This is the eighth message in a series on the encounter of Jesus with a Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well recorded in John 4.
- The woman said to him, “Sir you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and flocks drank from it?” (Jn 4:12)
The woman is looking at a tired, dusty Jewish rabbi sitting beside the community well. He has just told her the oddest thing, if she had only asked him he would have given her a drink of living water.
Her eyes flicker over his face. Who really talks like this? She thinks she’s heard every line there is. Is he flirting?
She sees nothing in his eyes except kindness. That’s a surprise. She used to expect a lot from men and now not so much. But kindness?
A man who would be kind to her is either a fool or a con man. A Jewish man who would talk to a strange, foreign woman at a public place in broad daylight can’t be up to anything decent. Besides, he has no bucket with him to back up his offer of a drink, a sign that he’s all talk.
“I’ll play it straight and smoke out his intentions,” she calculates.
“Sir, you don’t have a bucket. The well is deep. Where do you think you’ll get that living water you’re talking about? Do you know more than our ancestor Jacob who dug this well and drank from it along with his sons and his sheep and cattle?”
She thinks the history lesson is a neat twist.
There was a time when she thought she would meet the right man and there would be magic. Eyes would lock across a room and she would know that here was the soul mate who would share all the love she had welling up inside her. She’d caught looks all right and she’d heard words that made her think this was it, but there was only taking, and no sharing. She’s tried again and again and always the story has the same ending.
Her feelings have long since been folded and put away. Her existence is pretty much reduced to the semblance of affection that comes her way from the man she’s living with back in town and whatever she can dip out of a country well in the silence of a desert noon. She is so alone. She hasn’t thought of it that way yet, but later she will remember that’s exactly the way it was.
Impracticality and history are two big bumps in the road on our way to Jesus. His invitation confronts the facts of our existence in a world confined to the limitations of flesh without grace. How can he possibly fulfill his promises to us in the complex and difficult circumstances of our lives?
Even if we are attracted to Jesus, we condition his offer to slake our thirst with pride and fear. “When I can earn enough to buy a bucket and a rope, then I’ll take up your invitation to buy the living water.”
“When I’ve finished my degree, I can rest with you, Lord.”
“When I’ve got a job. . . .”
“When I’m married . . . .”
“When I’ve raised my family. . . .”
“When I get through this situation. . . .”
“When I’ve regained my strength and my purpose. . . .”
“When I’ve dug myself out of debt . . . .”
“When my retirement is secure. . . .”
Our “when” never turns out to be his “now.” It’s just not practical for us. We think we don’t have what we need to receive what he is offering us–conditions just aren’t right for us.
His invitation is never conditioned on place. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).
His call is never conditioned on responsibilities. “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60).
Our following him is never conditioned on our human relationships. “No one who puts the hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).
His purpose for us is never conditioned on us having the right equipment. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. . . .” (Lk 10:4).
Our work for him is where we are, not where we want to be. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Lk 10:7-9).
All of these things–home, responsibilities, relationships, equipment, opportunity–are gifts to be received with gratitude, cherished and enjoyed. When we elevate them above the Giver, the gifts are idols. Our idols can be the very best things that we have or aspire to have. Idols may demand everything from us, but, unlike the true God, they give nothing to us. They are graceless, “counterfeit gods.”
Jesus’ promise of living water does not require that we have a bucket or even a cup to accept. It is the gift of God. He is the drink and he is the cup. This is why the Apostle Paul could pray, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).
We still may wonder, “Can this be true? Will God bless me in spite of my inadequacy?” He never blesses us in spite of anything. He blesses us because of our inadequacy. We need his mercy and his grace. He is unstinting in lavishing the riches of his grace on those who believe that we need his redemption and ask his forgiveness for our sins (Eph 1:5-13).
Even if we do get the gospel of Jesus Christ into our heads, it still struggles for supremacy in our hearts over the pride and shame of our past. The woman asks Jesus, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”
Jacob dug the well on the first piece of real estate he bought after he returned to Canaan and settled things with his brother Esau. He bought the property from Hamor the Hivite, the local sheikh (Gen. 33:19). The day they sealed the deal may have been the last really good day at Sychar until Jesus showed up at the well.
Shechem, Hamor’s son, waylaid and forced himself on Jacob’s daughter Dinah while she was visiting the neighbor women. Shechem, the lout, thought of his abuse as courtship. Hamor himself made the approach to Jacob for Dinah’s hand in marriage. He and Schechem said it would be a good deal for all concerned uniting their families in trade and benefit.
Jacob and his sons knew it was rape, pure and simple. Dinah was now unfit for decent marriage. The family was disgraced.
Her brothers wanted revenge for their sister’s dishonor, but they were new in the land and would have to wait for strength or else move in trickery.
The brothers told Shechem and his brothers that they couldn’t consent to marriage unless the males in Hamor’s household were circumcised. Shechem, anxious to gain Dinah and the favor of her wealthy family, agreed. As the Hivite males lay down in recovery from the painful procedure, Dinah’s brothers broke in and killed them all. This set off a blood feud that deepened as Esau and his descendants intermarried with the Hivites.
This world is imperfect in every circumstance. The well’s history is mixed with promise and betrayal, blessing and depravity, refreshment and pain. The Samaritan woman knows this. Her own past clouds her heart like a leaden fog. Can Jesus overcome that history? That is the question for any of us, isn’t it? And we need to ask him.
“How great are you, Jesus? Can you really do the impossible, the impractical, and make a difference in my life?” That’s in essence what the woman is asking him and I find this very encouraging.
Without the questions, there is no possibility of faith. “Faith” is famously defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Those who don’t hope for more than they are experiencing and who do not believe that there is a future and a deeper truth than they can see, are spiritually dead.
Questions are a sign of spiritual life. People who stop asking questions are people without the Spirit of God alive and growing in them, “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:10-11).
“Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. . . . ,” Jesus says. “Ask . . . search . . . knock. . . For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door is opened” (Mt 6:33; 7:7-8).
Jesus loves a seeking, questioning heart and stirs it to hunger and thirst for righteousness so it can be filled (Mt 5:6). He told the woman to ask for a drink of living water. Her curiosity is awakened, her spiritual thirst is salted. She’s starting to ask him questions about who he is and what he can do.
What are you asking Jesus?
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him”
Under the mercy of Christ,