The woman makes her journey, like she always does, to satisfy her need for water at Jacob’s well. The sun is high overhead – it is noon, again. She is thirsty, again. Her jar is heavy, even while it is empty, and her arms ache – again. She is alone, again.
Day after day, it’s all the same. Day after day, she does her chores and fetches the water and waits for him to come to her, the man that does not truly belong to her. Day after day, she searches for contentment but finds none. Day after day, she shuts out how her heart yearns for friendship, for someone to give her a chance to be known in spite of her reputation.
But they won’t. So she chooses to emerge from her home only when it’s least likely that she will encounter anyone from Sychar. There is no joy for her in gathering around the well at the usual times, when the other women are there with their jars. They carefully avoid her, turning away from her greetings. They act like she isn’t even there.
Oh, she understands it quite well. Her past isn’t forgotten by anyone in this place and they all know how she lives now. She doesn’t forget, either. No – every mistake, every regret – they all stay with her.
What no one seems to understand is that she never meant for things to turn out this way. She never hoped to have five husbands. She never hoped to live with a man who is not her husband.
But in the course of her life – one decision led to another. Circumstances dictated her choices. And as a woman – with no place to go, for what respite would await a Samaritan outside of her own country? – she did what she had to do. Plain and simple. She survived.
She surveys the empty path and her shoulders slump. Yes, she is surviving. But what she had hoped for was something more than just having enough to eat and a roof over her head. She used to dream of the day her own grandfather had spoken of – the day Messiah would come. Grandfather had spoken of finally showing the Jews that God included Samaritans in the number of His people. She had dreamed of having a place in His kingdom, all her own, where she would be known and loved. But His Kingdom never came and neither did she find a place in this world.
No, she had never dreamed of being desperate for a man to take care of her. As her husbands left her, some by death and some by choice, she always thought –maybe next time would bring happiness, maybe the next man could love her. Maybe the aching, lonely places in her heart could be filled and she would have purpose, a real family, value.
But here she is – still empty.
Yet – not alone, for here is a man by the well. And by the looks of Him, a Jewish man. What is He doing here?
She fights the urge to turn around and leave. But – certainly, He will have no desire to speak to her. If she does not speak to Him, there will be no trouble.
She nearly laughs aloud when she remembers – she is worrying about a reputation already tattered – and makes her way to the edge of the well, carefully keeping her eyes directed away from Him.
Breathing deeply, the weight of the jar sending sudden tingles along the nerves in her arms, she puts down the jar and rests.
“Will you give Me a drink?”
Her body jolts at the sound, startled.
Is this a trick? Some set-up to scandal that will end with her in the town square, stoned at last for her failures?
She might as well be plain-spoken with the man. She has nothing to lose. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
She surveys the ground around Him. “Sir,” you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” Long-simmering, her frustration rises. “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
The man does not seem disturbed by her tone. He looks straight into her eyes – when is the last time someone really looked into her eyes like this? “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
She forgets the fact that she should not be talking to this man. She hears only one thing: promise of something to satisfy. Her whole life – for as long as she can remember – she has wanted something to satisfy her. Something to fill her up and not leave her wanting. What sort of man is this, who speaks of such a gift with authority? She gladly imagines never coming back to this well…never again enduring the weight of her need and lugging the water back to her home. Never again being forced to come out in the heat of the day just to avoid everyone else.
“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water!”
“Go, call your husband,” He says, “and come back.”
Her chin lifts into the air and she swallows down her shame and sudden sorrow. Will He not allow her the gift of this water if she reveals the truth of her life? She offers a piece of her reality to the stranger. “I have no husband,” she says.
“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Her stomach drops. How could He know? How could He look at her and read her thoughts in such a way? This must, indeed, be a holy man – why then, is He speaking to her? If He knows what she has done – how she lives even now – why does He show her any regard at all? Why is He, of all people, reaching out to her?
