There is a story that John tells in his gospel about an interaction Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at the well. This is one of the most well-known passages because so many different insights can be pulled from this story; preachers have a field day with it.
Because of this, I have heard sermon upon sermon preached from the different angles of why the woman is important, why Jesus’s response is important, and the significance of the well. This is one of the reasons why growing up in church can sometimes be a handicap now. Once you hear a story and explanation a hundred times, you begin to tune out once you hear it again. You think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’ve heard that before” or “I know where this one is going.” I know that Scripture is living and the Holy Spirit speaks fresh words every time the Word is preached, but, if I am honest, I find myself trying to out-think the sermon sometimes by arriving at the end before the pastor gets there.
But sometimes I am just listening and processing and God hits me with a new perspective I was not expecting. Sometimes it is what the pastor is saying, but most of the time it is because my mind is wandering off thinking about something he said five minutes ago and how I am connecting it to something I thought about a week ago.
That’s what happened today with the woman at the well. The insight was simple: it’s not about the water.
Now, you might think that is a careless insight because of course the story about the woman at the well is about water. Jesus and the woman are at a well, she is drawing water, Jesus comments that He is the living water, and she is perplexed by her statement.
Yes, the overarching theme is water. The entire story centers around the idea of water. But that was not the only thing that centered around water. In ancient times, water was not as easily accessible as it is today. There was no indoor plumbing during Jesus’ day in Israel. There was no faucet or sink. Early every morning women would walk to the town well and draw the water they would need for the day. It was a place of community. The women would gather together and draw water. While the Bible does not give us any indication of this, we know that women are social creatures. Therefore, if there are a group of them together, conversation is more than likely something that will naturally ensue, especially with a group of women who live in the same town. So the well was a social center for this community of people, more specifically the women of the community.
One detail we tend to glance over in this story is the time it takes place. John says this interaction with Jesus took place at the sixth hour or about noon. Why is this important? The woman was not a the well at the same time the other women of the community. She was out there at an unconventional time by herself, but why?
We read on to find out she has had multiple husbands and, in fact, the man she was with at that time was not her husband. Needless to say, her scandalous lifestyle would have definitely provided ammunition for the women as they walked to the well every day, not to mention the shame that would have come from people talk about you behind your back, pointing fingers, and whispering who knows what about you. So, to avoid the whole scene, she elected to go to the well by herself in order to bypass the ridicule, stares, and gossiping.
This is the situation Jesus steps into when he says, “Give me a drink.” He knows her past. He knows what she has done. He knows what others think about her. He knows the whole situation. He tells her that he knows where living water is, but her response is interesting. It is actually two-fold.
She wants to know where the water is so she will never be thirsty again. She wants to satisfy her physical needs. This is understandable. If someone knew where a clean, fresh, and free source of water was near us, we would want to take full advantage of it as well. It would make life so much easier if she had access to this well that she would never have to fear running dry.
But, her second response is what hit me while listening to this story recently. She wants to know where the water is so she does not have to come back to that spot and draw water any more. She does not want to come back to that well anymore. Why?
Think about it. This well symbolizes a place where she is shamed. It stands for somewhere that carries negative emotions. It reminds her of her past. The peoples sideways glances and whispering words are arrows that shoot at her heart and remind her of the shame that she carries with her. She does not want to come back here because this place causes pain for her. She wants to go somewhere else and try to escape from her past.
The story is not about the water; it is about her.
After the woman mentions her desire for this Living Water, Jesus does not mention water again. Why? Because the story is not about the water. It is about her. He starts to unravel her current state and the dark parts of her past she does not want anyone to know. Jesus is more concerned with who this woman is rather than what she is looking for on the surface. We get a beautiful picture of Jesus in this story. He is the Living Water, and there are two properties of water that we can see in His interactions with her.
First, water can satisfy. In a desert country like Israel, water is very precious because it provides life. It refreshes the body when it is dehydrated–especially in the arid desert of the Middle East. Water quenches the thirst that we all have. Jesus quenches the thirst that our soul longs for. He is the Living Water that the empty places inside of us long for. We need his life to refresh us, satisfy us, and fill us up. Otherwise, we will have to keep coming back to empty wells over and over again.
Second, water can cleanse. I think this is the part of the story that can be overlooked. The woman wants this interaction to be about the physical satisfaction of the water, but Jesus knows that it is about something deeper. Jesus knows it’s about cleansing. That’s why Jesus does not mention the water other than an object lesson. The women is intent on finding the water, but Jesus brings it back around to her, not the location of the water. Jesus is more concerned with her current state and redeeming that state rather than satisfying her current state. Jesus wants to take her shame, clean her, and redeem the life she once lived.
We are all like the woman at the well. We go to places and do things we are ashamed of. We slink of to the bar, crack open the computer, or sneak away to the bathroom because we feel ashamed of what others whisper about us behind our backs. We know we are dirty. We know we are sinful. We know what we do is wrong, but we can not seem to help but return to the same empty wells.
The beautiful this is Jesus is sitting at the well every time we go there offering us a different path, offering us a different life, and offering us a different choice. He offers the Living Water that will forever satisfy the longing that our heart desires and the Cleansing Water that washes all our shame away. He is waiting patiently every time we return, never forcing Himself on us but extending an offer to something better.
Is your thirst of emptiness driving you back to the well again and again? Come to Jesus. He will satisfy you.
Is your shame driving you back to the well again and again? Come to Jesus. He will wash you.
Come to Jesus. He is the Living Water.