An encounter at the well , John 4:1-26, 28-30, 39-42
16th Mar 2019
1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but yousay that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”(NRSV)
Have you often met a stranger and got into a conversation? In some places it is more likely than others to happen. I remember when I lived in Sheffield many years ago, I was struck by the conversations people readily had with anyone and everyone on the bus. Conversely, I might travel on the London Underground where everyone in the carriage is sitting in silence, dumbfounded by convention. I am not going to suggest that you strike up a conversation with everyone you might meet, but if you did this more often it might lead to some interesting encounters, and perhaps even some changed lives.
This encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well provides a model for all our meetings with strangers. Firstly, Jesus starts a conversation with someone whom he ought to ignore completely. Not only is she a woman, but also a Samaritan, a double prejudice which Jesus pushes to one side. We might have our prejudices about whom we might talk to, perhaps preferring people like us or our friends, rather than different. Secondly, at the start it is significant that Jesus asks the woman to help him. He needs to drink water from the well to quench his thirst, after a weary journey. It is the characteristic vulnerability of Jesus in asking for help that enables the encounter to begin. He has the confidence to ask for help, and this must have made the woman feel less threatened and perhaps more willing to speak to him. Thirdly, the conversation may not always start in a promising way. Between Jesus and the woman it does not flow, as she seems confused by what Jesus is saying. The woman wants to talk about practical things, the need for a bucket, the prospect of not having to walk to the well every day, her marital status, and which mountain is the right place to worship God. Jesus speaks of deep truths, with no sense of distain or contempt, and with a sensitivity to her personal circumstances. He gently coaxes her to an understanding of who he is, and it is his very openness and honesty, without condemnation, that wins her over. She is so affected by the conversation that she leaves her water jar to go straight back to the city to tell her friends and neighbours. They invite Jesus to stay for two days, during which many came to believe in him.
The consequences of the initial encounter at the well are enormous, all because Jesus asked for help, refused to be bound by prejudice, and entered into a conversation that gently revealed the truth without condemnation. If we can look for encounters such as this who knows what work of God can be wrought through us.