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An unexpected conversation. The Woman at the Well in John 4:6-10

Updated on June 3, 2014

John 4: 6 - 10

"Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, "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."

Holy Well in Ireland
Holy Well in Ireland | Source

I open my Bible to John chapter 4. As I read, I see a woman, coming down the hot, dusty road from her village, on her way to the well behind me. She is alone. The sun is high in the sky. Just about everyone else is home with their families having their noon meal. She seems vulnerable. Perhaps this is a lonely time for her, a reminder that she is not like the others. Most of the women come in groups during the cooler parts of the day, laughing and gossiping with their children running around them. She doesn’t feel welcome among them; her life is so much different. So she comes to the well by herself.

Suddenly she sees the man sitting down by the well. She pauses, a flash of resentment crosses her face; irritation at the intrusion of her solitude. But, she needs the water so she continues on. She scowls, the man is Jewish. It’s bad enough she is judged by her own people, but the hatred of the Jews is notorious. Even if her life was perfect according to their laws, which it’s not, he would still hate her. Her walls go up; I can tell she is defensive. She will ignore this person and expects to be ignored in return. But this man is different. He is not just any Jew, this is Jesus. I can see he is waiting for her. I wonder how he is going to get past her hostility and get his message through to her. I notice that he is alone too; he has sent his followers into town to get food for them. She probably passed them on the road.

I watch as she approaches the well. She is stiff and cold. She just about drops her jar when Jesus speaks to her. I hear him ask for a drink and I see what he is doing. It is brilliant. He has humbled himself, putting himself at her mercy. By asking her for something that only she can provide, he has given her the upper hand. It is a simple request, nonthreatening, disarming, normal. Most importantly, it is nonjudgmental. Just the shock of it causes her to respond before she can help herself. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” A Jew would never lower himself to talk to a Samaritan woman. It is almost too much to comprehend.

Now that he has her attention, Jesus draws her into the conversation. He implies a truth she isn’t aware of, a mystery she might want to know. He offers her something she doesn’t understand, but might be interested in. Is he trying to trick her, or perhaps make fun of her? No, there is a kindness in his eyes that she’s not used to seeing. Her curiosity gets the better of her. She’s willing to engage.

As I listen to Jesus, I begin to wonder. How do I approach someone who is different than I am? How do I present myself to someone who is hurting, expecting judgment or hatred from me? Do I give them dignity and respect or do I give the impression that I am better than they are and they need to be just like me? Surely I know the truth that can help them, but perhaps they aren’t ready to hear it from me yet. “How can you ask me for a drink (look who I am)?” I listen to her response. There might be more than curiosity there. Her answer seems a bit curt, maybe even hostile. She has reason to be bitter, suspicious, and sensitive to the hatred that is usually directed towards her. But Jesus doesn’t get offended. He doesn’t take it personally. Can I say the same? What is my reaction when someone is rude to me? Do I recognize that they may be speaking out of their own pain? I see there is a lot to learn from Jesus here at the well. He offers dignity when it’s not expected, shows respect to someone who may not be respectable. He is kind when she is not. I have heard too many Christians express hatred towards those who disagree with them, who distance themselves from those who don’t live as they do and ridicule people with different beliefs. Where is the love, the respect? This will not lead anyone to Jesus. Perhaps we can all learn something here at the well.

Keep listening in on the conversation and discover the gift of God!


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