Exodus 17:1-7 • Psalm 95:1-11 • Romans 5:1-11 • John 4:5-42
This week’s theme is God’s overflowing love. In Exodus, the Israelites demand water from Moses while quarrelling and testing the Lord at Massah and Meribah. Yet, God provides for their thirst with water flowing from a rock. Psalm 95 invites us to listen to God’s voice with soft hearts that respond in worship and praise. In Romans, we find that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The sermon from John 4 presents Jesus as God’s provision for living water given to an outcast woman of Samaria. Her thirst is quenched as she responds by letting God’s love flow out to others in witness.
A Well Quenched Thirst
John 4:5-42 (NRSV)
Are you satisfied?
Before we get into our text, I want you to let that question sink in. Are you satisfied? This can be a deep question of reflection when taken seriously. Unfortunately, when we are busy chasing the next thing that we think will satisfy us, we never slow down enough to answer the question. Of course, our searching for the next best thing pretty much tells us the answer, doesn’t it? But let’s ask it again.
Are you satisfied? We’re not talking about a sense of satisfaction in the moment that passes with the next unsatisfactory experience. We are asking whether we are satisfied in a deep, meaningful way that saturates our whole life. A satisfaction that doesn’t change even when our circumstances are less than satisfactory. A satisfaction that is not dependent upon external circumstances or relationships, like our job or marriage, family, church, government or community, but rather a satisfaction in the deepest center of our heart and soul. Are you satisfied at your very core? I want this question to linger in our minds and hearts as we listen to the story of the woman at the well found in John 4.
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “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.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “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 that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” 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!”
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us. “Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
Then 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.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (John 4:5-42 NRSV)
The story does not give us satisfactory answers to many of the questions we may have of it. John is nondescript for many of the details and we are left with some ambiguous ideas of what was behind the scenes of the narrative. In fact, we are not even given the names of any of the characters in the story except Jesus. This does a couple of things for us. First, we are invited to attach our name to the nameless characters in the story—namely, the Samaritan woman. Can you identify with her story? Second, Jesus stands out as the only person in the story whose identity is firmly grounded. He is seen at rest at the well. Everyone else is in a swirl of anxious activity. By omitting the names of the other people in the story, John can point us to what he wants us to primarily see. Jesus is the one who quenches our thirst. He’s the only one in the story who can satisfy.
As we wrestle with the question of whether we are satisfied or not, we may identify with the woman in the story who seems to be routinely and repetitiously searching for satisfaction but never finding it. The woman has many questions. Her questions all revolve around knowing who Jesus is. Jesus also directs the woman to this very question by saying, “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.”
At this point, we will want to add another question to our original one. Who is Jesus? There is something about seeing Jesus at rest by the well that draws our attention. Notice, he doesn’t even have a water bucket with him. Though tired from his journey, he seems content, relaxed and at peace even in the heat of the day. Have you been around someone during a stressful situation or during a chaotic time who didn’t seem fazed by what’s going on? Everyone else is losing their heads, but this person seems to have it together. It raises the question, who is this person and why are they not freaking out like everyone else? So, we ask again. Are you satisfied? And, who is this man named Jesus?
Let’s meet this nameless woman whose only identity marker is that she is a Samaritan. She comes into the story at high noon in the heat of the day coming to the well for water. And she is alone. Both details tell us that something is not quite right in her life. Her time of arrival would be an anomaly, as most women would go together to the well at a time in the day when it was cooler. And why is the woman making this trip alone? It is possible she was not welcomed among others and was trying to avoid social contact. With her history of husbands later revealed in the story, it’s likely that moral barriers have been erected between her and her community. The story starts to let us know that this woman is not only thirsty for water, her life of searching for satisfaction has left her parched and empty. Sounds like she would identify with the lyrics of Johnny Lee’s song, “Looking for Love”
“… I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,
Lookin’ for love in too many faces,
Searchin’ their eyes and lookin’ for traces
Of what I’m dreamin’ of…”
Then she meets Jesus.
Let’s look at the first impression Jesus makes on the Samaritan woman.
First, Jesus is also alone. He is “tired out by his journey” and he is also thirsty. Looks like the woman and Jesus have a bit in common. The apostle John teases us in this description with the solidarity Jesus has with the weakness and frailty of sinful humanity. He can identify with the woman’s journey and ours. He is not standing aloof, swinging in a hammock sipping on a cocktail. He meets her at the well, sharing in her thirst and loneliness.
If we weren’t so familiar with this story, we may easily think this is the beginning of a budding romance story. The setting couldn’t be better. John lets us know the backdrop of the scene by telling us that this well was “Jacob’s well.” That may escape our notice as an unnecessary detail, but for the original readers it would, as we sometimes say, “set the mood.” Jacob’s well was where he first met his future wife Rachel. Moses also met his future wife Zipporah at a well. You start to get the picture. But there is one problem that stands in the way of their compatibility. She is a Samaritan and he is a high-standing Jew. John doesn’t want us to miss this fact as he interrupts his story to tell us, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” It’s Romeo and Juliet all over again.
