So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’ (NRSV).
Our Gospel reading begins with so little promise. Jesus is tired and seeks rest. With no means to draw water he waits. When a woman finally comes he seeks to quench his thirst. This encounter with the incarnated Jesus is initiated by need.
But the conversation seems anything but focused on supplying Jesus with Jacob’s water. His request almost immediately becomes a metaphor for soul thirst. As Jesus steps over the cultural barrier that separates Jew and Samaritan he mysteriously opens the conversation to ‘the gift of God’ and his identity. If these two are recognised her request for ‘living water’ will flow.
As it is this lone woman is initially skeptical. After all, what man offers ‘living water’ immediately after making his request for a drink?
A well was a place of social gathering. Each morning and evening it drew people and animals to its promise of refreshment. It was community time.
But our encounter occurs in the heat of the day. There are no crowds or herds. It is a lonely meeting. Jesus solves this mystery by revealing her honest, but veiled, response, “I have no husband”, for what it is. Her lifestyle puts her on the outer.
Even the possibility that she is speaking with a prophet is a more comfortable than pursuing this line of conversation. Differences in worship style, or at least location, are less threatening than her past.
And in the midst of all this talk of ‘spirit and truth’ she is revealed as one awaiting the Messiah. Jesus’ response is one of the clearest statements of his identity offered to anyone: ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’ It is quite a gift.
The returning disciples give her the perfect excuse to leave. But she does not return to her loneliness. Rather, this shamed woman abandons her water jar and begins seeking others. After such an encounter, how could her testimony be anything but simple, beautiful, and disarmingly grounded: ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’
And they came.
It would seem, however, that this encounter was more than just life changing for this woman and the city of Sychar. This conversation also changed Jesus: ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about’.
And we are reminded that even Jesus was filled and refreshed by doing the will of God.