Although the Bible is called the Word of God because every word in it comes from God, in many Bibles every word that Jesus spoke is written in red ink. The 4 gospels are full of red-letter words, and they appear elsewhere in smaller quantity.
There are several instances where the red words of Jesus are interspersed with black words spoken by one or more people. Among all the one-on-one conversations Jesus had, one is longer than any other.
- This conversation was with a woman.
- The woman’s name might have been Mary (in fact, her name was not given, but it could have been Mary). Side note: Whenever I think of Mary’s in the Bible, I always think of that poor woman at Jesus’ tomb in Matthew 27:61 who is called simply “the other Mary”. Maybe the woman at the well was the other Mary.
- She is probably just about the last person anyone living in that time would have imagined Jesus speaking with.
Something else you might notice about the Bible and every other book. The writing does not go clear to the edge of the page. There are white, blank spaces at the sides, top, and bottom of each page. Sometimes there might be footnotes, but even then, there will still be a blank space before the very edge of the page. There are spaces like this at the edges of this blog. These are called margins. You probably don’t even pay any attention to them, do you?
Margins are defined as being the edge or border of something, or the area outside the space where the action occurs. So, when a person is described as a marginalized individual he or she is someone on the outside looking in. This person lives in a place of loneliness. It can be a place of despair. It may be that no one even really notices the person.
The woman at the well, although clearly of at least average intelligence for a woman judging by the conversation she had with Jesus, was a marginalized person.
Was she born that way, destined to travel the road of life emotionally and spiritually alone?
I can see 3 possible reasons for her to live in the margins of life.
First, she was “the woman at the well”. So, yes, to some degree for that time in history she was marginalized simply due to her gender.
Second, she was a Samaritan, marginalized by her ethnicity. Again, born that way.
Lastly, she was living an immoral lifestyle.
Jesus was known for doing the opposite of what the religious leaders expected of Him. The Apostle John illustrates this fact through this account perhaps more clearly than any other.
Why was Jesus in Samaria?
It was the shortest route to his destination, and the reason John even mentions this becomes clear as we read further in the account.
Why was this such an odd thing? The Bible tells us Jews, particularly the religious Pharisees, tended to avoid going through Samaria at all.
To understand this, you have to go back nearly 1000 years. Although the trouble between the Israelite tribes started all the way back in the days of Jacob (Israel), it was after one of Solomon’s servants rebelled against David’s son that the northern kingdom broke away. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained, and if you read 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles, you will see that the southern kingdom was maybe slightly more faithful to God than the northern kingdom, and thus existed for a longer period of OT time. The capital of the southern kingdom was Jerusalem. The northern kingdom had 3 capitals, of which the last was Samaria, and its people came to be known as Samaritans.
The traditions and religious practices of both kingdoms were still in existence in Jesus’ earthly time.
Jesus was of the southern kingdom—the Samaritan woman (and other Samaritans mentioned in the NT) are from the northern.
If you think about it, analogies can be made between the interactions between the Jews & Samaritans and the racial tensions and religious wars taking place today.
Jesus and the woman at the well are 2 people who should be enemies but instead have a deep and lengthy conversation.
Why did Jesus stop at Jacob’s well, in particular?
He was tired.
Jesus was at this exact location at this exact time because it was a shortcut to his destination — and he was tired. Those are the logical explanations.
But faith and logic often are not the same thing. Sometimes . . . they are opposites.
What was the ultimate result of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman?
Verse 39 “Many of the Samaritans believed. . .”
The first of them was the woman at the well.
She had been married 5 times. Since women were not permitted to divorce, that means 5 different men had divorced her. The reason could have been as simple as the husband tired of her. That still happens today. Whatever the reason, she had been rejected 5 times. My guess is her self-esteem had to be about nil after all that. It’s little wonder she was not married to the man she was living with at the time!
She drew her water at noon, the hottest part of the day. Possibly she had once drawn her water at the same time as the other women, the more normal and comfortable hour. Maybe the other women had scorned her which led to her eventually going to the well at a time she would not be judged. Yet Jesus, a man, a Jew, and a completely sinless human being, deigned to speak to her without contempt.
They discussed the differences between the water in the well and the water Jesus had. Since the well was “Jacob’s Well”, and Jacob was considered the father of the northern kingdom, this was considered the best water available. Yet, Jesus said the living water he offered was superior. If she drank of it, she would never thirst again.
The woman wanted this living water. She didn’t want to keep going to Jacob’s well every day at the hottest hour of the day. Jesus told her to go and get her husband, even though he knew she didn’t have one.
