15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw water.”
16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said to Him, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this which you have said is true.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and yet you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But aa time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:15-24)
I have preached on this passage several times before, but I thought that it might be helpful to put my thoughts down in writing. There are plenty of misunderstandings on this passage, most of them seem to center around our own biases and culture wars, rather than a sober analysis of the words.
It seems to always be a trend. Some guy on Social Media will say something cruel and heartless. Maybe dismiss someone because they are gay, or trans, or divorced, or otherwise not worth our honor and respect as human beings. When someone calls them on it, they contend that by pointing out everyone’s sins they are simply doing what Jesus did. And then they quote this passage. The assumption is that Jesus confronted this woman about her sin of fornication and she tried to change the subject. But is this truly what is happening here?
Jesus is traveling through Samaria. Samaria is in the ancient territory of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. For centuries, the citizens of Israel (NOT Judah, that was the Southern Kingdom) had refused to go to Solomon’s temple to worship. Instead, they built altars and idols at the cities of Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. Eventually, after centuries of warning, God cast them off. The inhabitants had all been taken captive by the Assyrians and scattered, except for a few of the poor that were left. Eventually, the few poor that remained intermarried with Gentiles from all the surrounding kingdoms and adopted those religions on top of the religion of Dan and Bethel (2 Kings 17).
You really can’t understand what is happening in John 4 without some knowledge of these events. If you haven’t read First and Second Chronicles in a while, a brush-up might be in order.
It was THESE people that this woman descended from. The ancient nation of Judah – now known as “Jews” – still despised them. They rejected the proper form of worship. They rejected God’s king. They intermarried with pagans. They didn’t know the law. They were sinners.
This woman has three strikes against her in the mind of a Jew. She was a Samaritan. She was a woman. She was a sinner.
But Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. So he is traveling through Samaria.
He sits down at the well and waits. Soon, the woman comes. She is apparently an outcast even in her own city, for she comes alone.
And then she sees Jesus, dressed in the traditional garb of a Jew and a Rabbi. You can just hear her thought process:
“Oh great. A Jew. Like I need this today. The toilet backs up, the goats are breaking through the fence, the kids are totally hyped up and all I need is a little peace and quiet for a minute. And now I have to deal with a Jew!”
A Jew sitting at the well would normally give her a look of absolute contempt and then move away from her. Perhaps you are familiar with that look. Maybe you know what it is to be viewed as something filthy on the bottom of the shoe of life.
This is what she is expecting. She sighs. She has work to do, so might as well get on with it.
And then – something astounding.
“Please give me a drink”.
She might have dropped her pitcher at that one.
He is speaking to her. TO HER! Jews don’t speak to Samaritans and Rabbis don’t speak to women. But he is speaking to her??
After gathering her wits together, it hits her that he has also asked her for something. Wait…I have something this guy wants? I have something of value to offer? Holy Mackerel. What is going on here?
And then it occurs to her that what he is asking her for is something that will require him to put his mouth on something that belongs to her. If she gives him a drink, he would have to drink it out of her bucket. Woah.
The Jews’ rituals of cleanliness were like childhood cooties on steroids. The revulsion that any Jew would have at drinking out of a woman’s pitcher would have been staggering. Much less a Samaritan. Much much less a sinner!
I remember as a child my brothers passing my comb around by the tips of their fingers as if it were the dirtiest thing they had ever seen. It still shames me.
And this woman has been dealing with far, far worse shame her whole life. Can you imagine someone refusing to touch you or even something you touched because the thought of your uncleanness makes them retch?
And here is this Jewish Rabbi saying “Give me a drink”.
What is going on here?
She stammers – how?
OK – You are a Jew. I’m a Samaritan. Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.
What is going on here…
Jesus, with one request, has opened up the greatest need and longing of the human heart. Fellowship with God.
This is the problem of mankind. We have been cast out of Eden, unclean, sinners, under God’s wrath and curse.
But God has determined to save a people for himself – to be their God and we will be his people.
Every law and every statute about cleanness and uncleanness pointed to this one thing – God is calling us back to himself, but in order to do so, he must clean us.
The Temple of God, which was at the heart of the debate between Jews and Samaritans, was a picture of God dwelling with his people, just like he did in Eden.
All of the rituals and sacrifices and ceremonies of the law pointed to Jesus who would cleanse us from all sin and uncleanness and defilement so that we might be taken into the embrace of the Father Himself, which is the longing of every human heart.
Another way to describe this longing is to use the word “thirst”. What are we thirsty for?
“As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so my soul pants for YOU, O my God” (Psalm 42).
But the curse that is on us is such that we always seek to quench our thirst with anything BUT fellowship with God. We are prone to hate him and hate our neighbor, and yet the thirst remains. We refuse to see how defiled we are in the sight of perfect holiness, perfect righteousness, perfect purity – so we will not come for dress, for cleansing, for purity.
Instead, we would rather fashion our own aprons out of fig leaves and hide behind the bushes of our own making.
We might be outcast and alone, but at least we did it our way.
So we seek to quench that thirst with money, respect, honor, work, good works, religious rituals, reputation. Or with less dignified idols – drugs, alcohol, sex, putting people in their place, gossip, slander, reviling, violence, abuse…
All of it to satisfy our deep longings for fellowship with God but twisted into an evil thing.
And because God loved the world, and because he desires to enter into fellowship with his fallen and filthy creatures, he sent his only begotten son into the world that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
So Jesus is on a mission. He must go through Samaria, because he has a sheep there that needs to be introduced to her true thirst. The one who can’t fellowship with God because she is unclean, and so she needs a savior.
Jesus opens the conversation by talking about cleanliness.
“Give me a drink.”
And she understands – You think everything about me is unclean. You think that even touching my bucket will make YOU unclean. You think having a conversation with me makes you unclean.
What is going on here?
What is going on is this: Jesus is about to make you clean and give you your hearts desire…
More next time….See part two here: