Before you start: Women faced a painful, heartbreaking reality in the 1st century. They were considered more like property than people. A man would never talk to a woman in public, and it was unthinkable that a man would treat a woman as an equal. This was the awful reality for the woman who wandered out to a well in John chapter 4.
Here is my take on her hopeless, turned hopeful, story...
She peered out to make sure no one would see her slipping away.
Her daily water trip always started with this surveillance routine. Over the years, she became numb to the mocking comments, at least that’s what she told herself. She had adopted a strategy of avoidance. Stay away from people to avoid ridicule. It worked. But it was lonely.
Her painful history marked her. It was inescapable.
Was she completely to blame for her past? Of course not.
Was she partially to blame? Of course she was.
Her latest man, Aran, tolerated her as long as she got water during the day, prepared meals and pleased him at night. In return, she got food and shelter. She resented this hideous, unspoken contract.
Hope for the future? Non-existent. Her infertility was to blame for three of her divorces. The only thing she bore was shame and loneliness.
The day she met Jesus began like any other.
Seeing no one in the village, she covered her head and snuck out. It was hot. Jacob’s old, deep well was not the closest, but the longer walk from the village of Sychar was worth it. She knew she’d be alone.
As she approached the well, she saw a man sitting alone. The man looked up but didn’t move. It was unusual to see someone this time of day, but what happened next was more unusual.
“Please give me a drink!” he called to her.
She stopped abruptly. In 40 years, no man had ever spoke to her like this in public. Her mind flooded with questions. What does he want? The only thing men ever want?
And he was obviously Jewish. Jews hated Samaritans. Samaritans were racial cousins who had betrayed the Jews in the ancient wars. What was a Jewish man doing alone in the heart of Samaria?
She took a chance.
“You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman,” she said. “Why are you asking me for a drink?”
The man smiled. His demeanor immediately struck her as humble but strong. Something in his mannerism felt as if he was a friend she hadn’t seen in many years. He spoke with confidence, but she did not find him intimidating.
“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to,” the man said, “you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
Her eyes narrowed with confusion. How could this foreigner know of a better well? The term “living water” was an odd description, but if he could show her a cleaner, better water supply, she would be a hero back in the village.
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
The stranger’s face became more serious now and he leaned forward. He pointed into the opening of the well. She found herself entranced by his words.
“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again,” he said. “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
Who is this guy?
She was confused, but his sincerity was magnetic. As they looked at one another, she felt… seen. Men had always noticed her for her good looks. But this was different. For the first time since she was a child, she did not feel like something to be used and discarded. His gaze said, “You matter.” No man had ever looked at her like that.
“Please sir, give me this water!” she said, surprised at her own words. “Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
The man sat back and paused. It was almost like he was thinking about how to rephrase things in a way she could understand. She could sense something weighty was about to happen. She wondered, did I say something wrong?
“Go and get your husband,” the man said.
Sweat instantly emerged from her forehead. Is this a trap? She did not detect any malice in him. Perhaps he was just being polite. Fortunately, she learned over the years to be quick on her feet.
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
What happened next shocked her.
The man threw his head back and roared. But not in a mocking way. He laughed like her dad used to when he was delighted in her cleverness as a child. The man looked at her again with genuine affection.
“You’re right!” he chuckled but then turned more serious. “You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
How does he know?
She was thrown off by his revelation, but even more by his posture. He spoke openly about her past but not in a way that shut her down. She felt oddly comfortable with him.
Later, she tried desperately to remember her entire conversation with him but could not. Everything was eclipsed by his final words. Every young Jew and Samaritan was taught a Savior was coming and would lead them to a great future, but there was debate and when and where and how. Would this man know anything?
“I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ,” she said. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
He raised his eyebrows and paused. He then stood up and faced her directly.
“I am the Messiah!”
His humility remained, but his voice was so rich it seemed like the world shook. She looked at him with her mouth open… and believed. She dropped her jar, and it shattered. And then she was running back to town. Moments later, this same woman who for years had been avoiding her fellow villagers began screaming in the middle of town.
“I have met the Messiah! He told me everything I ever did! Come and see!”
A crowd assembled and people followed her; mostly because they were sure this would be another humorous chapter in the woman’s history. They whispered about her as they tried to keep up with her.
Until they met Jesus.
His first words captivated them. A Jew. Teaching Samaritans. Brilliantly. No one had ever done this before. He stayed with them for two days. Teaching, laughing, challenging them… Giving them hope. And revealing to them that Jesus was the Chosen One.
She cried when he left. The past 48 hours had flipped her world. She was still a five-time divorced, Samaritan woman. But now she was the first person Jesus had personally confided his identity to.
A woman with no hope. No future. No credibility. She had been entrusted to become one of the world’s earliest preachers about Jesus. The village changed too and saw her differently. The Messiah had chosen her. When Jesus spoke to them of grace, it was clear it applied to her. Her visits to the well now happened in the company of others. They embraced her after that day.
She still needed to draw water daily. But the water she got from Jesus changed everything.
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