She had three strikes against her. First, and most obviously, she was a woman, and according to the rules of Jesus’ day, men didn’t talk to women in public. Second, she was a Samaritan, and according to the rules of Jesus’ day, Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. And third, she was a five time loser in the marriage game now living with number six who was not her husband, and according to the rules of Jesus’ day, no one would really want to have anything to do with her. Except Jesus.
Welcome to Jacob’s well in the village of Sychar. It’s high noon, the sixth hour. Jesus is hot, tired, and thirsty. The disciples have to go ahead to the town to get some food. The only one there with Jesus is this Samaritan woman. “Give me a drink,” he tells her, orders her, rather rudely, actually. And so begins another conversation, another round of verbal chess, as by His Word Jesus leads this woman out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Here’s a quick recap of the conversation:
Jesus: “Give me a drink.”
Woman: “You talking to me? You’re a Jew, I’m a Samaritan. You’re not supposed to talk to me.”
Jesus: “If you knew who I was, you’d be asking me and I would give you living water.”
Woman: “You don’t even have a bucket! Who do you think you are, anyway? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us this well, you know.”
Jesus: “Everyone who drinks this well water gets thirsty again. The water I give becomes a spring of water that wells up to eternal life.”
Woman: “Hey, give me some of that water. Then I won’t have to lug this bucket every day.”
Jesus: “Go, call your husband.”
Woman: “Don’t have one of those.”
Jesus: “That’s true. Actually, by last count, you’ve run through five, and the guy you’re living with at the moment isn’t your husband.”
Woman: “Whoa! How the heck do you know that? Are you some kind of a prophet? Hey, if you’re so smart, tell me something. Our fathers worship here on Gerazim, but you Jews insist on worshipping only at Jerusalem. So which is it?”
Jesus: “You Samaritans worship what you don’t know. Salvation comes from the Jews. But that’s all past. God is spirit, and the Father is seeking those who worship in spirit and truth.”
Woman: “Yeah, whatever. All I know is that Messiah is coming, and when he comes, he’ll sort all of this out.”
Jesus: “I’m the Messiah. And I’m speaking to you.”
Wouldn’t you have loved a picture of her face when Jesus said that to her? Of all the people in Samaria Jesus could have revealed Himself to, He chose this woman with a shady past and rather uncertain present. He hides Himself from the religious of Jerusalem and reveals Himself to a Samaritan woman at a well.
I love the little verbal game that’s going on here. The woman is proud, maybe a bit defensively so. She is proud of her heritage. This wasn’t just any well, this was Father Jacob’s well. He drank from it himself. That field over there was given to Joseph by Jacob. The Samaritans had some serious OT historic sites.
She’s proud of her religion. She worshipped on Mt. Gerazim, just as her version of the Bible said. She knew the Jews insisted on worshipping at Jerusalem, and that perhaps bothered her a bit, since there was only one God and He couldn’t be worshipped on two mountains. It must have come like a slap in the face when Jesus told her she didn’t know what she was talking about and was worshipping what she didn’t know and that salvation came from the Jews not the Samaritans. I’m surprised she didn’t spin on her heels and give Jesus some parting gesture of contempt as she stormed off. But she didn’t. When she did leave, she left her water bucket behind and ran to tell everyone in the city about her little conversation with Jesus.
It would be terribly easy to get distracted by all the subtle details of this story and go down some rabbit trails that lead nowhere: Jewish/Samaritan relations. The role of men and women in society. Marriage and why she had been married to five different men (Was she widowed or divorced? Why was she not married to number six?). Religion and the proper place and way to worship. It’s all terribly interesting, but it gets away from the main focal point of this story, which is water.
This is another water story in John: from Jesus’ baptism in the water of the Jordan to His changing water into wine at a wedding at Cana to talk of being born of water and Spirit to Nicodemus to Jacob’s well and His “give me a drink” to the sassy Samaritan woman. The contrast here is Jacob’s water and Jesus’ water, the water that one gets from Jacob’s well and the water that comes from Jesus. Well water and living water. Water that doesn’t quench your thirst forever and water that does. Water you work for and water that works for you. And if you’re starting to sense an undertow of Baptism in all this water talk, then you’re on the right track.
