By Sigrid Fowler
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It’s noon, he’s thirsty. Jesus has asked this woman of Sychar, a town in Samaria, for a drink. What, she thinks and turns the astonishment writing question marks all over her face into a demand for explanations. Her reply is more than abrupt; it’s curt and testy.
“Sir! You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?”
She knows the history of the well—that it was Jacob’s, that he drank from it and watered his herds. His sons drank from it. She seems to be thinking, Don’t you be pouring your Jewish scorn all over our well, as if you were somebody!
“Are you greater than our father Jacob?” she says, still ignoring his request for water, still caught up in what is beginning to look like outrage.
This Samaritan woman feels she has good reason to get in his face. Maybe she’s annoyed that there’s someone beside her at the well this noon. Usually she’s alone, and that’s just the way she wants it. To top off all that, this man is breaking every custom by starting up a conversation. He’s clearly a Jew. Everyone knows they don’t talk to Samaritans! A thirsty man from here would just take my water, she tells herself. But this Jew seems . . . trying to be polite? What’s he after? Is this some sort of trap?
Now this! He’s started talking about “living water”! He doesn’t just mean flowing water from a spring or spring-fed well. No, it’s something else. He wants to give me some other kind of living water? Is this some sort of Jewish joke? What’s going on?
I am imagining the scene, of course. John hasn’t interviewed this woman, 21st century-style, and we really don’t know what she’s thinking. I’m reading her words as they sound to me. She sounds more than surprised, evenoffended, and she’s not settling into formalities. Jesus has already dispensed with those. She’s entered the back and forth with all she’s got, and she means to have an explanation. It’s hot and she’s busy. No time for nonsense. But Jesus doesn’t explain himself. He just adds more perplexing stuff to the odd things he’s already said about water.
He tells her: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but it shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
I’ve noticed this about Jesus’s difficult teaching. Sometimes when explanations are demanded, he just makes things more difficult. Read John 6. What he tells his questioners gets more and more offensive. It’s so bad, many of his followers leave (John 6: 60-61), and he later says to his disciples, “You don’t want to go away also, do you?” (John 6: 67). I’m convinced that he doesn’t want to send people away, but the truth is the truth. If the Father says to put it out there, it will be said! At this point, Isaiah’s prophecy comes to mind. God replies when Isaiah accepts the prophetic mission, saying: “Go and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and repent and be healed” (Isa 6: 9-10).
Repentance isn’t easy. We don’t just work it up. It takestoo much plain-sight self-evaluation, too much humility—in fact, a desperate realization of what sin is and the same degree of need to be saved from it. This is the Spirit’s work. Jesus said, “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16: 8).
This moment, this intense back and forth between the woman of Sychar and Jesus has the earmarks, in my view, of deep, spiritual knowledge and the deep love of Jesus, as well. He is the Son of Man but also eternally God the Son, and here he seems supernaturally aware that this woman isn’t happy with her (questionable) life. She wants more. Jesus is offering so much more than more. He knows she’s spiritually restless, ready for change. If she accepts, her thirst will be quenched. For now, she’s listening, and the conversation continues.