Jesus turned to face his disciple. “Yes, Andrew?”
“I want you to meet Eliezer and his group of companions. John the Baptizer sent them.”
“You are welcome, friends,” Jesus said with a smile.
“Hello, Teacher,” Eliezer returned humbly. He quickly looked at the others with him, who each gave him a nod of encouragement. “We are here to become your disciples, if you will have us.”
“Of course,” Jesus answered, looking at each of them. “It’s good to have you with us. There is much to do.”
“Oh, we are aware of that,” Eliezer returned eagerly. “One of the Pharisees confronted us the other day and mentioned that you are baptizing a lot more people than John.”
“Actually, we’re the ones doing the baptizing,” Rock, who was standing nearby, said, “not the Teacher.”
“I don’t think it matters to the religious leaders which ones of us do it,” James shot back. “What upsets them is that Jesus’s influence is growing. Throwing the merchants and money changers out of the temple has gotten them all upset with the Teacher. Knowing how many people we now have coming to us is really going to ruffle their feathers.”
“Wait! Wait!” Judas exclaimed. “This may be how we beat them!” All eyes turned to face the speaker. “The Jewish leaders are obviously working against the Teacher, but look at how many new followers we are getting! Every day more and more people are finding us here and listening to the Teacher’s words. Why, in a few weeks there will be so many people with us that the religious leaders won’t dare oppose us.”
Smiles and nods of understanding swept across the disciple’s faces.
“Judas is right,” Rock agreed. “Every day our numbers almost double! All we have to do is stay right here, keep doing what we’re doing, and in a few days we will have a force too big for them to stop!
“What do you think, Teacher?”
Jesus looked at all of their eager faces and said, “Gather your things. We’re leaving for Galilee.”
Everyone was dumbfounded, but before they could raise an argument, Jesus had thrown on his cloak and was walking north. There was a mad scramble as the followers rushed to grab their few possessions and hurry after their master.
“WAIT!” Judas cried after the others. “You’re all going the wrong way!”
Young John turned back to check on his friend.
“John, run up and tell the Teacher that we need to cross the river here where it’s shallow to travel up the east bank.”
“We aren’t going up the east bank,” John answered. “Jesus is going through Samaria.”
“WHAT?” Judas was horrified. “But there are…there are…SAMARITANS there! We can’t go that way! It’s unclean! Seriously, we can’t go through Samaria!”
“That’s the way Jesus always goes from Galilee to Judea,” John answered. “It’s the way we came down. It’s not so bad.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad for you Galileans,” Judas shot back, “but for those of us civilized people who know what it means to be clean according to the Law, it’s terrible! I can’t believe this!”
“Well, it’s where we’re going,” John returned. “So are you traveling with us, or are you staying here?”
Judas made a face and gave a shudder. “I’m going with you, but let me tell you something, little fisherman. The only part of me that’s going to touch anything in Samaria are the soles of my sandals.”
“Then you’re probably going to get pretty hungry and thirsty before we get to Galilee,” John said with a smile.
With a snort Judas wrapped his cloak tightly around himself for protection and shuffled behind John.
After a long, hot day of traveling the dusty roads of Judea and Samaria, Jesus and His disciples came upon an ancient well out in the country. It was late in the afternoon(*), and they were all tired, hungry, and thirsty, but no one had anything to draw water with.
Philip picked up a small rock and tossed it into the dark hole. The splash below told him what he wanted to know. “That’s a deep well,” he said. “Without a pitcher and a long rope, we won’t be getting water out of it.”
“I can see the village of Sychar about a half a mile up the road,” Rock called out. “We can get what we need there. Come on.”
After a few steps Rock stopped the group and looked back. Jesus was sitting on the rock wall beside the well and was looking around. “Teacher,” Rock asked, “Are you coming with us?”
“I’m going to rest here,” Jesus answered with a wave. “Go purchase some food for us in the village.”
