John 4:5-42 (4:29) – March 19, 2017
“The First Missionary”
When I say these words: “rotten half-breeds!” what comes to mind? Arguments, animosity, maybe even blood feuds. Fighting going on for years, decades, perhaps even centuries. Certainly, nothing good or positive.
That’s the situation we have here in John chapter 4, with the Jews and their hated half-brothers, the Samaritans. The Samaritans were, indeed, half-breeds who had been settled in the middle of modern-day Israel by the Assyrian occupation, about 700 BCE. The fighting and the hatred between these two closely-related tribes of people had been going on for several centuries.
That’s the backdrop we have as we consider this extended conversation between the Rabbi Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman, right smack in the middle of the Samaritan region of the country. Typical Jews would not often cross through Samaria to get from the south part of the country—around Jerusalem, to the north part of the country—around Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews, this encounter was in the middle of enemy territory.
Let’s listen in on Jesus and this woman.
“5 In Samaria Jesus came to a town named Sychar. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (8 His disciples had gone into town to buy food.)
Here is the situation. Jesus has been walking all morning, wants water, and asks for a drink. I am not going to give a long explanation concerning why this woman came to the well when everyone else had gotten their water for the day. No, and I am not going to ask what kinds of behavior might be scaring the other Samaritan townspeople away. I will let you all imagine what kinds of things they might be.
Continuing with John 4: “9 The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?” 10 Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? 12 It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his children and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”
According to common Jewish thought at that time, this was a “rotten, half-breed Samaritan woman.” Yet, she goes right to the heart of it, and unerringly puts her finger on the complication in this extended conversation. “Life-giving water:” what kind of water is that? Where does it come from?
Stagnant water sits in a cistern or barrel and harbors deadly bacteria. “Life-giving water” or “living water” means running water, like in a stream or river. “Living water, rushing over rocks, cleans us more thoroughly and is much safer to drink. We build settlements where living water flows at the surface, or where wells can be dug reaching to underground streams or springs of water.” 
The woman’s rhetorical question, “You’re not greater than Jacob, are you?” can also imply she is rather skeptical of this Jewish guy sitting by the well. 13 Jesus answered, “Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, 14 but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring with life-giving water and give them eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.” Ah. Jesus is upping the stakes, offering this woman living water, and even life-giving water that becomes a spring inside of each person. See how eagerly the woman responds?
16 “Go and call your husband,” Jesus told her, “and come back.” 17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. Jesus goes to the heart of the woman (and, the heart of the interaction) by broaching the highly personal subject of the woman’s husband. Some might say it was a sore spot. However, Jesus is revealing Himself further to this woman through this statement. Back to the story.
“Jesus replied, “You are right when you say you don’t have a husband. 18 You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not really your husband. You have told me the truth.” 19 “I see you are a prophet, sir,” the woman said.
20 “My Samaritan ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time will come when people will not worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans do not really know whom you worship; but we Jews know whom we worship, because it is from the Jews that salvation comes.
25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.”
Do you see the natural steps of interaction Jesus took with this woman? Her surprise at his asking for a drink of water changed to curiosity at the offer of living water. This further changed to wonder and amazement at Jesus knowing all about her past, and her several marriages. Finally, they reach the topic of religion, and Jesus tells her—in plain words—that He is, indeed, the Messiah. All in a short interchange.
In fact, when Jesus reveals Himself to this woman, He speaks the words “I am.” These words make explicit connections with the divine name in Exodus 3:14, which also confirm the words of the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “the Word was God.” In this way, Jesus fulfills this woman’s expectations of the Messiah and transcends them, at the same time. 
27 At that moment Jesus’ disciples returned, and they were greatly surprised to find him talking with a woman.” (Jesus, as a Jewish religious leader, was not supposed to talk with a woman in public, much less a Samaritan woman.) “But none of them said to her, “What do you want?” or asked him, “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, 29 “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” 30 So they left the town and went to Jesus.
Here we have an evangelist. The first Christian missionary! She was so struck by what Jesus had just said to her that she had to go and tell others about it. What is more, she invited all her fellow townspeople to come and see! Come and see this man who told her everything she had done in her life.
Because of this woman’s witness, the number of people who believed in Jesus grows—and not just Jews! The “hated, rotten, half-breed” Samaritans believe, too! Jesus and His words challenge each of us, today.
How do you and I come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah? Was there some life-changing moment in your life that softened your heart and changed your mind? What was it—what is it that causes us to want to go and tell everyone the Good News? Are we eager to tell others to “Come and see?” 
Are we so excited that we forget our water jars—or smart phones—or briefcases—or tool belts? It is important to share our witness and to tell our own story. Jesus encourages us to tell others to “come and see!” Come on, come closer. Come, see the One who knows everything about me, and loves me anyway!
Come and see!
 Gail R. O’Day and The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 10, The Gospel of John), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 568.
(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog, A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)