The Woman at the Well

Written By Susan Hanson

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”—John 4: 5-7

“I just want to go home,” my friend said, sounding every bit as tired as he looked. He had been out on the road for weeks promoting his first book, and while the tour had been a good one, he was spent. One day in California, the next in Texas, some days who knows where—each place seemed like the rest, he said. He missed his wife. He wanted to see his kids.

I suspect that like my friend, Jesus was frequently weary. In the story generally known as “The Woman at the Well,” he has just come out of the Judean wilderness, where he has been preaching and baptizing. Prior to that, he had been in Jerusalem—cleansing the temple, responding to challenges from the Jews, holding intense conversations with people such as Nicodemus. It had to be draining.

So here he is in Samaria at mid-day, resting while his disciples go off to fetch some food. As we know from other stories in the Gospels, to identify someone as a Samaritan was to label that person as marginal, at least in the eyes of the Jews. And yet Jesus not only acknowledges the woman’s presence by asking for a drink of water, but he also engages her in a dialogue about her life. 

More than a little surprised, she asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” How is it that this Jewish man speaks to a woman at all? And how is it that Jesus becomes involved with this woman, whose moral status in the community is so questionable that she must draw water at mid-day, when no one else is around?

Master of the double-edged question, Jesus cleverly moves the conversation from a literal level to a more metaphorical one. The “water” in question, of course, is not simply that liquid one needs to quench a physical thirst; it is also the “water” that hydrates the dusty soul, that brings life to that which is dead.

Tired as he is, why does Jesus bother to speak to the Samaritan woman? Why is it this person and not someone else who that day learns of his offer of “living water”? Consistently drawn to the margins, Jesus once again shows his compassion for and identification with those people who know their own need; he can appreciate this woman’s thirst because he has felt it himself. 

And for her part, the Samaritan woman illustrates a kind of vulnerability that demands nothing of Jesus, but accepts the life-giving power he brings.

O God, may I always be thirsty for you, and may you fill my cup with living water again and forever more.