COMMUNICATION 05 - Jesus‘ style communication: the woman at the well

John 4:5-6           “So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out from by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”

  • Samaria lies between Jewish Galilee and Jewish Judea. The Samaritan people were half-Jew half-Gentile (2 Kin 17:24).
  • The Samaritans’ faith was syncretistic, a combination of Jewish worship of God and various idolatrous cults that the peoples had imported (2 Kin 17:25-34, 41).
  • The Jews despised the Samaritans for being ‘mixed blood’ and for being idolatrous.
  • There was continual hostility from the time the Jews came back to the area under Zerubbabel’s leadership (536 BC) till New Testament times (Ezr 4, Neh 4). For example: In 120 BC the Jewish Hasmonean King Hyrcanus I destroyed the Samaritan temple.
  • Jews would typically avoid traveling through Samaria, but rather take the longer way through the Jordan valley when traveling the Judea-Galilee route.
  • Samaritans would cheer at every passing Jew going North (face away from Jerusalem) and jeer at every Jew going South (face toward Jerusalem). Jesus faces this attitude in Luk 9:52-53, when a Samaritan village refuses to accommodate him because his face was set toward Jerusalem”. Jesus in turn rebukes his disciples’ attitude who want to call down fire on the village in retribution (Luk 9:54-55).

John 4:6-8           “Jesus, tired out from by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water … (The disciples had gone to the city to buy food).”

This is an inappropriate situation. A man and a woman alone in a deserted place with nobody else present.

  • But there is more to it. The time indication is important: It’s noon. No woman in normal circumstances does water drawing in the noon heat. This shows:
    • she is an outcast, a woman of shame
    • she is excluded from drawing water at morning & evening with other women
    • she prefers the noon heat to the heat of other women’s comments
    • Jesus knows immediately she is outcast, and she knows that he knows
  • The woman seeing him is probably getting mentally ready to either be ignored by a superior religious Jew or else to face a cheap pick-up. She is probably used to either.

John 4:7              “Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

  • Jesus initiates conversation
    • Jesus breaks a triple barrier in doing so: the Jew-Samaritan barrier, the man-woman barrier and the society-outcast barrier.
  • He asks for help, for a service, for something she can do.
    • Jesus shows willingness to receive from her.
    • Jesus gives her the power to reject him and his request.

John 4:9

  • What is she probably thinking?
    • ‘This guy is not like the others. Why is he even talking to me?’
    • ‘This is a cheap pick-up, I’d better be on my guard.’
    • ‘This is one of those religious guys, trying to prove to himself that I’m bad.’

“The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

  • She engages in the conversation, being quite street-smart, but challenges Jesus’ motivation. In fact she is probably essentially saying:
    • ‘I’m not stupid! … Don’t give me this! … I can take care of myself!’

John 4:10          Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying this to you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

  • He keeps communicating, engages her further.
  • He brings up the question of his identity.
  • He challenges her thought ‘I can take care of myself’.
  • He engages her thinking.
  • He lifts the talk to philosophical or spiritual level.

John 4:11-12     “The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket … where do you get living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?”

  • What is going on in her? Probably many things at once:
    • She engages further, picks up his metaphor or water.
    • ‘Sir’ may be her irony, for rich men don’t do the chore of drawing water.
    • Possibly she gives respect because she felt Jesus gave her respect
    • She engages in the question of his identity
    • She challenges his ‘big words’, ‘his pride’ and his ‘cheap pick-up’
    • She is honest enough to show desire, though she is not hopeful

John 4:13-14     “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 I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

  • Jesus clearly speaks on two levels now.
  • He promises: no thirst, a permanent solution, life, purity, even eternal life.
  • He wakens a desire in her outcast existence.
  • He thinks and shows her capable of understanding spiritual things .
  • Basically he offers heaven to a notorious sinner.
  • But Jesus’ metaphor is ambiguous as well: water and drinking is a known
    metaphor for ‘sexual relations’ in for example Prv 5:6-8 or SoS 1:2, 5:1.
  • So this could be a really low way of picking her up, also. It seems Jesus intentionally leaves it unclear.

