Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
Text: John 4:1-42
The account of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well can be understood as an undoing – a reversal of Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Woman is not given a name in the story, which invites us to think of her typologically. The Apostle Paul calls Jesus “the last Adam” in 1 Corinthians. So we might consider this as an encounter between the last Adam and a typological, last Eve.
There is a lot of boundary crossing in this encounter. The Jews looked down upon Samaritans. The text parenthetically points this out saying “Jews, you see, don’t have any dealings with Samaritans.” In addition, men generally did not have this kind of a conversation with women, especially not with women of another religious affiliation. Women were not considered equal with men, so for Jesus to have this particular conversation, in which for the first time he reveals that he is the Messiah, with a woman from another religious tradition is astounding. No wonder the disciples were astonished when they returned and found Jesus in conversation with this Samaritan woman.
Who was this Samaritan woman?
She had been married five times, and was currently living with a sixth man. I’m not going to paint her as a “loose woman” or make any assumptions about her prior behavior because Jesus doesn’t seem concerned about this at all. Though it was possible for a woman to initiate a divorce, it was much more likely that either her former husbands had divorced her, she had been widowed, or a combination of the two. She likely was not an adulteress, as the penalty was stoning. Often in this culture, men just became tired of their wives and divorced them to marry someone else. It is likely however that with her background, her community probably looked down upon her. This leads to the next point…
She comes to the well in the heat of the day.
The town well was kind of like the office water cooler. It was a place where townspeople would congregate and talk about current affairs, and since this was before running water, people had to carry water from the town well back to their homes. This would have mostly been done in the early morning or in the cool of the evening. The scorching Middle-Eastern sun would have made carrying water at midday quite unpleasant. So why would she be coming now? I think it probable that she came at this time to avoid the others. Even though Jesus didn’t rebuke her for her relational history, it is very likely that her community did. By coming alone at midday, she would reduce the likelihood of an unpleasant encounter with people that looked down upon her. In other words, by coming in the heat of the day, she was hiding in plain sight.
Here’s how I imagine the scene:
I can see her coming to the well, hoping to draw water in peace, without encountering any hostility or insults, but as she approaches she sees a strange man there, dressed as a Jew. She becomes anxious. She knows that Jews consider themselves superior to Samaritans. She also knows that coming to the well at noon would raise suspicions, but she needs this water. If she doesn’t get it now she’ll have to return when others are there, so she drops her head – hoping to just get in and out quickly without incident. But he sees her, and as he opens his mouth to speak she girds herself for an insult, but out of his mouth comes, “Give me a drink.” “What?” she replies in astonishment!
Here’s the thing. In order to give Jesus a drink, he will have to put her Samaritan cup to his Jewish lips – an act that any self-respecting Jew would consider defiling and disgusting.
“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.)
She knows her place, and she has never heard such a request. Jesus then begins having a conversation with her about living water, water that will quench her thirst so completely that she will never thirst again. She replies…
“Sir, give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty anymore, and I won’t have to come to draw water from the well.”
Can you see how she would love not having to come to the well each day? She wouldn’t have to come in the heat of the day to avoid insults and hostility. She has some very practical reasons to want this water that Jesus is offering, and none of them have anything to do with heaven or spirituality at all. Then Jesus says…
“Well then…go and call your husband and come here.”
She replies that she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus responds without judgment by telling her about having had five husbands and that she is now living with another man, and commends her for telling the truth. She perceives that Jesus is a prophet. They have a conversation about Samaritan and Jewish worship. She mentions the coming Messiah and Jesus, remarkably tells her, “I’m the one – the one speaking to you right now!”
Just then, the disciples return, astonished to see Jesus conversing with the woman, and excited, she leaves her water jug and runs back to town proclaiming,
“Come on! Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!”
This is remarkable! The town scapegoat has become the town evangelist! She becomes the first person in the Gospels to make a proclamation of the Messiah to the world! And it’s the Samaritan, not the Jewish world at that!
Something about her encounter with Jesus set her free from all the accusations and shame that her community had been directing toward her. Remember, this was a woman who had been married five times and was living with a sixth man, telling her community about another man. You might expect her community to roll their eyes thinking, “there she goes again”, but they didn’t. Something about her had changed so much that they listened to her and followed her out to the well to see Jesus - the Seventh Man…
Now, there are some interesting parallels between this story and the story of Eve and the fall in the Garden of Eden.
First, we can understand the serpent’s temptation of Eve to be a revealing of the serpent’s desire. The serpent was the one who desired to be like God. Eve had already been made in God’s image and likeness. When she forgot this, she acquired the serpent’s distorted desire to be like God, which led to a self-induced separation from God and she became like the serpent – separated from the tree of life.
-In the Garden, Eve acquires the serpent’s distorted desire to be like God.
-At Jacob’s Well, God is thirsty and asks the Woman to fulfill his desire.
-The Woman acquires God’s desire, and it awakens her thirst for living water-that which nourishes the tree of life.
-In the Garden, Eve’s eyes are opened and she becomes ashamed.
-At Jacob’s Well, the Woman’s eyes are opened and she becomes unashamed.
Normally whenever we are confronted with what we’ve done wrong we become ashamed, but when Jesus tells this woman “everything she ever did” she becomes unashamed, runs to the people who had shamed her and tells them about Jesus! (We need to learn how to evangelize like this.)
-In the Garden, Eve hid from God.
-At Jacob’s well the Woman again meets God and brings her community out to meet him. “Come and See!”
This is the typological redemption of Eve - an undoing, a reversal of the fall in the Garden. The fall is now redeemed by a five times divorced Samaritan woman, who is living with another man.
She is the first person to whom Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah.
She becomes the first evangelist of the Messiah.
The Garden, and Jacob’s Well are two stories about desire. The Garden is a story about Eve forgetting who she was and acquiring the serpent’s distorted desire to be like God.
The Woman at the Well is the story of a woman who fulfills God’s desire and in the process discovers how loved and accepted she really is - so much so that she is set free from her community’s demonic voices of accusation.
Instead of hiding, thinking that God will be angry and expose her shame, she unashamedly runs to her accusers, shouting, Come and See! Come and see!