvest time, there would be no occasion to glean from the fields. Respectable Jews did not want to face such a dilemma. It was better to buy pork from a Gentile vendor than have to submit to begging or buying from the Samaritans.
I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but the actions of Jesus must have seemed a bit unusual. And as they went along, they noticed that Jesus was getting weaker and weaker. Perhaps the forty day fast he had taken in the wilderness some time earlier had made him physically weak in addition to His hectic lifestyle of ministry and having to do extended prayer at night had worn him down more than the disciples. Here is one of the great mysteries of the faith, where the omnipotent God has to deal with the impotence of human flesh. The spirit was indeed willing, but the flesh was weak.
Finally some hope for the ailing Jesus showed up on the horizon. A well was seen in the distance. This well held an important place in Israelite history. It was the well that Jacob the ancestor of both the Jews and Samaritans had dug. Totally exhausted, Jesus collapses beside the well. To the shock of the party, the well was deep, and there was no rope or bucket to get life-saving water for Jesus. The party was now in crisis. How were they going to save Jesus? I am sure it took the eating of some crow, but the disciples reasoned that the only hope for Jesus was a desperate and humiliating journey to the Samaritan village nearby for food and sustenance. Surely God would forgive them considering the dire situation.
Perhaps the woman venturing out to the well passed these men if she did not encounter them before. Here it was, the heat of the day. She sees the well in the distance. Then she sees what appears as a man slumped by it. Then she sees that he is dressed as a Jew. She could see how desperate His situation was. The Greek word here describes that Jesus was exhausted and uses what is called the perfect tense. The perfect tense indicates that the condition of Jesus had not improved by his resting at the well. He was suffering from heat exhaustion if not heatstroke. He was dehydrated and probably at the point of death itself.
It would be fascinating to look into the mind of this woman as she approached the well. She had suffered much at the hands of men in her life. To be a woman in that culture was humiliating enough. To be a woman with her past was even worse. She could see that if Jesus was going to be saved, it would be up to her. She had the rope and the bucket. By this time Jesus was too weak to have snatched them from her. She might have said to herself: “I finally have power over a man!” But this was not from her village. He wasn’t even a Samaritan. He was a Jew! Being a good Samaritan would have involved letting that hated Jew die. Why should she help Him?
Nevertheless, she needed to get water for herself. It wasn’t the best water, but it was much better than the water that came from the cisterns. At least there were not dead things floating in it. But to get to the water, she would have to approach Jesus. So she comes. Would she offer Jesus help? Was she willing to save Jesus? We can gather from the conversation she was about to have with Jesus that the answer was probably, no.
The dying Jesus there gasps out in his thirst, “Give me some water” to the woman. Would the Samaritan woman’s gall and bitterness interfere with the need for compassion? She could have said to herself: “Fine mess you are in!” She does not yet know that in spite of His dying condition that he is more concerned for her welfare than His own. So she answers Him quite harshly, “You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman for water! At this point, things did not look to good for saving Jesus.
Jesus answer to the Samaritan woman’s contemptful sneer must have been surprising to her. He tells her if she only knew of God’s gift to her that she would rather find the need of Him to be the case. He was offering her even better water than that which was available from Jacob’s well. She would probably dismissed this as the hallucinations of a mirage that the dying Jesus was having. How pathetic was Jesus’ lot. What could a dying Jew offer anyone as a gift?
Her answer shows that she was playing along with Jesus. She is even polite in addressing Him as “sir”. But then she reminds Him that she has the power in this situation. She has the bucket and the rope which leads to the water which Jesus needs to drink to avoid His immediate demise. Or so she thinks. And when she asks Jesus whether He, a dying Jew, was greater than Jacob whose well provided life giving water to him, his family, his livestock, and to his descendants, she is framing the question in such a way as to expect a “no” for an answer. Little does she know that she is speaking to the Lord who appeared to Jacob in his dream at Bethel when he saw the ladder into heaven and who later wrestled with the same Jacob.
