December 8, 2006


So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food). The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?"

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

The weather here never ceases to amaze me. One day it can be a balmy, comfortable 70F out, overnight it drops to 50F, and then jacks itself all the way up to 100F for the next day. That's today, and meteorologists warn that it's going to be one of the worst weekends in recorded history for bush fires.

In case you're not aware, most of the south east coast of Australia has been in a drought for the past seven years. Water levels in the reservoirs are dropping steadily, and restrictions have been placed on the sort of water consumption that consumers are allowed. Nobody's allowed to wash their cars with city water; they have to collect it from rain water (what little we get) in big tanks, or put buckets in the shower and collect the excess. And that's just the beginning.

It's been strange for me, being an American in such a climate. Water never felt like much of a precious commodity at all; upstate New York is literally surrounded by the stuff. We have two great lakes, numerous finger lakes, and many streams, rivers, canals, and ponds just for good measure. Often enough, our basements flood during heavy spring or autumn rains, and our rooves get burdened with heavy snow drifts in winter. We take water for granted, or at the very least, curse its name for the many inconveniences it poses as it falls upon us from above.

It's not like that here. Commercials on TV beg us to use less water, to be mindful of taking three-minute showers instead of the average seven-minute showers. I'm lucky if I can get our shower to a comfortable temperature in three minutes, let alone CLEAN myself. The drought has affected the local climate something fierce; today we walked outside to be greeted by fog that smelled suspiciously like burning leaves, a good indication that there are bush fires somewhere to the northwest.

To talk about the water of life takes on new meaning in a country bereft of usable drinking water. Water becomes precious, life-giving; something to appreciate instead of something taken for granted.


Anonymous said...

This story makes no sense to me.
Jesus is thirsty. Asks woman for water. She says my kind can't serve your kind.

Ok, here would be the time to have a lesson about bigotry, or sharing, or working together or a dozen other issues.

Instead, Jesus launches into circumspect comments about "living water" and leaves the woman with the impression she will never have to come to the well again to get some real H2O. Why? He asked HER for water. She was there to draw her own water for her daily needs.
If "spiritual water" satisfies all needs, including physical thirst, why was Jesus thirsty in the first place?
How is this story meaningful for the billions of people on earth who must travel great distances for water or die, not to mention those of us who can take 7 minute showers? I get the metaphor for spiritual thirst, I just don't get the relationship to the physical need for real water and why she would never have to come to the real well again. The whole interchange is a non-sequitur.

Chris said...

A good question. I didn't reference the entire exchange between Jesus and the woman in the post, mostly because it's so long, but I did link to it (might give you some context). Anybody else have any thoughts before I give my two cents?

Chris said...

Ok, apparently nobody else has an opinion.

Here's my take on it. The clues are in the full text, if you go back and read verses 1-40 instead of the little snippet I posted.

First off, Jews and Samaritins were not allowed to interact because of Jewish law. Samaratins were considered "unclean" by the Rabbis and therefore to be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, women were considered to be little more than servants, also to be avoided, and certainly not to be asked favors of by strange men. Jesus is breaking every social taboo here to talk to a woman who he sees needs his help.

Just after his comments on Living water, Jesus asks the woman to go get her husband, knowing that in fact, she's been married a number of times and is currently living with a guy she's not married to. He's looking into her soul, seeing it drying up and deserted, and like the water in the well, sees that she needs a spiritual water, a living water that only He (as God) can offer, a living water that will never dry up. When the woman realizes who she's talking to, realizes what he's talking about (and it takes a minute) she runs back and gets the entire village to come out and see who she's met.

The passage isn't meant to say "God will take care of all your problems," rather, it's meant to offer hope to quench a spiritual thirst. Jesus offers the promise that despite the outward situation, one's soul can always be satisfied. The woman would've gotten the water just fine from the well - Jesus was addressing her needs, not her wants.

This doesn't mean that God is unconcerned with the many dry countries in the world who need water, nor does it mean that we as his hands and feet on earth shouldn't do something about it; it's addressing a different issue altogether. The woman didn't need water; a bit of effort and she could get that, despite her social situation. Jesus was addressing her true needs - her social and spiritual poverty.

The woman was mistaken when she assumed that by "living water" he was talking about a literal well or spring. However, imagine what happens if the entire community began to behave as Jesus did, talking with the woman, interacting, treating each other as human beings instead of objects - people begin to serve one another, needs (both physical and social) are met. The woman would have an easier time getting water from the well because the villagers would cooperate with one another; if she needed help, it would be offered. It doesn't make everything free, work still has to be done, but it offers hope and relationship.

A. Annie said...

At the start of the conversation, the woman didn't ask Jesus for anything. He asked her for water.

As for needs and wants, she DID need water. She was there at the well to get it.

Why didn't Jesus correct her when she obviously thought the "living water" would quench her physical need for water?
"Sir give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

Why doesn't Jesus just say what he means instead of muddying the waters, so to speak? I have read several commentaries on this passage and none of them address this. "She was mistaken." rings hollow to me. I think there is no answer. It's just an incompletely told story.

