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It began as an ordinary day, no different than any other. The sun rose, the roosters crowed, she awoke from her sleep. She felt the same stiffness in her joints that was there every morning. There were chores to do. Cooking, laundry, mending. Whatever 1st century women do, that was her day.
But on this day, there was one ordinary, everyday routine that would become eternally significant for her. She would go to the well to draw water just as she had done everyday for as long as she could remember. But she would never forget this day.
This woman, whose name we are never given, walked the same path to the well that she has walked countless times. She had no idea that Jesus was also walking a path that led to this same well. John writes that He was making His way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and that He ‘had to go through Samaria.’ ‘Had to,’ not as in, it was only way to get from point A to point B. But ‘had to’ as in, ‘had to’ meet with this woman.
John writes, ‘wearied as He was from his journey, He was sitting by the well.’ Jesus was not carrying a water jar or Nalgene bottle with him otherwise He could have helped Himself. He had nothing to bring the water up from the well to His mouth so that He could drink.
Which sounds a bit strange when you think about it. When Jesus was in the boat on the stormy sea, He commanded the water to be still and it instantly obeyed. Another time, while He was on shore, He saw His disciples in their boat out at sea and He walked across the water to them. Surely He could have commanded the water to report to His lips and quench His thirst and it would have obeyed with pleasure.
But on this day, the Lord of heaven and earth, sets aside His divinity, and remains weary and thirsty so that He may ask this woman for a drink. He is waiting for this woman who is, even now, on her way to this well with her water jar.
He knows this woman. He knows that she has had five husbands and that the man she is now living with is not her husband. Maybe she’s lost five husbands to death and can’t bear to suffer that grief anymore. Maybe she’s been divorced five times and no longer believes in anyone who says, ‘…as long as we both shall live.’ Who knows.
But let’s not think that this is just idle conversation that Jesus is making with woman. Every word, every syllable that comes from the mouth of Jesus is purposeful and filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew this woman as well as He knows you and me and could have chosen to bring up any detail about her life. But He picks this, because this is what troubles her. It’s like a yoke around her neck that weighs her down. Maybe it’s a heavy yoke of grief, or of anger and resentment, or of disappointment or of guilt. We don’t know. But Jesus does. And He knows the yoke that weighs you down and drains the joy our of your life too.
John is a stickler for the details. He notes the time of day that this encounter took place. ‘It was about the sixth hour.’ That’s Jewish time. That would be 12:00pm. noon according to our time. Remember that.
As she approaches the well, she sets down her jar. The disciples had gone grocery shopping. So it’s just the two of them. Jesus says, ‘Give me a drink.’
To which she replies He is out of place for asking such a thing. ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria’? As strange as this may sound to us, what Jesus was doing was radical. Even His disciples, when they returned, were shocked that He was talking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. It think that Jesus was probably far more socially radical than we might think. I wonder what social customs of our day He might totally ignore as ridiculous and barriers to the gospel.
It is one of the saddest facts of life that John records in the prologue of his gospel when he writes, ‘He was in the world and though the world was made through Him the world did not know Him.’ (John 1:10). Maybe John had this woman in mind as he wrote those words.
The multitudes clamored to have just a minute of this man’s attention. And here is this woman who has His undivided attention but she’s clueless as to who this is.
The whole scene seems to be the exact opposite as we heard in our Old Testament reading earlier. There, the people of Israel were thirsty and cried out to God for water. And God gave the people water to drink. Here now, we see God asking this woman for a drink of water because He is thirsty, and she offers excuses for why she can’t help him.
But Jesus is just as patient with this woman as He had just been with Nicodemus who didn’t know who he had a private audience with either. ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. ‘
What is this ‘gift of God’ that Jesus attaches to water and that He wants this woman to have? A question like demands a search through the Scriptures to see where else this phrase might be used. A quick search with a concordance for ‘gift of God’ reveals four other times in the New Testament that this phrase is used.
In the book of Acts we read that the apostles in Jerusalem heard that some people in Samaria had received the word of God. (Samaria ‘ that’s where Jesus once met a woman by a well and asked her for a drink.) The Church Council sends Peter and John to check it out. The apostles lay their hands on the Samaritans and the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit. A man named Simon wants the power to give the ‘gift of God’ too and he offers Peter and John money if they will give him the gift. Peter replies, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the GIFT OF GOD with money!’ (Acts 8:20)
St. Paul writes to the Romans. ‘The wages of sin is death, but the free GIFT OF GOD is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom.6:23)
To the Ephesians, Paul writes, ‘For by grace you have been saved through FAITH. And this is not your own doing; it is the GIFT OF GOD.’ (Eph.2:8)
Writing to encourage Timothy, Paul says, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the GIFT OF GOD, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.’ (2Tim.1:6).
When we let Scripture interpret Scripture it becomes very clear that the GIFT OF GOD that Jesus wants to give to this woman at the well is nothing other than the Holy Spirit and eternal life in Christ Jesus and the faith to believe and trust that this gift has been given TO ME.
That’s quite a gift. It’s a GIFT because it’s GIVEN. It can’t be had in any other way than by simply receiving it. It’s a GIFT because it’s FREE. It can’t be purchased or earned. It is ‘OF GOD’ because He is the One who has paid for the gift with His own precious blood and He is the one who gives it to you.
But even a gift that is given freely as this one is, is of little benefit unless we know that it has been given to us. So He also gives us the faith to believe His Word that says, ‘If you knew the GIFT OF GOD and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’
Man or woman, young or old, no matter what nationality, race or color, to ALL who are ‘weary and heavy laden,’ Jesus Christ says, ‘come to me, and I will give my ‘GIFT.’ Take my ‘GIFT’ and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. My ‘GIFT’ is easy and my ‘GIFT’ is light.’ (Mat.11:28-30)
Someone asked me why Jesus singled out this woman from Samaria. I must confess, I haven’t a clue. It was obviously not because of her exemplary life. It wasn’t even because she was searching for God or spiritual truth. So rather than looking for the reason for this divine encounter in this woman, it might be better to look for the reason in Jesus. ‘But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
If you can settle for finding the reason for this divine encounter in the love of God, then you should also be able to understand why Jesus singled you out too. One day, maybe it was a while ago when you were just an infant, maybe it was just last Sunday, Jesus was waiting at this ‘well’ (baptismal font). And you came down this familiar path. And here at this well or one like it, you received the ‘gift of God’ – the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation and the faith to believe it. And the entire reason lies in God alone. He loves you.
You would think that since St. John is such the stickler for details, that he would have surely included that minor little detail in this encounter that Jesus finally got the drink of water. But John either missed it, or it never happened because its not there.
The day would come when Jesus would be thirsty again. This time, Jesus is not sitting by a well, but hanging from a cross and He cries, ‘I thirst.’ St. John notes the time of day. ‘It was about the 6th hour.’
You’ve got to wonder if He wasn’t thinking back to that time when He had met a woman from Samaria by Jacob’s well. He who asks this woman for drink of water, begged not to have to drink from the cup that His Father had prepared for Him. But He drinks that cup, which is filled with the punishment for all of our sin. It is the cup of death. All so that we may drink of the ‘cup of salvation’ and ‘never be thirsty again.’
We conclude with this quote from the English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge:
‘I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets, that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough money to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the IRS, that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of friendly diversions, that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time, that’s fulfillment.
Yet, I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by millions, add them all up together, and they are nothing, less than nothing, indeed, a positive impediment when measured against one drop of that living water that Christ offers the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.’