This is the story of how one woman was changed.
It doesn’t start as you might think. This woman hadn’t gone off looking to be changed. She wasn’t on a soul-searching journey; she was right where she always was, going through the motions of her daily routine in her Samaritan town.
And then came Jesus.
Jesus was on his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. John tells us that he “had to” go through Samaria (John 4:4), and sure enough, a direct line on a map cuts straight through that territory. But – there was another road that went around Samaria, a more popular route worn down by Jews who so disliked the people who lived there, they’d rather walk all the way around it.
Boring and Craddock give us a little background to explain why:
“Jews thought of Samaritans as the semipagan people of mixed blood who had been resettled by the Assyrians after the conquest and deportation of the northern kingdom… Samaritans thought of themselves as the true descendants of Israel, who had preserved the ancient ways and had their own temple on Mt. Gerazim” (The People’s New Testament Commentary, 217).
In other words, the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans was racial and religious in nature. It doesn’t get much badder than that.
But Jesus “had” to go there. He went right into Samaria… and into a town called Sychar… and to a well that was first owned by the man that God nicknamed “Israel.” There he sat.
Eventually, a woman came along who needed some water. A Samaritan woman. Jesus should have quietly ignored her until she had gotten what she needed and left. Instead, Jesus speaks to her: “Give me a drink.”
The woman is surprised. Jesus can’t want her water. “Jews had to obey certain ritual prescriptions that Samaritans did not observe, so they could not share the same eating and drinking vessels” (People’s, 300). But the Jesus who wasn’t concerned about geographic boundaries isn’t concerned about social boundaries, either.
So Jesus pushes it further. He offers his water to her – not well water but living water. This confuses the woman about as much as it might confuse us, but she’s happy to take this man’s water if it means she doesn’t have to go out to the well and fetch some in the middle of every day.
Speaking of which… she’s fetching water in the middle of the day. Where most women would come in the morning, she is here by herself. Is she avoiding the others?
“Go get your husband, then,” Jesus says.
“I have no husband,” she replies.
“Right you are,” Jesus says. “You’ve had five – and the guy you’re with now isn’t even your husband.” This must have stopped the woman in her tracks. The man who came to her, right where she was, is now seeing her, just as she is. We don’t know why she’s had those five husbands, or why she’s not married to the guy she’s with now. Women didn’t have a lot of control in the first century. It could have been due to some unfortunate mistakes on her part… but just as easily, it could have been due to some unfortunate life circumstances. Whatever the reason, it’s left her as a woman with a questionable reputation – a woman who comes to the well in the middle of the day to avoid others.
Jesus sees all that, and he isn’t repelled. He brings her past right out in the open.
Isn’t there something cleansing about that kind of truth-telling? When we’ve been carrying around a secret, an elephant in the room, and someone comes out and names it… and all of a sudden, it has a little less power over us. There it is. Out in the fresh air of day.
In response, the woman names another elephant.
“I see that you’re a prophet,” she says. “But my people worship in this mountain, and your people worship in Jerusalem. So what of this huge religious difference between us, one that causes your people to hate my people and vice-versa?”
“There’ll come a day,” Jesus says, “When that won’t matter. True worship will be in spirit and truth, not in place.”
“The Messiah is coming,” she says. “When he comes, he’ll show us all things.”
“I AM,” Jesus says.
The man who came to her, right where she was… and who saw her, just as she was… now tells her exactly who he is: I AM, the Messiah. He is the one the Jews were waiting for, and the one the Samaritans were waiting for, and the one the whole world was waiting for.
That is the story about how one woman was changed.
Has her story helped you see your own?
It’s already started, right where you are. In the place where you were born and raised. In the everyday of your normal routines. You weren’t looking for a Savior. Maybe you even felt like you were in enemy territory – no one would come there to try and find you.
But Jesus has. Jesus is. Jesus will.
On a grand scale, Jesus is when God came to us, on earth. And on the personal level, this is what Jesus does: to come to a Samaritan woman at a well… and to come to you, wherever you are. Jesus is already there, with you, offering you the same, mysterious, living water.
Be still. Listen with your mind and heart. Can you sense it – that Jesus is nearby?
Then keep listening carefully. What you hear next might scare you at first, so be prepared. Jesus knows your sins, your mistakes, your questionable past. The stuff you’ve been working so hard to hide… Jesus already knows it.
Jesus, who has come to you, where you are – sees you, just as you are. No need to hide.
He doesn’t think all your choices are OK; Jesus loves you too much for that. But when Jesus looks in your eyes and names your deepest, darkest elephant… you don’t see judgment, but love. Or, if there is judgment there, it’s only the rare, good kind that wants better for you.
Jesus came to you, where you are. And Jesus sees you, as you are.
Do you see who he is?
He is telling you – telling you through the gospel stories, telling you through a Spirit-filled feeling of impossible hope, telling you through the ripple effects of his ministry all around us. The world – although far from perfect – is changed, forever changed by this Jesus. It’s a world where we are strangely drawn to acts of self-sacrificial love, a world where we know that we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, a world where we only really find peace once we make loving God our top priority.
Jesus came to save us, by offering all that. To a woman at a well he called it “living water.”
Jesus came to you… and sees you… and is telling you who he is.
Will you be changed?