Chris said...

Good points. You're right, it seems like a sort of non-answer to me too, in a way. I tend to approach the situation more that both Jesus and the gospel's author had a point to make, and so it's not in there just because it happened. So I did some digging around, and here's what I discovered.

The author of John was primarily concerned with making known the connection between the mission of the church and the mission of God. So this passage may be pointed in that direction more than the direction of the rather obscure "living water" metaphor that we tend to latch on to. The mission of the church is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). By disciples, think "seekers of God and seekers of truth", not the usual "brainless no-questions-asked republican-puppet" stereotype that are found in abundance in America. God asks us, as his disciples and followers, to follow the example of Jesus and be servants. But place yourself in first/second century palestine. The Jews were still stuck in Jerusalem, after Jesus had told them "go make disciples of ALL nations" ... there were TONS of prejudices left over from the Jewish worldview, even though the Jews were now in Diaspora (exile), most notably towards women and towards non-Jews (samaritans, gentiles, etc). So to read this passage is to see Jesus offer something very, very precious to somebody that, to a Jew, doesn't deserve it in any way. Jesus is offering the lowest of the low the water of life, and even seems to think that she should know who he is. This is hard for a Jew during that time to hear - they wouldn't want non-Jews to become Christians, there was still this "only-Jews-are-the-chosen-people-of-God" mentality floating around. So maybe it's more about making that point.

You mentioned that Jesus asked HER for water. I'd wager that, being the son of God, he knew that in order to offer the woman what she needed (yes, ordinary water too, but maybe it wasn't as important?) and had make the first move. Not only would it show his acceptance of the outcast (a woman samaritan who was living with a man who wasn't her husband was the worst of the worst), but it would also give her a chance to talk to him - she wouldn't have EVER made the first move, not in that culture.

Even verse 21 seems to be a good indicator of this too - John is showing Jesus telling his audience that Jerusalem no longer matters as a "holy city" but that the whole world is now God's chosen people.

I dunno, I still don't understand the whole passage, and it's unlikely that I ever will, but that seems compelling stuff to me. I keep trying to place myself in the shoes of the original readers of this passage, and all I can come up with is astonishment that Jesus would even THINK about speaking to the woman, much less turn the conversation to something that it doesn't seem that she really cares about.

It just seems to me that through the whole 40 verses, Jesus keeps trying to tell them that, while it's nice to have food and drink, spiritual food and drink is just as, or even more important. It's not just water he talks about, it's also spiritual food (v 32-34); the disciples get all confused and he starts talking about a spiritual harvest that they will reap after they become the apostles.

Sorry, I know, crazy long answer, but I kept finding more as I re-read the passage and wanted to get it all out.

shawna said...

Well, people have studied the bible for hundreds of years and they are still finding new stuff. its like that metephor of the onion -- the deeper you dig the more layers you find. I would say Jesus was making point and he knew she wouldn't get it at first (how many of us do). An interesting study to do is on the questions Jesus asks people in the bible. I think you could pretty much guarantee that any time Jesus asks a question he already knows what the answer will be...the reason he asks a questions is for the person giving the answer (does that make sense). And by the end of the passage the samaritan woman is going off and telling everyone in the town about Jesus -- so while she missed the point at first, she got there in the end. Anne, never stop digging...the bible says seek and you will find. If you want to understand more of the bible, you're going to have to look for it, ask God for wisdom (in James it says if you ask for wisdom God will give it to don't be afraid to ask)

Chris said...

Good points, Shawna. I also remember something about Jesus' parables, how he mentioned that he spoke them to mask his meaning. It seems like an odd thing to do, but I heard that it helped weed out the people who didn't care. Like, the people who wanted to understand what he was saying were the ones who later came and asked him what he was talking about. So you get a parable, then he goes away, and the people who want to understand are the people that ask him about it. Perhaps a similar motivation is in play here?

I found an article that's an interesting read here. I know that this Samaritan Woman's story isn't a parable, but it at least brings into question Jesus' character and the reasons that he did one thing and not another.

A. Annie said...

Julia Sweeney has been doing an autobiographical one-woman show around the country. She talks about her exploration of faith (a journey of many years) There are many things she is frustrated by in the Bible. One of them is how Jesus speaks in parables. At one point, He even yells at the followers "Have you no understanding? If you do not understand this parable, how will you understand any of the parables?" Sweeney, in her show, reacts to this by saying. "---Well, then don't speak in parables!! -- Not even your staff gets it!" I think she has a point.

shawna said...

He speaks in parables to fullfil prophecy which it says in the previous verse -- probably for other reasons as well, but thats the reason he specifies in those verses. But from what I can tell (I just had a quick look at it) I think Jesus is frustrated because he has taught his deciples and they are being a bit thick headed..."The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you" it says and yet they still don't get it. In fact Jesus says to them later on "I'm going to die" and they say to each other "I wonder what he means by that?". And as a final note - considering the fact that God is trying to talk about himself and his plans with human language that we can understand, there will always be things we will never understand (or at least not till we're sitting before God), and other things that only make sense once you've studied the bible for about 50 years...