Read John 4: 1-26 The Woman at the Well
This passage leaves many questions. I was confused by the overall question as to why was Jesus alone at a well in the middle of the day talking to a women, a Samaritan women, a sinful Samaritan women? Why was this sinful Samaritan women at the well in the middle of the day? Where and why did the disciples go? Why does John even mention this encounter?
The overarching question was: What is the purpose of this passage? It didn’t seem to fit and further it is so theologically packed that one has to wonder if all these conversations truly happened in the same span of time. So if the purpose of this passage isn’t truly known in it’s context of the New Testament, John to be more precise then how can we relate this incredibly jam packed message into today’s terms…what then is this passages relevance to us?
Before we get into that, let us first begin to unpack and examine this passage. Let us begin to answer some of the very big questions that haunt us when we read this passage. The first is who are the Samaritan’s and why do the Jews and Samaritan’s have such a dislike. Well first Samaria is the land between Judah and Galilee and so therefore Jesus is passing through on his way to Galilee - they are using the most direct route. Now the Samaritan’s didn’t hold the same animosity for the Jews as the Jews held for them. You see the Jews and Samaritans worshiped the same God – the God of Abraham. In fact, the Samaritans descended from tribes of Israel who after being displaced settled and intermarried with some local Canaanites. And here lies the problem, they were not truly ethnically Hebrews. So, Samaritan’s lived by the laws of Moses and kept Kosher. The Samaritan’s were seen by the Jews as unclean. So usually Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. Yet, here not only is Jesus talking with a Samaritan women he later stays in the city for a while and teachings others. His disciples, perhaps learning their lesson from before, don’t even question his motives in speaking to this women nor these people. And perhaps that is striking in itself. Although the Samaritan’s kept kosher and their food would have been Ok for the Jews to eat, many scholars still believe that it was unusual that Jews of this time would buy food in Samaria. But then again, there needed to be an explanation for Jesus to be alone and buying food seems like a plausible thing. Although not all early scrolls include this clause; wherever the disciples are, Jesus is alone at the well when the woman arrives. Usually water was collected at the beginning of the day, so it is a bit odd that at the hottest time of the day, this women would be conducting this labor intense job. Yet, here she is, meeting Jesus and receiving a lesson. And in her conversation with Jesus we realize that she isn’t just any women – or any Samaritan woman for that matter – but she is a sinful Samaritan woman.
She isn’t stupid for she has heard the talk about the messiah – she has heard about the prophecy of the Christ that is to come. And during Jesus’ time, he wasn’t the only messiah. There were plenty of people claiming to be the messiah – there were plenty of teachers out there with new messages. And yet time and time again, Jesus proved through word and action to be the true Christ. And we see this in this passage, for not only does she believe but those in her town come to believe. But why is this important? Why is it even mentioned?
What is the purpose of this story? Why should this insignificant women – who doesn’t even have a name – matter? For she was a sinful, Samaritan – one who by ethnicity was outcast from the Hebrew faith and by her own lifestyle most probably out, caste from her own village. Perhaps that is why she was there on that afternoon fetching water in the heat of the day instead of the morning. Perhaps she was trying to avoid those who judge her – those who don’t accept her.
What is the purpose of this story? Why would Jesus be talking to such a person at a well? And why would it matter so much to the Gospel writer John? John was the last of the Gospel writers to be writing. He didn’t have the same stumbling blocks in the way of his Gospel and thus his Gospel reads very differently than the other three. First, John didn’t have to convenience his readers Jesus was in fact the messiah – this was an already known and believed fact. In fact, John had another problem and that was giving Christ humanity. For during his writing, churches had already been established and people were waiting for the end times that were suppose to proceed the messiah to arrive and since they hadn’t they were beginning to add structure to their churches and their theology. So here, John in one big scoop is giving over a very important lesson. In the Old Testament many met soon-to-be wives at wells. Is this important? For the readers of the Gospels would have been familiar with the Old Testament, maybe even more so then we are today – so were they suppose to be drawing some type of connection here – I think yes.
John is trying to convey to his readers what the Church – also considered the bride of Christ – looks like. He is adding some theological structure to the physical structures that are beginning to pop up. And what than does John see as characteristics of the Church?
Let us go back to the women at the well…to the un-named, sinful, Samaritan woman who because of her out-cast status was doing her labor intense work in the middle of the day. And what did Jesus do? He met her where she was at and taught her. He did not judge harshly but with love. And that it what Church is all about –
Church should be the one place where you can come – completely and without hesitation to be yourselves. Church is where we meet each other – right where we are at and journey along side each other. We don’t condemn or judge each other. Church is a place where all should be welcomed to listen and learn about Jesus. Church is a place where every one no matter your status outside these walls should feel safe and comfortable. Church then is the sacred ground in which all are welcomed. And we – like this woman – can come here full of sin, guilt, regret and shame to hear God’s word, to praise God’s name and to feel the power of God’s grace in our lives. We like this woman can come humbly and vulnerable to this well and leave refreshed and nourished.
The Church's purpose then is to meet people, where they are at – allowing room for each person to be themselves; and through worship and education begin to accept God’s grace for yourselves. A place where you can learn to follow Christ and allow yourself to be filled and nourished spiritually so that you can like the woman at the well leave here excited to share your belief to others, spreading God’s amazing message and encouraging others to join us in this wondrous space where all are welcome – whoever you are, wherever you are at, you are welcomed to worship in God’s church. And we hope that through worship, song and prayer each and every person feels the amazing life that God has given to them and is empowered, nourished and excited to go out into the world. Let us together strive to be a place that leaves space for each person to be their own, where judgment is left outside the doors and where each person humbly and vulnerable can be spiritual refreshed and nourished. Let us be the well of the living Christ and open ourselves up to the weary meeting them where they are at to teach and learn about Christ, spreading God’s message of grace and building this church with excitement.