“Woman at the well”
Traditionally, we have heard sermons from this text that Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well was an immoral woman having five husbands, –changing husbands frequently–, in her life. Being impressed with Jesus knowing her rather not- so- proud- of past, she mobilized people to come to Jesus by saying, “he told me everything I ever did!”
Let us study a little bit more this text to see it in a different light. The background of our text is that Jesus was going to Galilee from Judea, and he was passing through Samaria which was in between Judea and Galilee. Going through Samaria to Galilee is the direct route from Judea, yet most Jews at that time would not use this direct route because they despised Samaritans not associating with them at all. They would rather go around, crossing the Jordan River twice, which would take them twice long as taking this direct route to go to Galilee. Why?
Samaritans were mongrels in the eyes of Jewish people. When the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in BC 722, they deported all the Northern Israelites to the land of Assyria, except for the lowest people in the land, and different ethnic tribes from the Assyrian Kingdom were brought in to Samaria, and they intermarried with those lowest, left-over, Israelites. They were mixed; they were mongrels in the eyes of Jewish people.
Religiously, Samaritans held Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, as their religious norm, but they mixed the Torah with the local superstitions adding foreign elements to it, –defiling and destroying the purity of Torah, the worst sin of all, in the eyes of Jewish people. Samaritans built their own temple at the mount of Gerazim, making a historical claim to Jehovah God, but it was demolished by Jewish people. The hostility between Jewish people and Samaritans ran deep and high. No one had associated with Samaritans.
With that explained, today’s text starts with Jesus going through this infamous Samaria and sat by the well feeling tired and weary and asked for water. The famous preacher, Spurgeon from England preached, “The one who gives the rest to the weary becomes weary. The one who gives the living water to the thirsty becomes thirsty. Jesus became weary to give us the rest; Jesus became thirsty to give us the living water that does not run dry. In this season of Lent, let us remember the sacrifice Christ had made for us.
Jesus asked for water to a Samaritan woman. We already studied that why Jesus as a Jew was not expected to talk to Samaritan, let alone to a woman. Traditionally, Jewish rabbis avoided seeing women in the street. They would rather bruise their faces or bodies closing their eyes walking than eyeing women. But Jesus was talking being alone with Samaritan woman at the well.
Before we go any further, we have to note that in the first century Palestine, a woman could not initiate divorce. Therefore, the Samaritan woman’s five former husbands must have either divorced her or died. She was hardly an adulterous woman in this context. Having no husband was a misfortune, if not disaster since women at the time relied on husband or husband’s family for survival.
As for admitting that she had no husband although she had a husband figure in her life, we have to remember that it was in the Roman colonial period. Roman marriage laws only recognized the marriage between the freeborn people. In the Roman Empire, there were millions of people whose marriages were not recognized legally since they were slaves or former slaves or either one of the spouses was a former slave or slave. Living as a concubine could have been this Samaritan woman’s only option if she and her “husband” were both former slaves, or either one of them was a former slave.
In addition, we have to also note that Jesus asking Samaritan woman to bring her husband can be understood in the context that it was a social norm to engage in lengthy discussion between woman and man that were not related.
With these as cultural background, let us focus on the fact that Jesus broke down all the barriers, –ethnic, religious and gender– to come to this woman to bless her. Vs. 10, Jesus said to 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.” It was not a coincidence that Jesus was at the well when this Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus came all the way to Samaria to give her what she really wanted, –the living water. The problem is she did not know that it was Jesus who could give her what she wanted. She did not know what Jesus was capable of giving to her. He was just a stranger. She was this close to Jesus, yet she did not know that. If she did, she could have asked him to give what she wanted. Do we know Jesus, what he can give to us? Corona Virus has become pandemic, it is almost everywhere in the world. We have become fearful and are in a panic. My mother sanitizes the doorknobs and things with alcohol, and we are being told to wash our hands when we come home from outside. The nursing home services are being canceled. Disneyland is closed for an indefinite time. Are we afraid? Do we know what Jesus can do for us? What does it mean to put the blood of the lamb on the top of the door frame of the houses of Israelites when the angel of death was going house to house in Egypt killing the first-born of the Egyptians? What does it mean to have manna from heaven for the people of God in the wilderness where there is nothing to be expected? Do we know what Jesus can give us? Do we know him enough?
The woman at the well was a truth-seeker. She came to the well at noon. In Jesus’ time, it was a women’s duty to draw water from well; they usually draw water in the morning and in the evening. The well was a daily social gathering place, –talking, meeting, exchanging gossips. We know from the Bible that many of the biblical figures met their spouses at the well: Jacob met Rachel at the well, Abraham’s servant met Rebecca, who became his master’s wife, Moses met Zipporah at the well. The well was a social gathering place, busy and noisy.
This Samaritan woman came to the well at noon, avoiding a crowd. Socializing was not the purpose for her coming to the well but for the source where she thought she could quench her thirst for truth. Well signifies the truth, the source of life, the living Word of God. Samaritan woman asked Jesus whether he is greater than Jacob who had given Samaritans the well from which they had been drawn water, truth, from generation to generation, but still thirsty. She asked Jesus whether he has the better one. To that, Jesus replied in vs. 13 -14, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 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.” She immediately responded with enthusiasm in verse 15, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Traditionally, people interpret this verse as that she understood the water Jesus offered to give in a physical sense, but when we note that Jesus did not have any water with him to give anyone, it is troublesome to understand that she asked for water from him in a physical sense. She did not ask where the water was, either. She did not ask for water in a physical sense. She asked for the water that could quench her spiritual hunger. She never knew any truth that will quench her thirst for the truth. That was why she was ready to accept anything that will satisfy her soul without knowing who Jesus was.
The conversation goes on to the meaning of true worship: she asked the question about the truth between her religious truth she had as a Samaritan and Jewish claim to the truth. Jesus answered her question that Samaritan worship what they do not know, but Jews worship what they know. In other words, Jesus specifically told her that salvation is from the Jews; he was not saying that all religions have truth in their own way. Jesus finally revealed to her that he was the Messiah who has the answer to the sins of the world, to the world that is perishing.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This Samaritan woman came to well at noon. Unlike the respected rabbi, Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night and departed still doubting, this Samaritan woman met Jesus in broad daylight and departed a true believer. She became an evangelist to bring people to Christ. If we are true believers, we cannot help but bringing people to Christ. Amen and Amen!!!