Good Friday morning!
Today’s lesson is a bit long; I will not be able to send tomorrow so count this one as two days’ worth!
7 A 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.)* 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.’
16 Jesus 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 worshipped on this mountain, but you* 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 worshippers 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,* the one who is speaking to you.’
Except for the introductory transition, we are continuing on the same passage we looked at yesterday. Jesus is resting and waiting at the well – Jacob’s well in Samaria – and he has sent his disciples to buy food. About noon, a woman comes to the well for water. The time is significant; carrying water was a part of a woman’s normal workday, but most women would come to the well early in the morning, to have water for the day’s cooking and cleaning, and late in the day, to have fresh water when visitors came. They would gather at the well at those times, greeting one another, exchanging conversation and gossip. The woman who came at noon was one who did not want to encounter the other women in the village in these social times. We learn why as the story progresses.
Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. That seems a small thing to us, but it was a breach of all sorts of social norms in Jesus’ day. First, he is alone, talking to a woman – that was not done, not by a righteous Rabbi! Second, the woman was a Samaritan, and Jews did not talk with Samaritans. The woman’s response shows that she is startled by his speaking to her – but he responds, “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.” The words “living water” again represents John’s play on words. “Living water” in those days was a term used for water from a fresh-flowing spring, rather than a cistern. It would have been the difference between drinking water from Zephyl Hills or from a standing pool in your back-yard. Obviously, such “living water” would be valued. But, of course, we know that Jesus was using the words in another way; when Jesus offers “living water” he is speaking of the water of life – the gift of the Holy Spirit, leading to eternal life. The woman at first responds, as Nicodemus did, to the literal meaning of the words, “Where are you going to get this ‘living water’? You don’t have a bucket and the well is deep.” And Jesus responds, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but 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.” Jesus is, of course, speaking metaphorically of the Spirit within, a spring of love gushing up to eternal life. But the woman continues to think literally – Hey, if I had this living water I would not have to come draw water from the well and risk the gossip of the other women!
Of course, Jesus knows what she is thinking, and why she comes to the well at noon. He tells her to bring her husband, and she replies, “Sir, I have no husband.” And Jesus then tells her about her life; she has had five husbands and is now with a man who is not her husband. She realizes then that this is someone extraordinary who is talking with her, and she acknowledges that he is a prophet. And she says that her ancestors worshipped on the mountain (Mt. Gerazim) while the Jews said to worship only in Jerusalem; which, she is asking, is the correct way to worship? And Jesus replies that the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. It will not be a matter of where, but a matter of the heart. The woman replies that she knows the Messiah will come and will proclaim these things, and Jesus says to her, “I am he.”
We often teach this passage, but without thinking of the context to the gospel of John. Look at how early in the gospel this is; Jesus’ reputation had not yet been made – there were no crowds following him around yet, just a little band of disciples. He has worked miracles – at a wedding, and after though those are not described. There was a bit of a conflict with John’s disciples, and he decided to go to Galilee, through Samaria. And other than his disciples, one of the first people to whom he declares his own identity as the Christ is a woman who is an outcast among her own people, who are themselves outcasts. Convention would have said he should not even talk to this woman! And yet, as we shall see, she becomes one of the first to spread the Good News, the first missionary.