John 4:5-26 The Encounter at Jacob’s Well

Earthquakes are terrifying. Without warning, the ground shifts and rolls. Buildings crack and collapse. In a few brief moments, life changes for those near the epicenter. Where I live, earthquakes are extremely rare, although we do feel a tremor about once a decade. But earthquakes change things and change people. For those days, weeks, and months following a disaster, people are different. Attitudes, motivations, and willingness to help all change. Our next event with Jesus in John’s Gospel is an earthquake.

It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at Jacob’s Well. That conversation is recorded in John 4:5-26. Jesus was traveling with his disciples from a feast in Jerusalem back towards Galilee. At either six Roman time or noon Jewish time (John’s reference is not clear), they stopped in Sychar, a Samaritan village north of Jerusalem. Interestingly it was because Jesus needed a break (see verse 6).

While Jesus sat at the well and the disciples had gone to find some food, a woman came to draw from the well. A conversation begins with a request for some water and ends with a declaration of Jesus’ Messiahship. Along the way, they covered the Jewish/Samaritan hatred, her sexual history, the true way of worship, and Jesus’ identity. Not discussed but of great importance is her gender. All of these are earthquake level changes.

When the disciples returned (vs 27), they were amazed that He was speaking with a woman. Jesus shattered the gender differences of the day, and they were huge. In Jewish Temple worship, women were forbidden to draw near. They could not bring the sacrifice, serve as priests or Levites or rabbis. While the boys were educated in varying degrees, girls were not.  Jesus holding an in-depth discussion with her is earthquake level stuff.

But this wasn’t just any woman, this was a Samaritan woman. At that point in history, the Jews and the Samaritans had a deep distrust and disdain for each other which had festered and boiled for centuries. In earthquake fashion, Jesus broke the walls separating those two cultures and welcomed Samaritans into God’s Kingdom.

Neither was the Samaritan woman some special clean vessel. She was a sinner, perhaps a prostitute, although that is unclear. The woman was proud, shallow, and opinionated. In short, she was just like you and me. Earthquake! Jesus touches us as we are, warts, sins, failings, attitudes, and all. Think about it, this person was pushed aside and marginalized at least three different ways, and yet Jesus sat and talked with her and revealed who He was – the long-awaited Messiah (vs 25-26). A revelation He rarely made in public according to what we read in the Gospels.

There is one more earthquake in the conversation. It may not seem as sharp or terrain altering, but it deals with what Jesus said about worship.  “The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” In a few brief words, Jesus changed worship forever. No longer was worship reserved for the Temple or contained within a ceremony. Worship became a personal connection with God regardless of time, day, style, or location.

The earth-shattering tremors from this one conversation continue to reach us today. They still challenge us to break down walls of separation, hatred, and prejudice. To count each other worthy and acceptable regardless of the day we gather, the style of music, the form of service, or the kind of building. I’ve encountered God in soaring cathedrals, in rustic barns, in forest quiet, in loud sports stadiums, in storefront churches, and in homes. The heart of worship is much more important than all of the stuff we put around it.

The tremors also continue to break down the walls of disqualifying sins. Those sins we view as too ugly for God to accept. The fields are ripe for harvest (as we’ll discuss further in our next article). Who was Jesus meaning? Sinners, just like the Samaritan woman whose sins were many.

There are, of course, more walls, more barriers, more cultural norms shaken by this one conversation than we have time to explore. The larger question is which of these barriers needs to be shattered in your own life and walk with Jesus? Holy Spirit come and open our eyes to our own folly, our own prejudice, and self-imposed limitations.  

Dale Heinold
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