What We Can Learn From The Woman At The Well


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Jesus is fascinating… I mean you probably expect something like that coming from a pastor. But seriously, the way he moved through the world and interacted with people was so different than anyone before him. One of my favorite stories of Jesus doing this is with the woman at the well. 

A familiar story to anyone who grew up in the church, it is often just glanced over. We know it so we often just skim it and don’t look very deep into what is happening. But what Jesus does in this interaction is groundbreaking. 

If you haven’t read the story or want a refresher before we continue you can read the story here: The Woman At The Well

He HAD To Go 

This story starts with what seems like a standard transitional phrase that continues the story… 

“He left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.” John 4:3-4 

At first glance, this seems like a pretty straightforward transition. And geographically it adds up. The most direct route from Judea to Galilee pasted straight through Samaria. 

But the route most commonly traveled by Jews in Jesus’ day was not the most direct one. Jews hated, I mean hated, the Samaritans. So they would go out of their way to avoid coming into contact with them. 

So this statement, “Jesus had to go through Samaria” would have come as a shock to most Jews. And it should raise questions for us… Why did Jesus have to go that way? It wasn’t the most common travel route for Jews and it wasn’t in a rush. There’s something bigger going on. 

Jesus had a divine appointment. 

Breaking Cultural Norms

So Jesus shows up in Samaria, Sychar to be exact, for his divine appointment. It’s the middle of the day… It’s hot. Like really hot. So Jesus searches for something to drink. Kinda. Really he’s after something, or someone, else. 

Jesus shows up at the well (John 4:6-7) and there’s a woman there. Again this detail might not seem significant. But these two verses say a whole lot without saying it directly. 

In the ancient world (and in many places around the world today) you had to make a daily trip to the local well to get your daily water. Traditionally this was the women’s responsibility and they would do it first thing in the morning. Which was especially true in hot climates.

There was also a social side to this otherwise mundane task. It was the water cooler of the 1st Century. All the women would grab their water jugs and head together to the well together. It was a time to connect and talk about what was happening. 

That’s important because this woman is not part of that. She’s at the well midday. When it’s hottest and no one else is there. We should be asking why? 

Later in the story, we find out why. Her life’s a mess and her shame is keeping her away from the community. Maybe she just couldn’t take the snide comments anymore or maybe she was shunned. Regardless, no one wants anything to do with her because of her brokenness.  

Except Jesus. He breaks the cultural barriers and goes straight to her. Really he’s not interested in getting water for himself, his interested in giving her something. 

Offers Something Better

In John 4:7-26 this interaction unfolds. Jesus asks for water. Confused she counters. And then Jesus launches into what He is really after. He offers her a better way of life. 

Still using the illustration of water (John 4:13-14) Jesus offers her water that will quench her thirst so she will never be thirsty again. But she doesn’t get it. (John 4:15) In her mind, she’s thinking she will no longer have to make trips to this well thus avoiding the glares of the other women. But what Jesus is offering is something different. Something better. 

What Jesus is really offering her isn’t physical water. Rather it’s a better way to live. The text only hints at the life she had, but it would seem she’s searching. She’s searching for something that will fill a void in her life. She’s tried other things, but it’s only left her empty continually going back to the same well hoping for different results. 

Jesus is offering her an entirely different well. He’s saying, look you can get trudging back to this same well, but you are going to get the same results. But if you pull your water from my well you will be satisfied. Jesus isn’t talking about literal water. Rather about her worth, her identity, her value, and her purpose. He’s telling her if you get those things from me, you won’t need to hide in shame anymore. You will be enough, you will be sacrificed. 

Grace Was Felt Before Truth Was Heard

John 4:16-18 is kind of a cringe moment. The conversation is progressing well and then Jesus says something abrupt and kinda offensive. Knowing full well she’s been married 5 times and is currently seeing a guy she isn’t married to, Jesus tells her to go get her husband. 

Jesus is pointing out a painful part of her life where things aren’t going so well. We don’t know the circumstances, but 5 marriages point to it not being great. And Jesus goes right to her sore spot. Not to be mean. Back to the other point, to show her there’s a better way of living. 

This is important. Jesus never shies away from telling the truth. But he always makes sure his grace is felt. Real truth doesn’t condemn, it sets us free. Jesus doesn’t point His finger to make her feel bad. He’s pointing out the error in her ways so she can live in freedom. And let’s not forget he’s already given her grace for her past failures. He’s offering her something better with grace AND truth. 

The result? Her life is changed. But not just her life. A couple of chapters later we find out that she went and told her whole village about Jesus. Their lives are changed too. With a little grace and a little truth, a whole village was changed. 

What It Means For Us

Maybe the biggest takeaway from the story of the woman at the well for us is to act as Jesus did. We shouldn’t shy away from the truth and we shouldn’t be stingy with our grace. We often lean towards grace OR truth. But Jesus was full of both. 

That’s a challenge I know. Our culture lives in the extreme. We either bash people with truth. Misunderstanding that you can be right in your belief but wrong in how you carry it out. Or we excuse everything in the name of grace. Not understanding that true love requires us to tell the truth. 

We need to tell people the truth about their actions. But we need to tell them in grace that sets them free and not holds them down in shame. We need to be full of grace and truth. 

How you experience someone treating with only grace or only truth? 

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Jeffery Curtis Poor
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