In the 1947 Disney cartoon ‘Crazy from the Heat’, Donald Duck and Goofy are traveling on a hot desert road when their car breaks down and runs out of gas. Having no way to get help, they begin walking down a desert path into the wilderness. Because Goofy forgot his glasses, he keeps looking at his map with a magnifying glass. But the glare from the sun soon catches the map on fire, and they are hopelessly lost. To top it off, they soon run out of water.
That is when Goofy and Donald decide to split up so they can look for water. After a while Goofy starts seeing things. Before him is a soda fountain and he ordered a milk shake but before he can drink it, it disappears. Meanwhile, Donald is dying of thirst, until he sees a huge iceberg, dripping in the sun. As he runs up to grab it, it also vanishes. It was just a hallucination.
I’ve always loved shows were people got lost in the desert and see an oasis in the distance. Movies like Abbott and Costello in ‘The Foreign Legion’ or Laurel and Hardy in ‘Beau Hunks’. Just as they run and dive into a beautiful pool of water, it disappears because it is just an illusion.
Have you ever been really hot and really thirsty? I have, but I have never seen strange things because of it. Water is life. It is easy for us to walk into the kitchen and fill a glass of cool, clear water. We can even add a few ice cubes to really refresh us on a hot day. But that was not the case in Jesus’ day.
In the small towns in Palestine, water was scarce and highly valued. In the heat of the summer, many of the rivers would dry up or turn muddy. They relied on rain to fill cisterns and wells. Cisterns were large pools made from rock that they covered to store water. In the Temple in Jerusalem, there were 37 cisterns, one large enough to hold two million gallons of water.
Farmers relied on dew in the morning to water their crops. And towns were generally located within a few miles of a well. Because water was so scarce, only a small amount was used for washing clothes or for bathing. But every home that invited guests in had to have a washbasin to clean the feet of visitors because good hospitality was important.
Travelers generally carried drinking water in goatskins. But traveling very far meant, knowing where to stop to get water. As Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Nazareth in Galilee, it was customary to avoid Samaria.
Samaritans and Jews disagreed on the location of the Temple of God, as well as who could intermarry with whom. Being low on food and water, Jesus and his disciples headed straight into Samaria near a town called Sychar. Everyone knew this place because it contained Jacob’s well. (John 4:4-5)
Jacob’s well is in a perfect spot to collect rainwater and spring water. It is located near two mountains and so the water runs downhill into a slope that feeds the well. Jesus and his disciples were hot and tired, and so they headed straight for it. They arrived just before noon. (John 4:6)
Jesus sat down to rest, but the disciples felt like they should continue on to get food from a nearby town. Not long after they left, a Samaritan woman showed up to draw water from the well. She was from Sychar, which was located about a mile north-west of Jacob’s well.
Clearly, this was not the best time of the day to be walking to the well to get water. Most women did it very early in the morning or later at night when it was cool. Also, they usually traveled in pairs or groups, but this woman was alone. As she approached the well, she saw a man sitting close by. In their day, she was forbidden to talk to or be near a man by herself. It would have been best to turn back and wait until he left.
She did not recognize him, and she noticed that he was a Jew by his clothing. Under those conditions, he would most likely, not even speak to her. So, she decided to get water from the well. I think this gives us a little insight into her personality. She was clearly not timid or afraid.
As she approached the well, Jesus spoke, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7)
She was shocked by his request. She could have left but good hospitality dictated that she respond. Yet, there was also another issue present. She said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you even ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) A side-note in scripture mentions that Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Just to make it clear, not only was Jesus asking for a drink, but he would have had to drink it, from the cup or jar she provided.
A quick point of information, in their day eating pork was forbidden because it was considered unclean. An old Jewish saying was, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of a swine.” In other words, any Jew who eats or drinks with a Samaritan is ‘contaminating himself’.
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.” (John 4:10)
Living water would have meant fresh, flowing, clear water not still water from a deep well. So, she responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our Father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and flocks and herds?” (John 4:11-12)
Sounds a little like sarcasm to me. She was definitely not meek or reserved. She had hutzpah!
She continued, “Sir, my words (if you’re so great) give me this water, so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15) She is getting a bit spicy hot, but Jesus is about to cool her off.