“But, Teacher…,” Rock began, but Jesus cut him off.
“I’ll be here when you get back.” As He spoke, He continued searching the area.
“What’s He doing?” Thomas, whose nickname was Twin, asked in a low voice to James and John as they left for the village. “He’s usually the last one to stop and rest. It’s like He’s looking for someone.”
The disciples were quite near Sychar when a woman carrying a pitcher on her head and holding a coil of rope passed them heading the other direction, but they ignored her and hurried to the market before it closed for the day.
The woman was annoyed when she saw a man sitting at the well. She had hoped that she could be alone. The reason she made the long walk to this well was to avoid all the tongue-wagging biddies at the well in town. The last thing she wanted to do right now was deal with people.
When she got close enough, she spotted the man’s prayer shawl. That’s a Jew! The realization surprised her. What’s a Jew doing here? Jews don’t come here! He must be a criminal or an outcast…but what’s a criminal doing with a prayer shawl? Maybe he stole it!
When she reached the well, she set her jar on the wall and carefully began to lower it into the water with the rope that she had attached to its handles. The almost fifty pounds of water and pot took some strength for her to haul back up.
The whole time Jesus had been watching the woman out of the corner of His eye.
She was nearing forty years old. It was obvious that she had been attractive as a younger woman, but Jesus could see a lot of hard lines in her face from the difficult life she had led.
“Give me a drink,” Jesus said when she had her jar resting back on the wall.
The request shocked the woman. Who did this Jew think he was? He shouldn’t even be here, he shouldn’t be talking to her, and he definitely shouldn’t be drinking from a Samaritan water jar! This guy needs lessons on how to be a Jew, she thought.
Her sharp tongue had gotten her into trouble all her life, and it probably was about to again, but she couldn’t help herself. “Excuse me, sir.” The woman’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “How is it that you, being a Jew, are asking a Samaritan woman for a drink from her unclean water jar?”
Jesus ignored the obvious insult and said, “If you knew Who you were talking to and the gift God wants to give you, you would have been the one asking for a drink. If you would just ask, God would give you living water.”
A look of pure skepticism spread over the woman’s face. She made an exaggerated look into the well, then cast an eye on both sides of Jesus before she spoke again. “Uh, sir, you don’t have a jar or a bucket, and this well’s deep. How do you expect to get that living water?”
She should have stopped there, but she was annoyed at this Jew. So she thought she’d stick her barb in a little further. “This is Jacob’s Well,” she said again. “You know Jacob, don’t you? He’s the person all you Jews are named after. Jacob’s the one who gave us this well. He and his sons and his cattle drank from it. You’re not better than Jacob, are you?”
“Everyone who drinks Jacob’s water will thirst again,” Jesus returned, unperturbed, “but whoever drinks the water that I give shall never thirst. My water will become a fountain springing up within you producing eternal life.”
“Well, you got me there,” the woman said with a skeptical smile. “I could certainly use some water like that if it would keep me from having to come all the way out here to draw from this well. Let’s see that living water of yours.”
“Go call your husband and come back here,” Jesus returned.
The statement took her aback for a moment. It immediately brought to her mind how absolutely messed up her life was. But there was no way she was airing all of her dirty laundry to this stranger with the annoying smile on His face. Maybe she should tell him. After all, if this fellow really knew how awful she was, there’s no way he would keep talking to her, much less give her whatever kind of silly water he thinks he has. She finally opted of a more judicious answer. “I…uh…don’t have a husband.”
Jesus gave a little laugh and said, “Good answer! It was truthful, to the point, and shrewd, because you’ve actually had five husbands, and you’re not even married to the fellow you’re living with right now. So when you say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ you’re speaking the truth.”
On hearing this, the woman’s mouth dropped open, and for the first time in as long as she could remember, she was at a loss for words. Her first response was to look around to see who could have told this man about her life. Seeing no one, the realization struck her that this was no criminal or outcast. This was a man of God with miraculous knowledge, and she flushed with embarrassment.
