Like the Woman at the Well

John 4:29  Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 

The account of the woman at the well is a familiar one, but verse 29 mystified me for the longest time. So, I prayed and asked God to help me understand it better. This woman was a Samaritan. To the Jews, the Samaritans were an outcast race. The disdain the Jews had for them had lasted at least a thousand years by the time Jesus met the woman at the well. As standard practice, any self-respecting Jew of that day would avoid going through Samaria. If they were on a journey that might take them near Samaritan land, they would walk miles out of their way to avoid it.

But Jesus had little use for the prejudices and social norms of his day. They interfered with his service to God, and in John 4:4 we read that he needed to go through Samaria. As the account unfolds, we learn he needed to go through Samaria to meet this lone Samaritan woman. She was an outcast among the outcasts. It was the reason she went to Jacob’s well at the sixth hour of the day (noon) rather than when the other women of the area visited the well. Even the Samaritans held her in low regard because of her reputation. She did not go to the well at this time of day just to be alone. She went during that hour to be left alone. And here, on this fateful day, whom does she meet but this random Jew! Jesus was the last person she expected to see. Not only that, but when she got there, he asked her to give him something to drink. (v. 7)

Her response was quick and to the point: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” (v. 9b) There may have been some cynicism to those words. Long the object of scorn, she was naturally untrusting even of her own people. Was this strange Jew setting her up for ridicule too?

Then something strange happened. Rather than berate her, Jesus began speaking to her and He was kind and respectful about it. That had to be shocking enough and then He tells her this: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (v. 10)

So, now here was this random Jew, speaking to her in kindness and in riddles. She understandably did not get His point. Jesus spoke like this to His own disciples, and they often missed the point. Like his disciples often did, she took his spiritual truth in a literal, physical sense: “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?” (v. 11)

The conversation continues to unfold, and Jesus patiently enlightens the woman’s understanding. Still, she struggles to grasp the concept. She asks to have this water that will forever quench her thirst, still seeing the teaching as literal and physical. (v. 15) She was thinking, “If I never thirst, I’ll never have to suffer the shame and ridicule of coming to this well alone again.”

To arrest her attention, Jesus makes a request: “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” It sounds like He is offering to explain things more in depth, and He is but not in the way she expects.

Her reply shows that Jesus (whom she did not know by name yet) had won her trust.  No one – especially no man – had ever been so kind to her. At Jesus’ question, she could have put her defenses up, lied, and said, “Let me get him,” and run off. Instead, she answers honestly: “I have no husband,” and the Lord calls her out on that. “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” (vs17b, 18) He could have said this as a scathing remark, but clearly, He did not because she continues speaking with Him, realizing that this kind, Jewish man is more than some random stranger. He must be a prophet. (v. 19)

Their discussion continues, coming around to the matter of true worship. Here again, Jesus patiently corrects her misconceptions. (vs. 20-24) Finally, thanks to the Lord’s patient shepherding of her thoughts, the woman says: “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.” (v. 25)

To this, the Lord says: “I that speak unto thee am he.” (v. 26)

The light of truth rushes into this woman’s heart and mind. Immediately, she turns and runs to the city and when she gets there, she says something that (to me at least) sounds puzzling. Of all the things she could have said about her conversation with Jesus, she says: “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (v. 29) 

Then it dawned on me why she would say that of all things. This woman lived in shame because of her multiple marriages and her current living situation. She was one of those kinds of people who always seemed to get into relationships that ended badly. In her day, when a man divorced a woman, it was always the woman who was blamed, not the man. This woman had been divorced five times and the man she was with now, had such a low view of her that he would not even give her his name. Everybody knew her reputation and shunned her for it. Now, here was this kind stranger who knew this the whole time they were talking, and he never once shamed her for it. He did not excuse her lifestyle, but he never shamed her. He loved her like no one ever had, and He was the Messiah!

When she ran to the city and said, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did,” it had to be clear in her tone and in her face that she meant: “Come see someone who knows me even better than you do, and he still loves me! And he’s the Messiah!” Something so transformative had happened in that woman’s life that even her own people noticed because they were not dismissive of her; they felt compelled to come and see this person the “outcast” had met.

What is interesting is what this woman left behind when she ran to the city: “the woman…left her waterpot.” (v. 28) That waterpot, that chore done at that time of day, and done all alone served as constant reminders of her burden of shame. After she met Jesus, she left that burden with him, and when she came into the city, her words and her manner proved her to be a new woman because she had been with Jesus!

Like the woman at the well, you might be walking through life with constant reminders of your past weighing you down. You think, “How can God love me when I have all this baggage?” He already knows you have baggage, and he loves you anyway! Like the woman at the well, leave that burden with Jesus and let that freedom transform you. Your past does not have to be your burden, it can become part of your conversion testimony. Let God use it that way to draw people to Himself just like the woman at the well.

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