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16) You see, if he was going to continue to talk to her, this was the respectful thing to do. But it also would change how she was speaking to him. Lowering her head, she said, “I have no husband.” (John 4:17)
Jesus replied, in my words, “I know. The fact is, you have had 5 husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband. But thank you for being honest with me.” (John 4:17-18)
This might explain why she is coming at noon, the hottest part of the day, for water. Even hearing someone Today say they have had five husbands, makes us wonder about them. But in all honesty, it may have had little to do with her. If she was unable to have children, her husbands may have just left her. Also, men tended to die young back then. Clearly Jesus did not judge her, and neither should we.
Sizing him up she replied, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20) Jesus had turned the tables on her and now she was also attempting to shift the subject.
Talking religion in general is always easier than talking about matters of the heart. But for her, her faith was a deep part of her.
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has NOW come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for ‘they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24)
Then the woman (we still do not know her name) said, “I know that ‘Messiah’ is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25)
Notice, she is actively looking and waiting on the Messiah, the Christ, the coming Savior. Also, she believes he will not care about the dividing lines between Jews and Samarians. When the Messiah comes, she believes, he will explain everything to all of us. Her faith runs deep, like a well.
Then Jesus declared, “I, who speak to you, am he.” Or another simpler way to say it is, “I am the Messiah”. (John 4:26)
Now, there is a little bridge here. The conversation continues but we are not privy to it. John 4:27 begins like this, “Then the disciples returned and were surprised to find Jesus talking to a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking to her?”
It makes me wonder, what did he say to her? And, when did she realize that he really was the Messiah? All we know is, that at some point, she turned and ran off to her village and left her water jar behind.
Jesus had promised her living water. This water was not meant to stop her physical thirst but to quench her spiritual thirst for the truth. Yet it is important to notice what happened here. She left the water jar, which is a very valuable life-giving item, because, what Jesus said fed a deeper thirst and need in her.
Have you ever been so excited or consumed by something you forgot to eat or drink? This is important because of what happens next.
After the woman at the well left, the disciples kept trying to get Jesus to eat something. But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then they responded, “Could someone have brought him food?” (John 4:33)
His spiritual hunger and thirst were satisfied. Clearly, they missed it but the woman who had just left did not. She had an insight into Jesus that they would not grasp for some time. One other thing to point out, this is the longest conversation recorded in scripture where Jesus talked alone with someone, other than the disciples.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Then he goes on to explain that the (Spiritual) fields are ripe for harvest. (John 4:34-38) How ripe? Good question, because we are just about too see what can be done by just one believer.
The woman Jesus met at the well went back to Sychar and began to share her experience with some villagers. And it was clear to them, that something about her was different and so some believed that Jesus was the Messiah. (John 4:39)
Others were not so quick to believe, but they wanted to see and hear him for themselves. So, they went to see Jesus. After meeting him, they urged him to stay with them in their homes, and so he did for 2 more days! And because of his words, many more became believers. (John 4:40-42)
Notice, if you will, one woman, who was dying spiritually received a refreshing drink of living water. She tasted the truth and an entire village came to know Jesus. And though some did not believe her words, they still came just to see for themselves.
When I think about the woman at the well, I think about people I know who just keep getting up and moving forward. Each day they go to work, come home and eat but inside they are burned-out. They are going through the motions, but their peace and satisfaction is gone. They are quite literally dying of spiritual thirst. They long for something deeper, more meaningful than living to die. They are hoping and maybe even praying for something greater.
Jesus is the bread of life. (John 6:35) He is the living water that quenches the desires of the deepest soul. When everything else falls apart, when others walk away, Jesus remains. He loves, he forgives, he renews the spirit. Imagine what it would be like to have a cool, refreshing drink of the water of life.
I want you to notice, Jesus did not come condemning, scolding or lording himself over this woman. He came thirsty. He came weary after a long journey. He came as a normal person. He was real.
Christians do themselves and others a disservice when we come with all the answers and fail to listen to others. Jesus came with his need, “Will you give me a drink?” He was appealing to her compassion. His weakness could be fulfilled by her strength. It is because Jesus understands us on a very basic human and personal level, that is why we trust him. That is why the woman at the well opened up to him.
If you are tired, weary, burned-out or empty, it’s time to get some of His Living Water. I pray you will.
Your assignment is…to read Matthew 5:6 and Psalm 90:14. There are words of comfort and direction in scripture. Come and see, come and taste, for the Lord is Good. And you’ll be refreshed.
“And all God’s People said, Amen”