Then Jesus does the unspeakable by speaking to the Samaritan woman. Not only would Jews normally avoid Samaritans, but Jewish men certainly were not to be seen speaking with a woman alone, especially a Samaritan woman with questionable moral standing. John interrupts his story again, this time to let us know that the disciples were nowhere around. Convenient. But Jesus breaks down all the barriers between him and the woman—gender, racial and moral status. Jesus asks the woman for a drink. Again, with the “romantic” setting of “Jacob’s well” it would not be a far-fetched idea for the woman to wonder what Jesus’ intentions are. So, she wants to know why he, a Jew, would ask such a favor from her, a Samaritan woman.
We may want to pause for a moment and ask the same question. Why would Jesus ask the woman for a drink? After all, she is thirsty and worn out. Why add the burden for her to provide water for another? Jesus is not one to burden another. If he asks her a question, it is for her good, not to her ruin. Here is something to consider. By asking her for a drink he has invited her to change her orientation to focus on another rather than herself. Have you ever been so down and out, self-absorbed in your own misery that you continue to spiral down? One way out of this spiral is to be interrupted by the need of another. Have you ever felt you had little strength for yourself only to be renewed and recharged by expending energy for someone else? It tends to work that way. Jesus’ request may be his work in her to move her beyond a downward self-focused spiral and into a life-giving other orientation. He is inviting her to be a blessing to another.
Now back to our story. Jesus makes his intentions clear by bringing up her marital history. Turns out she had 5 husbands and is living with a man that is not her husband. Nothing like a good inappropriate question to kill the moment. But by doing so Jesus takes their conversation in a completely different direction. Now the woman recognizes Jesus as a prophet and not a future husband.
So, she redirects her questions around issues of worship. She may welcome a change of subject at this point anyway. The woman in her history of marriages and in her questions about where to worship has a focus on externals. She seems to be seeking her satisfaction with the external circumstances in her life. Jesus wants her to see that her satisfaction does not rest on the externals but on the internal. He uses the image before them of water to make this point: “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John later in chapter 17 defines eternal life for us. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” At the deepest center of our being we are made for relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit, a knowing and being known within the being of God. Outside of this reality all other pursuits end in repeated disappointment, and our thirst remains.
Through their discussion about worship, Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal to this woman his true identity. He is the long-awaited Messiah. The woman’s question about who this man is has now been answered. And in having this answer, she also seems to have found an answer to our other question. Are you satisfied? Finally, in her long journey of searching, she has joyfully found a resounding “yes” to that question. She is satisfied in Jesus.
John includes a tiny detail in the story that tells its own story. The woman leaves her water jar at the well with Jesus. She is now returning to her community, the very community that has shunned her. And her water jar is not coming with her. She will probably be letting go of some other dead weights in her life once she gets home. She seems to have had her thirst quenched, setting her free from her repeated attempts of filling herself. She has let go of her desire to draw her own satisfaction from the externals and instead, becomes a blessing to others. Not only has she given Jesus a bucket in which to get a drink, but she joins him in his mission of evangelizing Samaria. She is no longer focused on herself. She has water welling up in her that is now overflowing to others.
We see in Jesus’ interchange with his disciples about food that he is also drawing from this deeper well. Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Then he explains that this food “is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” The woman and Jesus are sharing the same meal, drawing from the same well. They are filled with “living water” and sent on the same mission. Her search is over. Her satisfaction secured.
Living in this relationship, the woman is now accepted back into her community as they listen to her words and respond to her testimony. Jesus has broken through the barriers for this woman and makes her a blessing to her community.
Many other points can be gleaned from this multifaceted story, but one focus rises clearly to the forefront. Jesus and his shared life with the Father does not disappoint. As we place our trust in this relationship instead of the external facets of our life, we will find in Jesus a well-quenched thirst.
May God’s gracious gift of his very life fill your hearts and souls with the deep satisfaction found only in him.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- The Speaking of Life video uses the story of “Granny’s Lake” as a metaphor. What additional thoughts came to your mind from this metaphor? Can you relate to times when your life was like an empty crater? Can you think of times where Jesus filled the emptiness with living waters?
- How did the question, “Are you satisfied?” first strike you? Did you later think differently about how to answer this question? If you are willing, share how you answer this question today.
- The question was posed as to why Jesus asked the woman for a drink. One reason the sermon gave was to reorient the woman to focus on another instead of herself. What did you think of this answer? Can you think of other possible reasons Jesus asked her for water?
- What did you think of Jesus exposing the fact that the woman had five husbands was not currently married? What does this tell us about God’s love for us when it comes to the sin in our lives? How does God deal with our secret lives of “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places”?
- The Samaritan woman leaves her bucket at the well with Jesus when she returns to her community. The sermon highlighted this as a picture of the woman leaving behind her attempts to fill herself with life. Can you think of other “buckets” she may need to leave with Jesus? Can you think of “buckets” in your own life that you would like to leave at the well with Jesus?