“A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” (For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”” (John 4:7–12, ESV, caps added to references of God)
“Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, and Nicodemus’ mind immediately raced to the human understanding of birth as something that happened when a person leaves his mother’s womb and enters into the world. Here Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that if she really knew who it was that asked her for a drink that she would ask Him for living water instead. Both of these opening comments from Jesus to individuals were intended to get them to stop and ask more questions—to dig deeper in their confusion in order to seek a point of clarity and understanding.
Jesus waited at the well to rest while His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food. It was while He was there that this woman approached Jacob’s well to draw water as she likely had done day after day for years. As she arrived Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” The request itself was a bit abnormal with a man asking an unknown woman for a drink, but it was even more so because the woman recognized Jesus to be a Jew. As our text says the Jews had no dealings, or nothing to do with, the Samaritans. This was not because they were not Jewish in their understanding or their following after God, but because they were not pure bred true Jews who followed all of their ways. Scholars say that they even had their own place of worship, even rejecting much of the Jewish writings except for the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses) which they regarded as authoritative. As such divisions ran deep.
The woman saw that Jesus was a Jew, and she was caught off guard that He would ask her for a drink. Knowing their general disdain for one another, the woman asked Him why He would ask her, a woman of Samaria, for a drink. This was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to turn the conversation in the direction He had intended (possibly even as reason for the God-man being led by the Spirit to go by that route). Jesus did not draw the distinctions that His fellow-Jews drew. We are reminded of this even when we look at the beginning of Acts 1:8 where Jesus told His disciples when the Spirit comes that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem (worship center for the Jews) and Judea (home for the Jews), but also in Samaria (the home of people who believe similarly but with whom there was great distaste), and then to the entire world (the home of the Gentiles). Jesus modeled this as He moved through His life and ministry.
Jesus, having told her that if she really knew who He was that she would ask of Him instead, sparked her curiosity. How could it be that she as a human who was so dependent upon water, who had to go repeatedly to the well of Jacob who she saw even as the father of her faith to gather that drink, and who knew the toil that was involved in the process of finding this liquid which daily kept them alive be given any water that would eliminate this toil. Was this man someone special? Was He saying that He was greater than Jacob who had dug the well which had served them for hundreds of years? He doesn’t even have anything to draw water with, and to top it off, He had just asked me to give Him a drink. How could He possibly offer to me a drink that would satisfy moment after moment and day after day? Even Jacob had to drink from his own well in order not to thirst. What was it about this man that He could speak of offering this living water? Imagine the confusion. Imagine the questions. Imagine this woman standing there before the Messiah and not knowing who He was and what He was offering. Yet Jesus remained at the well for this moment in order to have this discussion.
Not going any further today in our consideration of the passage, I’m pausing to think about all of the people I might know who know something about God and who see things of this world and try to explain the things of God in terms of what they know. As we move through our days, ourselves, we each most likely have times where we encounter someone who is buried under some burden, who has struggles which cannot be answered in terms of man alone apart from God, and who maybe can be stimulated to consider things of God as we take these normal daily things and frame them in eternity. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born again and then differentiating between his first birth and the spiritual birth that Nicodemus needed to know. He told Him that He must be born again so that He might not perish as is the course of the human body, and then He told him how. Jesus spoke to this woman in the context of her regular thirst, and then He used this to bridge into a conversation about another kind of water that would give life and satisfy the soul.
Jesus knew these encounters were not accidents, and He boldly opened the doors of eternity for these two individuals. Yet, we also know that there were many that He refrained from speaking with or demonstrating miraculous signs before. As the God-man, filled with the Spirit, Jesus was sensitive to the situations and the people around Him. As we finished up chapter two of John we read that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man. We do not have specific knowledge of each individual we encounter, but we do have the Spirit who works in and through us to make the most of each opportunity with which we are presented. We do not have the ability to make people believe, but we do have the privilege of walking through the doors before us and trusting God to work as He does best.
When I was in college and involved with Campus Crusade I learned, “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” For more on this see: http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/sharing-with-confidence.htm
Remember Jesus words to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV, caps added to references of God)