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” her cheeks burn and her mind – her wish to escape any more talk about her own life, her curiosity about His – tumbles. Why has this man chosen to come here? “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” She thinks of the temple and how beautiful it must be inside of those walls where she has no right to enter.
“Woman,” He says to her, “believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
She has heard this before – the Jewish ways are the true faith – but never before has it been said in this manner, without contempt. In His voice, in His eyes – there is compassion there.
He continues and she keeps her eyes on His face, not willing to miss a word from this mysterious man. “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
This is something entirely new. She exhales slowly, something within her holding onto His words. If God is seeking worshipers – would that include her, too? Could even someone like her worship in Spirit and in truth? If He knows her history and yet says these wonderful things to her – perhaps there is hope. Perhaps there is still time for her life to change. If there could be a well of living water springing up within her, wouldn’t she finally be satisfied? If there could be a Father who desires her worship, wouldn’t that mean she – even she – had a place in the world?
But she does not know how to find either.
“I know that Messiah is coming,” she says with a hope she has not felt for years upon years. “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
A smile is on His face. She has little time to wonder at the joy welling up within her at the sight of it.
“I, the one speaking to you – I am He.”
The water jar that had served to sustain for so long was forgotten, left behind. She had something better now – this man, this Jesus – His were words that that satisfied, Living Water that would continue to nourish her soul. If the Messiah would speak to her – then perhaps she was worth more than the sum of her sins and sorrows. Perhaps her future was to be greater than her past.
So filled with hope was this woman that she ran to the people who had ostracized her and shared the remarkable encounter she had just experienced. And they (how they must have wondered at her sudden smile and her gladness!) made their way to Jesus.
The change in her – and the Truth that rang through her words – caused “many Samaritans from that town” to believe in Him. But when they met Jesus for themselves, urging Him to stay, their faith became their own. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world,” they said to her.
This, friends, this is the way of Jesus – this is His marvelous light calling a people out of darkness. This is the Son of God reaching out to draw men and women to the Father. The surrounding world, at that time, thought that the Samaritans had no worth. But God does not judge as men judges – He sees hearts created with His own hand, souls in need of His grace. So Jesus came to Samaria. He came to a Samaritan woman living in sin – knowing that there was no way she could ever have reached Him first. He extended mercy, offering her Living Water and Life Eternal. He included instead of excluded. He lifted up the looked-down-upon. He revealed Himself as the Messiah to someone everybody else would have dismissed as unimportant and unworthy.
And I can hardly take it in, this truth that just as He came for her — for that sheep who had wandered into sin and brokenness – He came for me, too. Because I was like that woman of Samaria – living from one bad decision to the next, trying to find some way to feel whole and worthwhile. I, too, chose sin and found shame a constant companion.
But Jesus came to me – through His Word and through the actions of people who shared their hope, just like she did on that long-ago day – and He set me free from my past. And although consequences do not always disappear (like we wish they could!), His love upholds, encourages, and strengthens us as we move forward into a future that is – yes- greater than our past. His presence makes all the difference.
So – today – if you feel alone or if you feel like the regrets of your past are hanging dark over your present…if you have felt the heart-cracking pain of rejection or you feel less than enough, inferior and unimportant…if you have felt a longing for something more and tried to satisfy that yearning but never felt it met – then I hope that these words will come to you, loud and clear:
There is One who knows you, right where you are. The Messiah has come and He knows everything about you, from beginning to end. And no matter what others might say – God says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made…and you are loved by Him.
So no matter what you have done, He longs to show mercy to you. He will not reject you. He will not condemn you – He forgives our sins and remembers them no more. You can live in His righteousness instead of your regrets. And it isn’t too late – while His Spirit draws us, it is not too late. It isn’t too late to be forgiven and it isn’t too late to live in His purpose for you…God is still seeking worshipers who will worship in the Spirit and in truth. Your life is worship when you offer your heart and all you are to Him – and when you take that step of faith you will find that the Living Water and the Bread of Life are found in Him. You will find that He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. (Psalm 107:9)