Jacob’s water is well water. Law water. You work for it. You earn it. You wake up every day, put your empty water jug on top of your head, walk across the field that Jacob gave to Joseph, hook your jug to the rope and lower it down into the deep well then draw it up and put the full jug of water back on top of your head and walk it home so your family can cook and clean. Makes you appreciate tap water, doesn’t it?
It’s hard work. Thirsty work. By the time you get home, you want a drink of water, and by the next day, you have to do it all over again. There is no end to the work or the thirst. And so it is with the Law. It is all work and never ends. It promises life but never delivers it. It quenches thirst for a while, perhaps, but the thirst for righteousness returns the moment you realize how great a sinner you are even in your best moments. You can work and work and work at keeping commandments, but there are always more and they run as deep as Jacob’s well, going right to the sinful heart from which flow all sorts of evil, self-centered desires. You can do all the right things but if the heart is not right the thing is still sinful. And the sinful heart is never right.
The thirst for righteousness is a thirst the Law cannot quench. Work only makes you more thirsty. Commandment keeping leaves you parched and dry. Well water won’t work precisely because you work for it. You need living water; water that flows to you freely. Grace water. Not the water of Jacob and Moses, but of Jesus. The Law came through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus. He gives a water that quenches the eternal thirst for righteousness. It’s not a water you work for, but a water that flows to you, a gracious water welling up in you to a spring of eternal life.
In the wilderness, there was no well and the Israelites were thirsty. They were dying of thirst. And God instructed Moses to strike a rock, and from that rock came fresh spring water for the Israelites to drink. And that rock was Christ, Paul says in 1 Corinthians. Stricken Rock with streaming side. Jesus needs no bucket because Jesus is the Source, the Wellspring. From His wounded side flows the stream of living water that quenches our thirst for righteousness. It isn’t water you work for, but water that flows from dead Jesus’ side to the font of your Baptism.
You and I are like that Samaritan woman in so many ways. We are born outcasts. Outsiders to the kingdom. “Not a people,” and by birth certainly not the people of God. And while we may hide behind our ethnic or national or even religious pride, that’s nothing before God. It’s simply a flimsy facade. Jesus cuts through all that to get to the heart of things, to get to the core of who we really are before God.
Jesus comes with the Law and initially He seems harsh and demanding. It seems as though all He wants is for you to serve Him, to do His bidding and run to meet His every demand. Help that man in the ditch. Sell all your possessions. Give me something to drink. He holds up the mirror of the Law and reflects back to us our broken lives and the sins of our past. “You have had five husbands and the one you’re living with is not your husband.” He reflects the truth back into our faces, and frankly it’s a truth we can’t handle. It’s embarrassing to be in the presence of someone who knows you that well, that deeply. It’s frightening. You really want to run and hide from someone like that.
But Jesus doesn’t come to shame you or condemn you. He’s not there to rub your nose in your past or give you marching orders in your present to guarantee your future. He wants to redeem your past, present, and future. He wants to cover you with His righteousness, make you holy with His holiness. He wants to rescue you from the riptide of Sin and Death that threatens to pull you out into a sea of darkness and misery. He wants to rescue you from yourself and give you a life you can’t have on your own.
After holding up that mirror of the Law to your eyes, He puts it down and says, “Now look at me. Don’t look to Moses and His commandments to see who you are. Look to me. Don’t look in the mirror of the Law, look into the mirror of my gaze, and see reflected back to you who you really are in Me. Moses calls you a sinner, and that’s true. That’s what you are. But I call you a saint. I’ve died for you, I’ve bled for you, I’ve baptized you in the living water of my death and life. The old you is drowned, the new you is born in the living water. I, the Christ, am speaking to you in font and sermon and Supper, telling you who you are. And when I speak, it is so.”
Don’t define yourself by your past, by your desires, by your actions, by your ethnic origins, by all the labels we pin to ourselves and others pin on us. We are not what we do, we are not what we feel, we are not what we think. We are not defined by our labels, Samaritan or Jew, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Republican or Democrat. Those do not define us. Sure, they tell us something about ourselves, they locate us in our vocations in the world, they say a lot of things about what we think. But they do not define who we are.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
You are baptized. You’re a child of God, washed, sanctified, and justified in the Name of Jesus and the Spirit of God.
That’s what the living water that Jesus brings will do for you.
In the Name of Jesus,