February 2016 - The woman at the well

The Woman at the Well

John 4:1-42

To our contemporary minds, on first reading of this narrative, we may be forgiven for thinking that this is a chance meeting at a well where Jesus, resting by the well at the hottest part of the day while his disciples have gone on to a nearby town to buy food, on seeing a woman approach the well to set about the task of drawing water, simply asks her to draw some for him.  In our contemporary social context a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

But, if we can begin to understand the social nuances of the time, we may unravel an incredible narrative about a complex encounter that has consequences reaching into our present and, I would say, future world.

In speaking to the woman, who was a stranger and therefore outside his family and close social circle, Jesus broke a basic Jewish tenet.  Add to that the fact that she was a woman of Samaria, a Samaritan, a race who the Jews saw as inferior and actually despised it would seem to be truly incredible that Jesus would even acknowledge her presence let alone actually address her.

Clearly though, this Samaritan woman was no shrinking violet.  Instead of turning away and choosing to return to the well only after this Jewish stranger had left, she responded to his request for a drink, asking why he, a Jew, would ask a drink of her, a woman of Samaria.  She would have been aware that for him to take a drink from her water container would make him ceremonially unclean. 

Jesus’ response that if she had known the gift of God and who he was she would have asked for a drink and been given living water.

At this point she may well have wondered who this man thought he was and disengaged herself from the unseemly encounter, but she was a bold and inquisitive woman.

She enquires of Jesus if he is greater than Jacob who had provided the well.  He explains that everyone who drinks from the well will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water he gives will never again be thirsty, the water in them becoming a spring gushing up to eternal life.

She asks to be given this water so that she may never be thirsty and have to return to the well.

Perhaps testing her integrity, Jesus tells her to fetch her husband.  Having then stated that she has no husband, one can only imagine her amazement when this Jewish stranger tells her about her previous five husbands and the fact that the man she is now in a relationship with is not her husband.  At this point the encounter could have come to a swift conclusion with the woman fleeing in fear and shame.  But she recognised the importance of this Jewish stranger, calling him a prophet and wanting to know more.  

What follows is a discussion during which Jesus explains that those who wish to truly worship God must do so in spirit and truth and he reveals to her that he is the Messiah.

At this point the encounter does come to an end because of the arrival of the disciples who are outraged that Jesus should be speaking to this woman.

Leaving her water jar she returns to her town and ignoring the risk of ridicule she gives public account of her encounter.  She must have spoken eloquently and with sufficient confidence as the townsfolk went out of the town to find Jesus and asked him to stay with them.

This Samaritan woman is an example to all women who wish to share the story of Christ, and he surely saw this in her.  She was bold and inquisitive enough to risk breaking social taboos.  She was not cowed by the shame of her sinful past.  She was spiritually intelligent enough to fully understand the importance of Jesus’ words and so confident that she was able to go straight into the streets of her town and tell her story with such confidence and clarity that it caused the townsfolk to travel out and seek Jesus.

Over the centuries most ‘Christian’ societies have discouraged the emboldening of women, and as many of you reading will have seen, it is taking the Church a long time to catch up with where our contemporary society is now with regard to the equality of women.

If there is any one passage in the Bible (and I think there are others) that indicates that women should hold office in the Church, it is this one.  Jesus understood this Samaritan woman, who he met at Jacob’s Well, enough to reveal to her who he truly was, and he trusted her to tell his story.


Nigel Benson



Webpage icon November 2016. God’s Blueprint for success
Webpage icon October - 2016. Shiphrah and Puah
Webpage icon September 2016. Mary, mother of Jesus
Webpage icon August - 2016. Martha
Webpage icon July - 2016. Unnamed; taken in adultery
Webpage icon June - 2016. Anna, daughter of Phanuel
Webpage icon May 2016 - The First Christian in Europe
Webpage icon April 2016 - Naomi
Webpage icon March 2016 Mary Magdalene