We call her "the woman at the well" – because we’re never told her name. And that’s fitting… because the well, the source of water, is what links the story together.
But, we do know something very important about this woman... We know she had a need. A very real, pressing need.
Part of that need… was thirst. We’ve all been thirsty. But, unlike us… she couldn’t just turn on the faucet – or reach for the “Callaway Blue” dispenser… she had a need to draw water from the well to quench her thirst and gain access to one of the foundational necessities of life. We all know that H2O is something we simply can’t live without.
But, the fact is... her need was much deeper than physical thirst. Because, even among the outcast (the “half-breed” Samaritans - who were looked down upon by the Jews) this woman was an outsider. She was an outcast among outcasts! She had a past; a reputation. Everyone knew it! It was no secret. She’d had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband.
So… she needed peace from the turmoil and chaos of emotions and relationships that she called “life.” She needed forgiveness and release of the shame that covered her life like a scarlet letter. She needed the love that she so desperately sought but failed to find at least five times. She needed someone she could trust and believe in. She needed a Savior… a healer… a comforter.
The woman at the well needed a lot of things… but it was her basic need for plain ole’ everyday water, that brought her to the well… and a providential encounter with Jesus.
It was the middle of the day and the sun was hot. Women usually didn't come to the well in the heat of the day. They usually came in the early morning or in the evenings. Carrying a large jar of water may have been women's work... but it was hard work... physically demanding work. It was much easier to do that work in the cool of the day.
Some have suggested that the woman came to draw water in the middle of the day to avoid the crowds that were at the well in the evenings and mornings. She wanted to avoid all the looks, the glares, the whispers of condescending judgement behind her back. She wanted to avoid the experience of being shunned by the more "respectable" women of the village. It was bad enough being a Samaritan, but to be shunned by them was worse.
So there she was… needy and longing… and there was Jesus.
Jesus reached out to her in her loneliness by asking for a simple drink of water... he broke the ice... he initiated the conversation. And she was shocked!
It was “taboo” for men to speak to unknown women in public... and by simply speaking to this woman, Jesus had broken with custom and tradition. And she, being an unclean Samaritan woman made the shock even more pronounced. But it did stop him! He reached across an invisible barrier (that was none-the-less real) to touch the woman. He reached across the barrier of racial prejudice. He reached across the barrier of sexism. He reached across the barrier of shame and guilt. He reached across the barrier between clean and unclean... acceptable and unacceptable… simply by asking for a drink of water.
Her response proved her surprise: "How is it that you, a Jew, speak to me, a Samaritan and a woman." Jesus replied, "If only you knew of God's grace and who I am, you would ask me for living water." Which was slightly humorous because Jesus had no rope or bucket… how could he possibly give her something to drink!?
And that’s when Jesus deepened the discussion. "Everyone who drinks [plain ole’] water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give will have a never-ending spring of water, that wells up into eternal life."
This made the woman more curious, but she still failed to catch the significance of what Jesus was saying. So… she said, "Give me this water. Then I won't get thirsty and have to come draw water every day."
Now Jesus had a chance to touch that part of her that hurt and heal it. "Go get you husband and bring him here." She probably winced at that request, "I have no husband."
Jesus had touched her pain and now had a chance to offer healing. "You're right. You’ve had relationships times six!"
Can you imagine? Someone you’ve never met before moving the conversation to that level? “Well how in the world did this Jew know that? How does he know me? And since he knows all that… why is he even talking to me?” “He must be a prophet of some sort!” So, she asked a religious question: "Should we worship in the hills like the Samaritans or in Jerusalem like the Jews?" Are we right, or are y’all right?
Jesus replied, "That’s not the real issue. The time is coming, and has already arrived, when real believers will worship anywhere… because they’ll worship in Spirit and in Truth."
"I know," the woman said, "that the Messiah is coming and when he arrives he will teach us much we do not know. Maybe he can explain these things." Then Jesus replied, "You’re looking at him… I’m the one. I’m the one you’ve been looking for…”
What are you and I looking for? Are you thirsty? Is there a dryness anywhere in your life? Is there a part of your heart that has been scorched by hatred? Is there a part of your soul that you have failed to water and like a neglected house plant is brown and wilting? Is there a need in your life for love, forgiveness, and acceptance? Do you ever thirst for something deeper and more meaningful in life?
Come to the well. Jesus is already there. Jesus already knows those places in our lives that cause us pain, discomfort… He sees our hearts… and knows our greatest, deepest needs. He will give you living water. Water that brings new life to all the areas that are dead and dry. Once we’ve tasted of that water we will truly never thirst again.