Do you find it easy and natural to open a conversation with a total stranger? Are there certain people you would not go out of your way to begin a conversation with? Are there certain people, or kinds of people, that you would try to avoid having a conversation with? Are there people with whom you would feel hesitant or awkward about opening a conversation? If you were honestly able to say “yes” or “no” to the first question, and “no” to all the other questions, you are a very unusual and remarkable person! The Lord Jesus Christ was an unusual and remarkable person when it came to initiating a conversation with a stranger. There is much that we can learn from Him.
In John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus’ last one-to-one conversation with a “stranger” was His conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Ruler of the Jews, and a devout and upright man. They talked about “being born-again”, or “born from above”. The next conversation is going to be as different as night and day because of the differences between the two people who talked to Jesus. Let’s take a look at what led up to this meeting, and examine the opening remarks.
I. THE DEPARTURE TO GALILEE (verses 1-3)
Chapter 4 begins with the words: “When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)”. How quickly news spreads and gets distorted in the process! What was a private conversation between John’s followers and John the Baptist has been turned into a “bone of contention” by the Pharisees. Apparently they only heard, or wanted to hear, one side of the conversation. What about John’s answer to them? After sharing the relationship between the bride and groom and the friend of the bridegroom, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The Pharisees weren’t interested in that part of the conversation. They were looking for an excuse to start a major confrontation between the Jews and Jesus.
Verse 3 gives us Jesus’ response. “He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.” Jesus wasn’t running away out of fear. He was obeying the will of the Father. His time of confrontation, leading to His death, had not yet come. He was avoiding that confrontation for the time being because He was on the Father’s timetable, not theirs. It was time to go back to the headquarters of His ministry, which was in Galilee. There was much to be done there, as we shall see.
II. THE ROUTE TAKEN (verses 4)
Verse 4 says, “And He had to pass through Samaria”. Geographically speaking, Jesus did not “have to” pass through Samaria. There were two other routes. There was the direct route through Samaria, but most Jews, and all the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, refused to take that route. They would either take the coastal route or they would cross the Jordan River, travel north through Perea, and then cross the Jordan River again north of Samaria. Using these two routes would double their travel time from three days to six days. Jesus, however, had to go through Samaria because it was the Father’s will for Him to do so. The Lord Jesus had an appointment to keep with a particular Samaritan, and no advance-notice was given to that person.
Why this unwillingness, on the part of the Jews, to go through Samaria? Well, to say that the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along with each other would be putting it mildly! Historical events from several hundred years earlier caused this hatred for one another to develop, and more recent events only served to fan the flames of that hatred. Later on in Jesus’ ministry, the Jews, in an attempt to give Jesus the worst possible insult, said, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48). Notice which description came first. They are either saying that being a Samaritan is worse than being demon possessed or that all Samaritans are demon possessed. Such was their hatred for the Samaritan people.
It all began 700 years earlier when the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom (Samaria) and took most of the Jews into captivity. Those Jews who were left behind intermarried with the people from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in the northern kingdom of Israel. They became despised by the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah because they were no longer pure Jews. The rest of the Jews who were taken into exile never came back but were assimilated into the gentile nation. They were called “the lost 10 tribes of Israel”. More information will be revealed in the upcoming conversation.
III. THE REST-STOP ALONG THE WAY (verses 5-6)
In verse 5, the apostle John, since he was along with Jesus and the other disciples on this journey, gives us some geographical and historical information along the way. He says, “So He (Jesus) came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there.” Jacob’s well had a special place in Jewish history and historians say that Jacob’s well is “one of the best attested sites in Palestine, at least since New Testament times.” Yet it’s possible that none of His disciples had ever seen the well before this occasion. They may never have taken this route before, but they don’t question the Lord’s decision to go through Samaria.
Verse 6 gives us a brief description of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” He got tired like we all do after physical exertion. He needed time to sit down, get some rest, and quench His thirst. Though the apostle John’s major focus is on the deity of Christ, he doesn’t pass up any opportunities to show that Jesus was also truly a man. The Lord Jesus was now alone. Verse 8 explains that “His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” The scene was ready in preparation for another private conversation.
“It was the sixth hour”. They didn’t have clocks or watches in those days, and time was measured beginning at approximately 6:00 in the morning. So it was about 12:00 noon, the hottest part of the day in that region.
