A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”
This is from John, chapter 4, verses 7-10.
Before we go on, I’d love to give you a few cultural background tips to help you understand what’s going on a little more. First of all, Samaria. It says “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Let’s review that a little bit.
A long time before this, Abraham is the Father of the Jewish nation. The Lord promises him a land of his own, for his descendants. The land is the land of Canaan. Years go by, and Abraham’s descendants grow numerous, and they have a long story in which the Lord really does give them the land. But one of the things the Lord tells the children of Abraham, Isaac (his son) and Jacob, (his grandson, also named Israel,) Is that they are a set-apart people. God warns them and says, “Don’t intermarry with other people groups. Stay separate. Be my people.”
And for hundreds of years, the children of Israel have a problem with that command. The constantly mingle with and marry other races and religions, and that’s not the real problem… the real problem is that they take on the gods of those nations.
And they are punished. The Lord lets them reap destruction and violence and all sorts of evils, because they just won’t obey.
Now, at some point in this long 2,000 year history of the Israelites, they are taken away to live in Assyria. Well, most of them. The poorest of them are left in the land, and the king also re-populates Canaan with non-Israelites, who intermarry with these leftover Israelites. There’s a strange story you can read in 2 Kings about 17 how these people are settling in the area of Samaria, north of Jerusalem, but they keep getting attacked by lions. So they send a message to the King of Assyria, their king, and say, “Hey. Tell us about the gods who rule this land, because we must not be worshipping them and they’re mad at us.” So this foreign king researches a little bit, and he finds a priest of the Israelites, and sends him down to teach them “how to worship the god of the land.”
Okay, the chapter goes on to say that they do. They follow his instructions. And unknowingly, they start worshipping the One True God, and the lions stop. But it also says that they won’t give up their other gods. They just add them in all together.
Fast forward. Years later in the story, some Israelites from the tribe of Judah come home and start trying to rebuild the fallen Jerusalem. At that time, the people of Samaria come down and say to them, “Let us help you! We also worship your god.” But the Israelites reply to them, “Go away from us, we want nothing to do with you.” And at that point, The Hebrews and the Samaritans become enemies. In fact, the good leaders of the Israelites even violently prevent their people from mingling with these non-kosher neighbors. They remind the people, “This is what got us into trouble in the first place!!” You can read all this in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah.
But back to First Century Samaria. Jesus is a descendant of these Israelite people. He’s a Jewish Rabbi, and the custom of a Rabbi was to be even more holy that just the regular Israelites. And holy, to the Israelites, means, “set apart.” Set apart from whom? Samaritans, for sure, and also- women.
And yet here is Jesus, sitting by a well, and asking her for a drink.
There have been many things said about how phenomenal this is. How magnanimous of Jesus to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman. If you are a woman in a western society, you can’t fully grasp just how meaningful this is.
When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother had a photo album full of her travel photos. She had been all over. But what fascinated me the most was photos of her next to the Great Pyramids, and the Giant Sphinx. I asked her about them and wanted to hear about what it was like there. She waved me off. Of all the stories she would tell me, she only said, “I will never go back to the Middle East. They treat women like dogs. We paid a lot of money to stay at the nicest places and eat at the best restaurants. And the waiters won’t even look at you. They say to the man, ‘What do you want to order for her?’” She was completely disgusted.
There’s more to this attitude than just ignoring. In a culture that treats women like a second-class citizen, the most honorable men won’t look at you. But the ones less honorable are worse. They will look at you like something for their consumption. Like meat.
Women in this culture are carefully guarded by the men who care about them, because these men know- women are not safe in a culture like this. They aren’t treasured, honored, respected, or people outside of their family. They are seen as something to be used and taken, and only interacted with for the benefit of the man.
This is how this woman probably experiences life. In fact, later in the story we find out she has had five husbands, and the one she’s living with is not her husband. Probably out of his choice.
Do you think she expects a Jewish holy man to speak to her? Kindly??
Or want to share a drinking vessel of hers?
And so she answers,
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 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.”
He asks her for a drink, and she basically throws back 400 years of history in his face. She brings out her hurts, her ill-treatments, her wounds, and his part in them, and slaps him with them.
But this, see this: If you knew who it is that you are interacting with, you could ask him and he would give you living water.
Jesus is interacting with you. Every moment, every day, he is there, presenting you with opportunities to interact with him and hear him and listen to him. All day. Every day. And you go about your business, you have tasks to do and things on your mind. The Samaritan woman has a huge back story. Drawing water alone in the middle of the day, most likely to avoid the women of the town- because they likely look down on her. Not only that, she has more than 400 years of history on her mind, and questions about theology and her and her people’s ill-treatment, and prophesy of things to come. Her mind is a tangle of questions and heartache, and here, she meets the One Who can give her Living Water.
Will she recognize him?
Will she notice how tender He is towards her?
Jesus doesn’t ignore her, or treat her like dirt. He asks her for a drink, yes, but he doesn’t demand it from her. In fact, he’s willing to share her cup.
When you go about your business today, and the Lord speaks to you, will you recognize his voice?
When he asks for a cup of cool water, will you brush him off, or will you bend down and ruffle his hair as he drinks?
Do the wounds of your life, does your back story leave you with a chip on your shoulder? Do you expect to hear the voice of the Lord as a demanding One that brings up 400 years of your sins and lays more burden on you?
Lay down your theological wrestlings and come to him like a little child. He meets her right where she is, and he wants to give her the living water.
Expect him to love you and meet you, right in the middle of your day. Don’t throw back in his face 400 years of what you consider ill-treatment. Just listen, and ask him, and let him give you the water you need.
He doesn’t throw your sins in your face. He doesn’t avoid looking at you to talk to someone else. He doesn’t want to use and abuse you, or put heavy loads on you.
He doesn’t deal with you according to the history of your nation, your family, or even yourself. He just comes to you, person to person, and asks you to meet him for a drink.
And do you know why? Because he loves you. Later in the book of Acts, he’s called “The Author of our Souls.” He truly is intimately acquainted with our grief and heartaches, he understands all the backstory of our lives and theological questions. But he is a Person, a real person, and he meets us right in the middle of where we are, because he loves us and wants to quench our thirsty souls.
But when he comes, we often miss him- we walk right by opportunities to hear him and meet him, because our minds are on other things.
So watch, today. Wait for him by the side of the well, and linger over the dishes. He’ll meet you today. Watch and listen.
This post is part of an ongoing series traveling through the book of John to meet the Mercy Man. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe by email or go to the lead page and follow at your own pace. Just click here.