Jesus responds to the woman by reminding her that the water she had come to draw was temporary. She would have to come again tomorrow in the heat of the day, a woman despised by her fellow villagers. Not only this, but Jacob, his family, and all whose life were sustained by this well were long dead just like the Israelites who ate the bread in the wilderness were long dead. This water from the well of Jacob provided necessary, but only temporary relief. What Jesus was offering her was more than well water or manna. The water Jesus was offering the woman was not only better in quality, but also in quantity. This water would help one live forever.
By this time, the woman was probably starting to perceive that what Jesus was saying was not the rantings of a thirsty madman. He sounded rational, although somewhat strange. She came to draw lifesaving water, but now she was being drawn by the dying Jesus. Instead of needing saving, Jesus was out to save her. Perhaps her answer here was a little softer at this point when she asks Him to give her this water so she would no longer to have to labor in the hot sun to get water. Was she still pulling Jesus’ chain, or was she starting to get serious?
Jesus now starts to turn the table on the woman. “Go call your husband”, He tells her. Most Rabbi’s would not even talk about spiritual matters with a woman, not even their wives. So the call her for her husband could have been seen as a bit of a snub. Go get your husband, and I will tell him, not you. He is the man who has power over you. I will tell him, even if he is a Samaritan.
The woman rightly answers, “I have no husband”. This is a statement of fact, but there is perhaps more to this than just telling Jesus that she is not married. The Greek puts the emphasis on “no”. It could perhaps be rendered: “I do NOT have a husband!” In other words, she is letting Jesus know that she is autonomous and does not need a man to tell her anything. After all, she was living with a man on her terms outside the legalities of marriage and the responsibilities it required.
The trap which Jesus masterfully set is now sprung. He floors her with His response. “You are quite right that you are not married. You have been married five times, and the man you are currently living with is not your husband.” The woman was floored. How could this Jew, from outside her country, from a hated nation which would not show the Samaritans the light of day know this? She now knows that she is not speaking to any ordinary man. She was now the thirsty one. She needed to know more. She had finally found a good man.
We will pick up this story next week in the sermon, “In Spirit and Truth” and finish the story with the sermon “Sole Food” in two weeks. What can we learn so far? The first thing is how much God cares for us. Jesus cared for us more than life itself. Secondly, we are again reminded that Jesus knows all about us. All that is hidden will come to light. And it is better that this come to light in this life than at the Last Judgment. Thirdly, we learn that Jesus approached his witness to the woman differently than the way He confronted Nicodemus. This shows the personal touch of someone who really cares. It would behoove us to remember this in our witness for Christ that people are not statistics to be put on a report on how many people we have saved, as though we actually saved anyone. Instead we should point to where the hungry and thirsty might find bread and water.
Lastly, it is vital for us to understand that Jesus does not need to be saved. Too often, we are on the defensive. We are trying to keep Christianity relevant in the eyes of the world. We must understand that God has the last word on relevance. The question on the Last Day will not be whether or not Christ was relevant in the eyes of this current age. Rather the question will be whether the individual is relevant in the Kingdom. In that day, God will either say, “Enter into the joy of the Lord” which is to say that that person has eternal life and relevance in the sight of God. The other possibility that one might hear is “Depart from Me! I never knew you.” In other words” ”You are not relevant here” even though you have claimed to do all of these wonderful things in My name. This is what really matters. In which group are you?
Other Sermons in this series:
1. Christmas in July John 1:1-18
2. How to be a Good Baptist John 1:19-51
3. Come to the Wine Tasting John 2:1-12
4. It's The Economy, Stupid John 2:13-27
5. Whoa! Man of the Night John 3:1-22
6. It's Not the Baptist's Church 3:22-36
7. She Finally Found a Good Man 4:1-18 (This sermon)
8. In Spirit and Truth 4:19-26
9. Sole Food
10. Snake Handling and Sabbath Keeping