Most of what I am about to tell you I did not see. So consider me more a historian than an eyewitness. I did speak to those two people involved, and so I think I have the story straight.
A certain faction in the capital objected to what the Teacher was doing. They heard that the Teacher was immersing more people than John, and were afraid. (Actually, those of us who accompanied him did most of the witnessing of the immersions, but since they were by his authority we are willing to give him the credit.) It was getting dangerous for the Teacher to stay in the capital, and when it got dangerous for the Teacher it got dangerous for those of us who accompanied him. We decided to go north, to the Teacher’s home.
Usually when someone comes south from Caesarea they cross the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee and then recross it near Jericho. That way they avoid Samaria. The people of the capital frown on anyone entering the city after being in Samaria. It is one of those racial quirks. Since the Samaritans are generally people who could not prove a pure Israelite lineage after the Captivity, they are considered to be less pure than those who brought their genealogical proof backJacob’s Well may or may not actually have had anything to do with the person whose name it bears. with them. Some Samaritans even take pride in their mixed ancestry. They can trace their lineage back to the first people planted by the Assyrians after the conquest of the Northern Tribes. It seems, though, that people have fewer qualms about going through Samaria when leaving Jerusalem. It is, after all, the quickest route to the north. I am not sure the Teacher ever had any real objection either way. It is this incident that makes me say that.
Anyone who travels from the capital to Galilee through Samaria will most likely stop at or near Shechem, sometimes called Sychar. After all, this place holds significance in the history of Israel. Jacob bought a piece of land here, and set up an altar upon it. It was there that Dinah was raped, and Simeon and Levi fell out of favor with Jacob for their defense of her. There Joseph was buried after the exodus. There the Israelites were to set up whitewashed stones on which would be written the Law. The tribes were to divide themselves between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim and shout blessings and curses at each other. Joshua made the city his base of operations. It was one of the Cities of Refuge to which one who accidentally killed a person could flee for safety. And it was at Shechem that the division of the kingdom occurred as Rehoboam went there to be crowned. As tourist spots go, Sychar was high on the list. Besides, it was the largest city in Samaria at which to replenish our food supplies.
Before we went into the city to buy food, the Teacher decided to stop at Jacob’s Well. Not being big on tourism, we left him there as we went to market. Jacob’s Well, like many tourist traps, may or may not actually have had anything to do with the person whose name it bears. Nevertheless, it is an interesting site. Technically, I’m not even sure it should be called a well. It is truly a deep shaft, like a well. And you can get water from it. Depending on the season and the year you may have to lower the bucket anywhere from 80 to 200 cubits to get water. Unlike many wells or cisterns, however, Jacob’s Well is an opening to an underground stream. It is not stagnant; rather it is living water. In spite of its depth, it is still a working well. Some people from Sychar still come here to draw their water.
After we went into town, one woman came to do just that. Because of the depth of the well, and the difficulty of drawing water, crowds usually came to draw at once. But it was now the heat of the day, and not the normal time for drawing water. This woman came alone at midday to draw water. Since it was obvious she wanted to be alone, she seemed taken aback by seeing a man sitting by the well. She had seen nothing yet.
Despite the area immediately around the well being well-watered (in more than one sense), it was hot. The Teacher was tired from walking. He asked the woman for some water. A simple request. Yet it was one having grave political and social implications.
“You ask me for water?” she asked. “Since when do Jews talk to Samaritans, especially Samaritan women, even to order us around?”
The Teacher was never one to engage in political arguments. That did not mean, though, that he shied away from religious ones.
“If you knew God’s gifts and who I was, you would actually ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“Ah, a comedian. You don’t have a bucket. Are you going to dive in and bring up some of that living water? Or are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, that you will just speak the word and the water will rise up to you?”
The Teacher responded that the water from this well only quenched thirst temporarily. His water was quenched thirst permanently. This intrigued the woman. A source of water that she could access from inside her house! She would never have to go to the well again. Who could even conceive of such an idea? She wanted some of that.
In response, the Teacher made a seemingly unrelated request. He asked her to bring her husband. She replied that she had none.
When I talked to her later, I was too embarrassed to ask about her husbands. It seems that she had been married five times. I chose not to ask how many of those marriages had ended in the death of her spouse. Perhaps some had; perhaps all had. Somehow, the Teacher knew this. He told her he knew that she had married five husbands, and further that the man she was living with was not her husband. So maybe some of those marriages had ended in divorce.
I don’t know exactly how the Teacher sounded when he told her about her husbands. Apparently he did not come across as judgemental or accusatory. Nevertheless, she thought it a good time to change topics.
Ever since Jereboam’s reign, the Samaritans worshipped God at Mounts Gerazim and Ebal, just as Moses had said. When the Assyrians planted strangers there, they learned from the inhabitants. One of the problems Jews have with Samaritans is the temple to God on Mt. Gerazim. This appeared to be a quick way to take this man’s attention off of her. So the woman asked about this discrepancy. If it was good enough for Moses, why did the Jews from the capital claim that their temple was the only true place of worship?
“Actually, there is no reason for argument,” the Teacher replied. “Soon people will worship in neither place, specifically. You aren’t sure what you believe, but the Messiah will be a Jew. And when he comes God will look for people who worship in their spirits, not in manmade halls. As a spiritual being, God wants spiritual worship. He is not limited to either temple.”
She replied, “Even we Samaritans know that Messiah is coming. When he comes he will clear all of this up.”
The woman at the well was the one person to whom the Teacher made what may be the most significant statement of his life. He made us figure out for ourselves that he was Messiah. He told this woman flat out that this was the case.
It is hard to say how she reacted to this statement when he made it. That is because we walked up at that time and interrupted his conversation. Although we didn’t question him about talking to a woman, his lunchtime companion chose to leave this large company of men and go into the village.
Now that we were a large number, it seemed she wanted some reinforcements. She told some men in the city that there was a man at the well who had told her all about her own life, even though she had never seen him before. Naturally they followed her out to the well to see this marvel.
While the woman was gone we urged the Teacher to eat. He said he was not hungry; he had refreshed himself while we were gone. Some of us wondered, “Did that woman give him food? Did somebody else come out and feed him? And he knew that we were going to get food.”
“I have a kind of food that you know nothing about,” he stated. In his own style of teaching deep spiritual messages that we did not understand right away, he told us to look for the harvest because it was ripe. We were to be sent to harvest fields that we did not sow. This was his kind of food. He had harvested a soul. We would learn about this kind of food. But that was to come later.
Soon a delegation from the town came out to the well, with the woman at their head. This may have been the first timeAs a spiritual being, God wants spiritual worship. He is not limited to either temple. she had respectability rather than notoriety. In subsequent days I even heard people speak of her with respect, saying that they believed the Teacher was the Messiah simply because this woman had told her story.
This crowd of men invited us to stay in town. We expected the Teacher to go onward, because we were still too close to the capital. Instead, he accepted their invitation, and stayed for two days. Why not? Here was an audience eager to hear what he had to say. He never turned away an audience.
Some of the Jews are less than complimentary about the Samaritans. I will say this, though. These men knew the prophecies. They knew all about Messiah. After two days of discussions with the Teacher, many told the woman that they didn’t need her testimony any more. They had met Messiah himself. Too bad more people did not acknowledge him as the savior of the world.
(Based on John 4:1-42)