She raised her eyes to look at him and recognized something in the look the man was giving her. He wasn’t ridiculing her or condemning her. It was like he felt compassion for her. But even if she wanted to get right with God, it was impossible for her. Everyone around here knew her wicked life and wouldn’t let her go to the high place on Mount Gerazim where all the Samaritans worshiped, and the Jews wouldn’t let a Samaritan woman anywhere near their temple in Jerusalem. She really didn’t have any good options.
With a much humbler tone, the woman said, “Sir, it’s obvious that you’re a prophet, but I really don’t know what to do. The high place on the mountain is where we Samaritans worship, and you Jews say we should go to Jerusalem, but neither group want a person like me there.”
“Madam,” Jesus answered sincerely, “I want you to trust Me in what I’m about to say. There is coming a time when people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans who worship on this mountain don’t really know what you’re doing, but we Jews do, because the Father has determined that salvation for all people comes through the Jews. But the time has finally come when true worshipers shall worship the Father—not in a specific place, but genuinely and truly in their spirits. The Father is searching for people like that to be His worshipers. People just like you.”
The woman was amazed at what she was hearing and wanted to ask how this could possibly be, but the man responded before the question left her lips. “This really shouldn’t surprise you if you think about it. God is a spirit, right—a spirit that sees everything and knows what’s in your heart? Then it makes sense that those who worship Him must do so in their spirit and in truthfulness.”
This man who apparently knew her life inside and out was telling her things she had never heard before. They sounded wonderful and rang of truth in her heart, but she didn’t know if she should believe them or not. Suddenly an idea came to her that she hadn’t thought of since she was a girl. “I know that Messiah, the Christ, is coming,” she began. “When He comes, He will teach us everything.”
With a smile Jesus answered, “That’s exactly who I am.”
The woman’s eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open when she heard this. Leaving her water jar still sitting on the wall, she turned to run back to town and ran into the returning disciples. She pushed off Judas and kept running.
With a look of complete disgust, the disciple frantically began trying to brush the Samaritan cooties off his clothing.
“We brought you some food, Teacher,” Rock announced as they presented the purchased fare.
With a chuckle Jesus took a glance at the retreating woman and said, “I’ve had a wonderful meal that you don’t know about.” The Teacher could see the questioning looks in His disciple’s eyes, so He added, “The food that I enjoy the most is to do my Father’s will and to accomplish His work. It’s delicious, and I never get tired of it.”
When the woman reached Sychar, she ran excitedly up to everyone she saw, exclaiming, “Come see a man who told me every wicked thing I’ve ever done! Could this be the Messiah?”
Intrigued by the woman’s frank and enthusiastic testimony, people began streaming out of town to meet this man was who had caused such excitement and change in this person they all knew.
“How long until harvest, Nathaniel?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, harvest is a good four months away.”
“I’m telling you, the fields are white for harvest right now!” As Jesus said this, he stood and pointed at the crowd hurrying to them from Sychar. “Look at all those coming to us! When we reap this crop, we will be gathering fruit, not for the barn, but for eternal life! Neither you nor I sowed this crop, but we’re going to reap it!”
Excited both by the woman’s testimony and by the wonderful words of Jesus himself, the people of Sychar asked Him to stay, and He remained with them for two days. People marveled not only at the healing power that came from Him, but also at the wonderful stories He told and the messages they contained. At the end of that time, many of the Samarians believed in Jesus, telling the woman, “Your witness was powerful, but now we have seen an even greater witness. We have heard for ourselves the words of Jesus and are convinced that He is the Savior of the world!”
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 4:1-42)
(* In John’s Gospel times of day are referenced in Roman time not Jewish time. So in this story John mentions that it was about the sixth hour when Jesus reached Jacob’s Well, which in Roman time would make it close to six in the afternoon.)