If you grew up in church like I did, there are likely many stories you have heard so many times you could do a feltboard presentation of them without so much as even having to open the Bible to reference the actual text. And while Bob and Larry have colorfully animated many Bible stories so children would be both educated and engaged, we must be careful not to write these storied off as merely “children’s stories.”
There is danger in becoming blasé toward even the most common of stories. We risk missing so much if we simply gloss over an all-too-familiar story. But with the Bible being “living and active” (Hebrews 4:2), we find each story deepens with meaning as we grow both in our maturity and in our relationship with the Author.
The story of Jesus and the woman at the well has been one of those stories for me. Upon first glance, you read a story of Jesus sitting by a well, asking a woman for water, offering her living water, pulling a “I’m a psychic” trick by telling her about her living situation, amazed as she is she runs to tell everyone about Him. Wrap it up in a bow. There you have it. The woman at the well. Period.
But recently this story has begun to intrigue me. There is so much to learn from the actions of the characters and the subtleties of the telling of the story, that I have found myself camping out on this text for the past few weeks, on and off, all the while taking notes of things that I maybe never noticed before. Reading it each time like it was my first time reading it.
Here are 10 things I think we need to learn from Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well; 5 things from Him, and 5 things from her.
- Go against the grain: Jesus defied cultural norms to reach this woman. He shocks her by ignoring the fact that, according culture, Jesus being a Jew should not ever speak to a Samaritan. Maybe we should consider being counter-cultural as a way of showing people Jesus.
- We don’t have to clean ourselves up for Jesus: Jesus offered her His living water before ever addressing her sin. Receive Him now; there’s always time later to deal with sin.
- We can bring sin to light without condemning the sinner: Jesus very matter-of-factly reveals to her that He knows her entire messy past. He never once throws in a “how dare you?!” We should take note.
- There is no unreachable outcast: She was a Samaritan, a 5 times divorced adulterer, and fornicator. Many of us may have written her off as “unreachable.” Remember, Jews did not look kindly on Gentiles either, referring to them as “dogs.” But luckily for all of us, Jesus does not stamp “unreachable” on anyone’s forehead as a result of their upbringing, current lifestyle or sin. We are all still sinners, after all.
- He overshadows her shame: He flat out tells her that He is the Messiah (a fact He has kept hidden from most.) The excellence of who He is becomes greater to her than the shame she has been hiding behind to the point that she goes to town and draws attention to herself in order to tell others about Him! Should make us reconsider what is keeping us in hiding instead of living in the confidence in who He is!
- Shame can make us do crazy things: Have you ever taken a different route or pretended to be busy on your phone (even fake a phone call!) to avoid having to face someone? Many commentators believe that that is partly what is going on here. She went to the well to draw water at the 6th hour – the middle of the day and also the warmest part of the day, presumably to avoid other the other women. Her life was shameful and she knew it but she didn’t want to have to face the judgement of the other women coming to draw water.
- Confession is freeing: Please notice that all she confesses to Jesus is that she does not have a husband, and then He brings to light the whole truth. Yet she doesn’t run and hide at this confrontation, she is amazed! Freed of her shame, she runs to tell others about Jesus.
- We must put down what doesn’t satisfy when we meet Jesus: She came to the well carrying a jug to fill with water which will only temporarily satisfy until she is thirsty again. She meets Jesus and John says “the woman left her water jar.” What in your life do you need to leave because it can never truly satisfy?
- Our private time with Jesus carries over into our time with others: This woman met with Jesus by herself. Just she and Him. And afterward she was able to pour out into others – and in fact she couldn’t contain herself! She just had to tell others of what Jesus said to her! This is precisely why it is so important that we have our own one-on-one time with Jesus. Going to church is great and necessary, but it is not enough. Imagine if you only “group dated” your spouse and never had time where it was just the two of you: how well would that work to strengthen and nourish your marriage. The same is true of your relationship with Jesus. There’s got to be some one-on-one time for you to really flourish.
- She is one domino – and so are you!: John 4:39, ” Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” When I went to the IF:Gathering conference a few weeks back, we discussed how it only takes one domino, one person, one act of obedience, to affect many others. The domino effect. This woman took the time to listen to Jesus and then turn around and tell many others, who consequently believed in Jesus because of her. We don’t get to continue following their story, but I do wonder who all those people turned around and told about Jesus. And so on and so forth. You also are a domino. Who or what are you falling into?
Do you see how much we could possibly gloss over if we simply read the words without digging deeper? What familiar Bible stories have taken on new meaning for you through deeper study?
One last thing. A joke from this whole story. How many disciples does it take to buy lunch? Apparently, ALL OF THEM! “His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” (John 4:8) The real kicker is when they get back and try to offer Him food, He declares that He has food that they don’t know about. Perhaps He was just trying to get rid of them so He could minister to this woman? Sometimes I imagine that Jesus had quite the sense of humor. I mean, it is evident that He will move Heaven and Earth and a dozen clueless disciples to get to His daughter. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to serve a God who loves me that much. Amen?
*The story of Jesus and the woman at the well can be found in John 4:1-42