The woman was honest, and Jesus spoke, knowing everything about her, stated the facts of her life he knew would capture her full ate attention; but. . . there is no indication he was condemning her for her lifestyle.
Then followed a discussion of the proper place to worship with Jesus stating there is no one place to worship, all that is required is the attitude with which it must be done, that being in Spirit and in Truth.
Lastly He revealed to the woman that He was the long-awaited Messiah.
All these things together kindled the fire of the woman’s faith in Jesus.
Then the disciples showed up. They were surprised not to see him talking to a Samaritan or one who practiced immoral behavior, but to see him talking with a woman.
This brings up something interesting I noted when researching this.
Nearly all the translations read that the disciples were surprised only because he was talking with a woman. However, The Message translation/paraphrase, a current favorite of many people, reads as follows: “27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.”
Most of the other translations say nothing other than “a woman”, and none say anything about the disciples’ countenances.
The Passion Translation/Paraphrase (one of my favorites) reads: “27 At that moment the disciples returned and were stunned to see Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman. Yet none of them dared to ask him why or what they were discussing.”
Again, the translator was taking some liberties. The “Samaritan” in front of woman is not too much of a stretch because they were, after all, in Samaria. But “dared to ask him”? Were the disciples really that afraid of Jesus?
Here are a couple other translations:
KJV: 27 And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?”
“27 Just then his disciples came back. kai epi houtos autos mathētēs erchomai.
They were astonished that he was talking with a woman ; ho · kaithaumazō hoti laleō meta gynē;
however, no one said to her, mentoi, oudeis legō,
“What do you want?” “tis zēteō?”
or to him, “Why are you talking with her ē, “tis laleō meta autos
This is why we Bible readers must be careful when using a contemporary version of the Bible. Although the creators of The Message and The Passion Translation were more than likely correct in their speculations, they are speculations because they are not found in the Greek text.
Whatever the case, as soon as the disciples showed up, the woman left so quickly she forgot her water jar. Or. . . Maybe she thought she would no longer need it? She had, after all, just drunk of the Living Water.
A couple chapters earlier, in John 2:23, we learn of the first Jewish believers who had been at the Passover. The woman at the well became then in chapter 4 the first non-Jewish evangelist of the Good News when she asked “Could this be the Messiah?” Could this have been aa rhetorical question, asked to whet the appetites of those already thirsty for the Living Water?
Meanwhile, back at the well the disciples were trying to get Jesus to eat something. He told them he had food to eat of which they knew nothing. The disciples, humans, were thinking with their human minds that someone had brought him something to eat. But Jesus responded His food was to do the will of His Father which was to harvest the crop for eternal life. This harvest started with the Samaritan woman and the scythe extended to everyone she came in contact with.
She was such an unlikely first evangelist!
Or was she?
1 Corinthians 1:27 tells us “But God chose those the world considers foolish to shame those who think they are wise; and God chose the puny and powerless to shame the high and mighty.” So, although it may have seemed like Jesus was at the well to take a shortcut and because He was tired, He was actually on a divine mission. It doesn’t sound like He ever even got a drink of the water from Jacob’s Well.
In fact, His true reason for being at the well is found in v.34 “to do the will of God”. Since Jesus is God, He’d already known since “the beginning” about the woman at the well and what her purpose was to be.
This gives me hope. I have no letters after my name; I have and am nothing to make me of high societal standing. The woman at the well was clearly a marginalized person of her time due to her gender, her race, and her lifestyle. I have often felt marginalized, and I suspect some of you have as well at one time or another. How wonderful to know that we are the people God can most easily use for His glory and to know we have each been given a place in His grand plan from “the beginning” (see Psalm 139:16).
I’ll end with this “This is the transcript of an ACTUAL radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95. (This is an apocryphyal story, but still useful for illustration.)
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT’S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
The Samaritan woman tried to argue with Jesus. When she realized that He was her lighthouse, she changed her course.
Ask yourself: Am I arguing with Jesus about the any of the circumstances of my life? When we drink His Living Water, and as long as we stay within His light, we can be sure that we are not off course.
Father, I pray for the weak and powerless ones, the marginalized, remembering that these are the ones it is easiest for you to use for your glory. Help them to learn of, accept, and internalize the true value You place upon them. The details of Your plans for our lives have been known by You since long before we ever drew a breath. Quench our thirst with your Living Water. And help us to look to our Compass, our Lighthouse for our direction when it’s too dark to see our feet in front of us. Be the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. Amen.