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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

The Woman at the Well

Many important things come out of this passage


Nope. Got lazy.

Can't I just draw my water and go home?

So here is a woman, minding her own business, drawing a bucket of water from a well, when Jesus pops up. He speaks in riddles and tells her about her life. Five husbands... one at a time.

This story is smack dab in the middle of a long series of stories about the nature of faith, drawing others to God, and Jesus' power. It starts at John 2, and the miracles He did, and gradually transitions in John Chapter 5, especially at verse 24, (NIV): “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life." Chapter 5 goes on to explain the full authority Jesus has: Judgement. Yet he says in other places that he came not to judge. Here he proves it.

The miracles that Jesus performed attest to the authority he has from God. The miracles were not used to create faith. But as he encountered people, he found that they were believing because of the miracles, and not because they had faith in God. Faith was most important. He talked about both faith and what he will accomplish. It was also not to his liking that the Jews thought he was performing more baptisms than John the Baptist. John's work was important as a testimony to Christ (see John 5:31-35). So he took a detour into non-Jewish Samaria, and later would take his full ministry to those not of the Jewish faith.

Who were the Samaritans? Their faith was rooted in the first five books of Bible, same as the Jews. But they didn't accept the prophets. They were despised by the Jews because they didn't acknowledge the prophets and permitted divorce. But Jesus didn't favor the way Jews felt about the Samaritans. He rubbed their noses in it, in another story (Luke 10:25-37) that asks, "Who is your neighbor?" In the story, a Samaritan encountered a Jew who was travelling and had been robbed and beaten. Most Jews would have just walked on. But this Samaritan helped the Jew to a home and paid in advance for the man's care.

Jesus spoke vehemently against divorce, although it was permitted in some instances in the Bible. Also, it was not permitted in Judaism for men to speak to women.

So now we know several unusual things that are important about this encounter: Jesus broke a cultural rule in speaking with a woman. Jesus encountered a woman who had had five husbands, which would have raised his eyebrows. Jesus was no longer speaking to Jews only. Jesus was talking to a group of people that the Jews despised. And this was not at the point where Jesus ceased his ministry to the Jews and took it to the non-Jews.

In the story, in Chapter 4, Jesus was weary and sat down next to a well, historically it was Jacob's well, but the area was under the control of the Samaritans. A woman came to the well, and he asked her for a drink. The woman's come back was, "How is it you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria. Jews have no dealings with Samaritans."

Jesus basically replied, if you knew who you were talking to, the gift of God, you would have asked for living water. Water is a motif in the Bible, a recurring element with special meaning, but we'll skip that for now. She didn't understand, and replied, you don't have anything to get water with. Where would you get that living water?

He replied, the water I give will become a spring and well up into eternal life. She was intrigued. He asked her to go get her husband. She said, I have no husband.

Since the Samaritans didn't accept the prophets, she probably didn't get the water motif, Jesus probably tried interest her in a different way. He said, you've had five husbands.

Jesus' reaction to the woman is interesting as much for what he did say, as what he didn't.

Had he been critical and judgmental, he might have said, this is a great sin and there is a special place of punishment for you. But he didn't. He didn't express any criticism.

Because he knew about her without knowing her, she then understood that Jesus was a prophet. She went on to say that her fathers, in the first five books of the Bible, worshipped on this very mountain where they stood, but the Jews say you should worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. She brought up a religious argument. This is what people often do, bring up arguments about who is right.

Jesus might have argued with her that the Jewish religion was the correct one, and she should worship in Jerusalem. A prophet should know. This is what religious leaders often do, argue about who is right. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he highlighted that salvation was from the Jews. Rather than argue, he simply continued that it's time that people worship at neither place. But they should worship in Spirit and in Truth.

What does "Worship in Spirit and in Truth" mean? The answer is in the Freedom in Christ article.

The woman then said that she knew the Savior was coming, and would show them all things. Christ admitted it was him. She went to get everyone in the city to hear what Jesus had to say, so he stayed a couple of days talking to them.

The people then said something about faith that was very important: They believed Jesus words. It wasn't miracles that made them believe. It wasn't because the woman said he was a prophet who knew everything. It was Jesus' words. It is the word of God, through the work of the Spirit, that enables people to believe.

People often think that what converts others to Christianity is charismatic people, seeing or hearing about miracles, throwing scriptures at people, condemning them for sins.... And certainly there is a place for things like charisma (the woman attracted a crowd), and hearing good things, and loving works, but people and threats don't convert other people. It is the Spirit which works in the receptive hearts and minds of people, and it is up to them to decide if what they hear is true.

Christ said earlier in John 3:16-21, that people who love evil, hate the light, and those who do what it true are attracted to the light. Evidence today strongly support that people want the light. The question is, why are they not finding it in today's Christianity and churches?

Freedom in Christ - this article explains a lot about why people are driven away from Christianity and the Church

In John 5:22-29, Jesus explains that those who hear his words will skip the judgment. (They know the Truth, and know they are forgiven.) Those who don't, including those already dead, well, they take their chances and will be judged as to whether they have done evil or good. Hearing the Word gives people a choice, and in a sense they judge themselves. Unfortunately some are not able to believe, because of religion that divides or religious people, or bad childhood experiences have driven them away. But they aren't necessarily lost.

In his earthly journey, Christ did not come to judge. He condemned no one. He expressly told us not to judge, or we would be judged. As soon as we start judging, we are right back where we started, never having heard the Word. That doesn't mean that we can't see evil things being done and call them evil. If they are hurting other people, we should go to word and action, condemning and making right (justice). Emphasis is on hurting other people.

Note that Jesus didn't spend his time arguing with people. His role on earth wasn't to argue, condemn, or be contentious, even though he knew his words would eventually divide people. His role was to tell people the Word (he represents the Word) and draw them to the Truth. He taught. He spoke about God.

The Woman at the Well has many valuable lessons for us about faith and about how we treat others.

  • 1. Don't spend your time arguing with people - it has no value except to drive people away. People recognize truth through the Spirit within them.
  • 2. Don't condemn people - it simply pushes them away. They will either be attracted to doing good or evil, and may fail many times during their lives.
  • 3. Entering into the Kingdom of God, which is now, is open to everyone. Never to a select few.
  • 4. Miracles and other gimicks may attract, but they don't convert. The Word of God converts.
  • 5. People who are evil are condemned already. People who pursue good are in the Kingdom already, or after judgement. What they do, good or evil, is the proof.
  • 6. The Word and Spirit guide people. They are not condemned, and they are not judged.
  • 7. One of the biggest lessons is that Jesus accepted the woman as she was, as he did others. This is the main lesson that I believe others should see. Strive to be like Christ, not the judge. He didn't beat people down into the dirt with Laws. The Word of God is kind, forgiving, and is summed up in the Great Commandments (not suggestion, not this would be nice to do), to Love others. This is the Good News: Forgiveness and Love. No matter who or what people are, accept them and let them have the experience of the transforming Word of God in their lives. It is for them to transform, not us to transform them.

Another good rendering of this story at You Have Heard It Said.

When Christ came, the Jews had splintered into numerous factions, and argued continuously about who was right. This isn't what following God is about. My experience in talking to people who don't want to believe something is simply this: Arguing with them makes them go to any extreme to prove you wrong. This is backed up by these articles:

How Facts Backfire

The Influence of Partisan Motivated Reasoning on Public Opinion

Rumors Have it. New study at MIT

10 things you want to know about human nature if you’re fighting climate change.

- Dorian

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