IV. A CONVERSATION BEGINS: OPENING REMARKS (verses 7 and 9)
As Jesus sits there resting in the heat of the day, he beholds a Samaritan woman coming His way. She has her water jar on her head or shoulder, and her leather bucket and rope in her hand in order to lower the bucket into the well and bring up the water to fill her jar. This was not the usual time of the day for drawing water from this well. Women usually came in the early morning or the late afternoon when it was cooler. She came at noon, possibly because she had a bad reputation among the women in her village. So she preferred to come to Jacob’s well for water at a time when no one else would be there.
As she begins to draw water to fill her jar, Jesus does the unthinkable. He breaks tradition but He obeys God’s Word which says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). He asks this woman to do Him a favor. In verse 4 the Lord Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink”. He is not giving her a command but making a request of her. Translated into our culture, Jesus is saying “May I please have a drink” or “Would you do me the favor of giving me a drink of your water.” We don’t know His tone of voice but we know the kind of Person that Jesus was and is. He obviously said those words with kindness and love in His voice because of her response. I can imagine that her eyes must have widened and her jaw dropped. She probably looked Him square in the eyes to see if He was being honest and sincere. She must have seen much more than that in His eyes and facial expression because she does something that a Samaritan woman would never do to a Jewish man – she answers Him! She broke her traditions by breaking her silence and responding to Him.
“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, since I am a Samaritan woman?” (verse 9). How did she know that Jesus was a Jew? Was there a difference in physical appearance, clothing, or speech between Jews and Samaritans? Probably all three, since they were a people of mixed race with different customs.
l don’t think this woman was being rude or sarcastic when she said those words to Jesus. I think she was amazed by His words, the kindness in His voice and the sincerity and love in His eyes. I also think that she said those words to Jesus after she gave Him the cup of water to drink. The words “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” are in parentheses. John may be adding those words to explain the reason for her reply. They don’t appear to be words that were actually said by the woman.
I’ve learned a couple of lessons from the introductory remarks to this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. First, people are more important than traditions, laws, customs and prejudices. When the Lord Jesus began and continued a conversation with this woman, He overcame just about every major prejudice you can think of: racial, moral, religious, social, cultural, geographical, historical, and sexual. She was more important to Him than her “dossier” (her public and personal background and reputation). What about you and I? What thoughts, attitudes and responses do we have toward different kinds of people, especially people who are vastly different from us, people who may treat us with distain or silence when we are around them? The kind of love that Jesus demonstrated by His words and actions is impossible for us to imitate unless we are “born-again”, having become a child of God through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we become a new person, the transformation into the likeness of Christ can begin as we yield to the control of the Spirit of God within us. Then the barriers between us and others can begin to break down and new relationships can be formed.
Secondly, The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us a lesson about receiving from others. There was an article in Psychology Today entitled “5 Reasons Why Receiving Is Harder Than Giving.” Author John Amodeo gives these five possible reasons. 1. Defense against intimacy (keeping people distant). 2, Letting go of control. 3. Fear of strings attached. 4. Belief that it is selfish to receive. 5. A self-imposed pressure to reciprocate.
I had been giving to the support of two missionaries while in the military and in college, A few years after graduating from college I decided to go to Bible school in order to become a missionary myself. When a mission board accepted me, I struggled with the idea of raising support for several of the reasons given above. I talked to my spiritual mentor about my struggle to receive support from others. He was one of the missionaries I supported. I still remember his words. He said, “Tom, it brought you a great amount of joy to give to the support of me and my family and the ministry God has called me to, didn’t it. Well, your generosity to us brought us a great amount of joy also, and I’ve shared that with you many times. Now you are in a ministry that involves raising support so that you can give full-time service in your focus of ministry for the Lord. Don’t deprive others of the joy they would receive if they chose to support you, and continue to send your newsletter to everyone on your list whether they support you monetarily or not.” He also encouraged me to add a personal note to my prayer letters to make them personal.
We find many times in the Old Testament and the New Testament where God’s priests, prophets, disciples, as well as Jesus himself received gifts from others. Like them, may we also be humble enough to receive and thankful enough to express our gratitude.
As I continue this study of John 4, I’ve found several enactments of this conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well on YouTube. I’ve chosen to link to the following site because it shows two different enactments one after the other, and it follows the Scripture passage closely. The second video is even more detailed and inclusive than the first. Watching these two videos, as well as others, has given me a fresh perspective of John 4:1-42. Here is the site. Clicking it should take you there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sma4o3mCPwA
Thanks for visiting. I hope you will visit other sermons on this site as well. May your conversations be seasoned with love and genuine concern for others. May you also experience great joy in both giving and receiving.