Jesus’ testy conversation about water – John 4:1-26, Part 3

At my house, we have a well, so my family knows about wells running dry. We know about sediment filters getting clogged. We know about low water pressure, or no water at all. But if you are on public water, you can pretty much leave your water on all the time, and it will never stop running. Not us. We have to manage our water use. As we continue studying John 4:1-26, Jesus has a testy conversation about water, a conversation that will open a door to amazing life change.

In the previous post, his disciples left Jesus alone in enemy territory. Samaritan land. He and the disciples have been walking north from Judea to Galilee, straight through Samaria, a route Jews rarely took because of the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans.

But Jesus is different. He heads right into Samaria and stops about noontime for a rest, a drink and lunch. While the disciples head into a nearby town to get food for lunch, Jesus waits at a well. Just then a Samaritan woman shows up. He asks her for a drink, and she responds by bringing up the Jewish versus Samaritan controversy, questioning him, “Wait…you a Jew are asking me a Samaritan for a drink?” How will Jesus answer her?  He drives right to the mission.  Look at their conversation in John 4, verses 10-15.

Jesus basically says, “If you knew who I am, you’d be asking me to give you a drink, because I have living water.”  The woman is confused because clearly Jesus is tired, thirsty and has no container for water.  It is to be expected that she is thinking somewhat literally here.  Jesus has no way to give her a drink.  Jesus, however, has moved to a figurative level.  Look at verse 13; he just barely tips her off to the fact that he is not talking about literal water, but about something deeper.  Jesus says, “I have the fountain of youth…water that will give you eternal life.” 

The woman doesn’t get it.  She is intrigued, though.  I wonder if she was just playing along with him, because the idea of the fountain of youth, living water, really sounds fake.  But maybe even if she doubts Jesus or thinks he is suffering from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and is spouting off nonsense, she indulges him.  She says, “Sir, give me that water, then I won’t have to keep walking out here all the time.” 

There was no indoor plumbing in that day. Rarely would you have your own personal well, like many of us do.  The Samaritan woman, however, has had an existence where she could only dream of such a thing.  Instead, she had to walk out to the public well and get water day after day after day.  Probably sometimes multiple times a day.  Imagine how fussy it could be to fetch water, something many people around the world still do this day have as a regular part of their lives.  The idea of a spring of water that is somehow eternal life seems amazing.  It doesn’t seem however that she understands or believes what Jesus is getting at.  Not yet at least. 

What is he getting at?  How will he help her understand?  Look at verse 16.

Jesus changes the subject!  He asks about her husband.  I wonder if the woman squinted at him in suspicion.  Why is Jesus asking for her husband?  Where is he going with this?  Was he now bending to cultural conventions of patriarchy, essentially insinuating that he could only speak further with her husband? Had the conversation gotten to a point where it would be culturally inappropriate for a male teacher to talk any further to a female? 

The woman’s answer is a surprise.  In verse 17a she admits that she does not have a husband.  This is curious.  Has Jesus made a mistake by asking for her husband?  No.  I think Jesus has a twinkle in his eye, his mouth in a grin, because he has a surprise for her.  He is going to reveal himself to her, which is something he has done only to a select few thus far.  But he has a very creative way he is going to do the reveal.  In 17b, he says she is right when she says she has no husband, and then he reveals that he knows the truth about her.  Look at verse 18. 

I wonder if the woman gulped, lowered her head, flushed red in her cheeks.  She was had.  Five previous husbands?  And now she is living with a man who is not her husband?  What Jesus points out is that the woman not only told him a half-truth, but she had lived, and was still living, what was likely a very immoral life.  This revealing of her truth could have been very embarrassing for her.  She has likely faced this situation before, people looking down on her, accusing her, and thus she had to endure the shame and guilt of her behavior.  She’s probably had to deal with numerous moments like this one, when people find out her life story, and they turn away from her in disgust that they are talking with one so sinful. 

But this Samaritan woman seems to have a bit of fire in her belly.  She could respond in a dramatic display of shame or anger or feigned frustration, and turn away in a huff and leave.  But not her.  In fact, it’s almost as if she is totally unphased by Jesus’ revealing the truth of her sordid life.  I suspect she’s had to deal with arrogant men many times before in her life.  Putting her down.  Marginalizing her.  She’s had to develop a thick skin. 

“So who is this man?,” she wonders to herself.  He doesn’t seem arrogant.  He just recited her life story without previously knowing her.  Very impressive. Shocking even. Had word gotten out? Is her reputation that bad?  Can’t be. This guy is a total stranger, and a Jew. It’s extremely unlikely he had heard her story before. He seems different. So she says, “Ah, I can see that you have skills of a prophet.” 

What she says next is really interesting. Instead of being embarrassed or angry, she challenges Jesus to a theological duel! Theology? Is she deflecting? When she says “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claims that the place where we must worship is Jerusalem,” she is essentially saying, “Ok, fine, so you know my sordid life story.  Well, what about your bad Jewish theology?”

Remember, the Samaritans believed they were the originals, the true followers of God, and that it was actually the Jews who broke away and started their own false religion.  The crux of their debate was the place of worship.  Mt. Gerazim in Samaria or Mt. Zion (the temple mount) in Jerusalem?

How will Jesus handle this?  In the next post we’ll find out.

Photo by Qang Jaka on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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