Jesus’ conversation at Jacob’s well with the woman of Samaria gives a wonderful insight into his gracious ministry. Read through John chapter 4 and be encouraged to engage with the people we meet each day in this broken world.
Seeing people with open eyes
Jesus was different from his disciples. They didn’t really see people or have compassion for them. They would have travelled through Samaria without engaging with anyone. The same can be true of us as we live among people – family, neighbours, work, school and college. Do we take any interest in them? Jesus told his disciples to ‘open their eyes.’ Are our eyes open? Do we ‘see’ the people around us?
Jesus and the disciples were travelling from Judea to Galilee. It was midday, and they were hungry. The disciples left Jesus by the well and went into the town to buy food. When they returned, they wanted to have lunch. They were surprised to find Jesus talking with a woman! They couldn’t understand why Jesus would take any interest in a Samaritan woman. They thought to ask her, ‘What do you want?’ In other words, ‘Go away, because we are going to have our lunch!’
The disciples had low expectations. They knew the long history of Jewish-Samaritan tensions. Nothing significant ever happened in Samaria! They knew God was interested in Jewish people, but surely not in Samaritans. Today we, too, may have low expectations of what God can do. Why should we bother with the people around us? Even when we do try to reach out to them, usually nothing happens!
So, we fill our lives with all kinds of interests and activities and ignore the needs of those around us. We allow ‘good’ things to take the place of the ‘best’ things. The disciples were more interested in having lunch than telling this woman the good news of Jesus. Like them, we may not want to ‘get involved’ with people, especially if they have problems!
Jesus was very different. He was weary, but his eyes were open. He saw the woman, and his heart went out to her. His conversation with her revived his strength. When the disciples returned and urged him to eat something, he told them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’ Showing loving care to the woman fulfilled his ministry and was a much greater priority than having a cool drink or eating lunch!
Looking beyond the surface
As soon as Jesus saw the woman coming to draw water, he knew she was needy. She was coming to draw water at midday, the hottest part of the day. People who live in hot countries do the heavy work in early morning when it is cool. Also, she was coming to an ancient well which was deep and hard to draw water from. There was another, newer, well which served that town and was easier to draw water from. Most people went to that well. So why was this woman drawing water from Jacob’s well in the middle of the day? Do we take time to observe the people among whom we live?
Starting a conversation
The way Jesus started the conversation is very helpful. He asks her to give him a drink. When we have a problem or need help with something, it’s a great opportunity to talk to our neighbours. Usually, they will be very happy to help us.
The woman’s response to Jesus’ request wasn’t encouraging, ‘You are a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews don’t associate with Samaritans.’ We can be afraid of negative responses and so either don’t begin a conversation or are easily put off.
However, Jesus continues the conversation and moves on to vital issues about his identity and his willingness to give her eternal life, if she will only ask him. This is a great gospel statement. We have only to ask Jesus for eternal life and we will receive it.
Again, the woman’s reply is negative. She challenges Jesus’ claim to greatness and his ability to give her living water. She’s happy with the water from Jacob’s well. Some people today reject the unique claims of Jesus and the wonderful promises he makes. So, it’s important for us to maintain contact with them graciously.
Jesus never treats the woman as she treats him but develops the conversation. Water only satisfies our thirst for a short time, but the gift he gives will become ‘a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ To this, the woman replies that she doesn’t believe there is anything that can relieve her from the daily drudgery of fetching and carrying water. Like many people today, she doesn’t believe that true, deep inner satisfaction is possible and can be found in Jesus.
Responding with compassion
Jesus then talks about her family situation. He knows she has suffered deep pain and sadness in a succession of broken marriages and is now living with a man to whom she is not married. Some people assume that her broken marriages show her to be an immoral woman, but it is almost certain that her husbands had divorced her. Some may have died. She had experienced painful rejection by several husbands. There was nothing she could do when they divorced her. The man she was now living with her wasn’t willing to marry her but expected her to do all the work.
When Jesus spoke about her sad marriage experiences, he was showing loving concern for her. Later she told the people she had met a man who told her ‘everything I ever did.’ How wonderful it is that Jesus knows all about us and doesn’t reject us but affirms his love for us!
Many people around us have experienced deep pain and sadness in their lives. Do we respond to them with compassion? How would we respond to a lady who came to one of our services who had been married five times and was now in a common-law relationship?
Through talking with Jesus, the woman began to think about God and his promises. Something she probably hadn’t done for a long time. She said, ‘I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he!’ The Messiah has come! He will make sense of all the sadness and pain in her life and give her hope!
Just then, the disciples returned with food. They had no sensitivity to the glorious moment of self-revelation that had just happened. They were glad when the woman left now they could have lunch! They were typical Jewish men and not at all like Jesus. We need to be more like Jesus if we are to make a difference to the lives of the people around us!
The woman told the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ As a result, many people came to Jesus. He stayed with them for two days and many believed in him. They said to the woman, ‘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 Saviour of the world.’
What an encouragement this passage is to us to engage with the people we meet every day in this broken world! They may come to know the Lord and, be, perhaps, the means of many others coming to know him too.