John 4:15         “The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here.”

  • She expresses her need and her desire.
  • She lets down her guard and actually asks.
  • She pulls the talk ‘back down’ on the natural level … to test him?
  • Maybe she expresses her shame and outcast state in practical terms here?
  • It seems that something in Jesus’ words and attitude has made her hope.
  • She challenges him: ‘okay, what really can you do for me?’

John 4:16        Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

  • This is a turning point in the conversation:
    • Jesus finally proves that this is not a cheap pick-up, he appropriately and respectfully wants the husband involved, a very decent proposal.
    • He gives her the ‘perfect honorable exit’: She can easily say: ‘yes, of course! I will’ … and never come back.
    • She could save her face easily. He almost tempts her to ‘get out’.
    • He forces her to either get honest and accept shame – or to lose the hope he offered through his attitude shown and respect given to her.
    • He risks ‘losing her’ for the chance of going deeper, of becoming real.

John 4:17       The woman answered him: “I have no husband.”

  • She does not choose ‘the perfect exit’, she chooses rather to ‘lose face’.
  • She chooses honesty and shame over losing Jesus and the thing he offered her and the value he has given
  • This answer shows that the respect and behavior Jesus has shown her has touched her heart … ‘This guy is really and truly different!’

John 4:18       “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!”

  • Jesus uses a gift of the Holy Spirit called ‘word of knowledge’ (1 Cor 12:8)
  • Jesus blatantly shows his ‘supernatural knowledge’ and so is proving his earlier claims about his identity “If you knew … who it is”
  • He is not exactly flattering her! … Why expose her more?
    • He forces her to full reality and honesty.
    • In a way there is also a strong message of hope to her in this: He knew all along. And even though he knew he has been respectful to her and
      taking her seriously. He did know but he did not reject her for it!

John 4:19-20     “The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”

  • she is fully honest, no hiding, no escaping
  • she draws conclusions: he has supernatural power, he is who he says he is

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

  • She dares to ask a spiritual question. She thinks about things nobody thinks she thinks about. Respect has drawn her out.
  • His ‘no rejection’ makes her ask: how is worship and relationship possible?
  • Having been accepted, she looks for ongoing relationship with this God.

John 4:21-24      “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 worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

  • Jesus reveals truth directly now: Salvation, the new kingdom, the Messiah is from the Jews. But it’s not limited to Jews any more, all are included.
  • All who desire will have access (Samaritans, women, outcasts … like her!).
  • The Father seeks all who will worship him.
  • He challenges her
    • to overcome racial hurt and hostility
    • to lay aside local pride
    • to overcome disqualifying shame and
    • to respond to him and to truth.

John 4:25-26      “The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming … When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

  • She proves to have spiritual understanding and interest.
  • She knows or now newly accepts that Samaritans will be included.

“Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

  • Jesus reveals his identity, as clearly as to few!
  • He is giving her living water, eternal life, indeed and right now …
    • for he is not only a prophet but the Messiah.
    • And he already has accepted her.
    • And he will abolish all borders, all rejection, all disqualification, all shame.

John 4:28-30     “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.”

  • She goes from ‘shamed, hiding outcast’ to ‘fearless ambassador proclaiming truth’ in an instant.
  • She leaves the jar, has forgotten about worries and will come back anyway.
  • Her shame is shame no longer, it is testimony now, it shows grace.
  • She cares enough for people to let them know, though they mistreated her.
  • She picks up on Jesus’ methods right away, asking an engaging question.
  • She has received living water, already she is a spring of living water for others, as Jesus promised.

John 4:32         “I have food to eat that you don’t know”

  • Jesus is satisfied by ‘her water’, she has given him a drink indeed, though not in the physical sense.
Principles for communication?
  • The power of right attitude: giving value, importance, acceptance and respect.
  • A safe environment and acceptance help people to open up enough to engage .
  • engage, step by step, wake interest, raise questions, capture imagination, give truth
  • give opportunity, awaken hope, don’t force, look for response
  • don’t flatter, challenge honesty, lead to reality