Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
John 4:7-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[a] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
In today’s scripture reading we see Jesus and his disciples on a journey from Jerusalem to Galilee. There were two routes Jesus and his disciples could have taken: straight up through Samaria or out of the way to the east, crossing the Jordan river and going up on the eastern side of the Jordan and then back across the Jordan into Galilee when they had gone far enough up to avoid Samaria. Unless they had to do otherwise, Jews in Jesus’ day went east, crossed the Jordan, up the east side, the back across to Galilee. Why would they do that? Because the Jews and the Samaritans despised each other—and had for centuries! But, the gospel of John says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” Why did he have to? I believe it is because he had to show them what God is like. To do that, he HAD TO cross the barrier built by the brokenness of humanity.
He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar where Jacob’s well is located. It was about noon. He was tired from the morning’s travel, so he sat by the well to rest. A Samaritan Woman came to draw water from the well.
John says that Jesus crossed a huge cultural barrier put there by the brokenness of humanity. He actually spoke to her—a Samaritan Woman. He said, “Give me a drink.” John has a little explanation of how it was possible for Jesus to speak to her. He says, parenthetically, “His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.” It may be that Jesus sent them. He may have seen the woman coming and sent them to the city to buy food to keep them from messing things up! After all, how many disciples does it take to buy food? The fact that they were not there made it possible for Jesus to cross that barrier and speak to her—a Samaritan woman. Had they been there, they probably would have caused trouble, like they did when people crossed their imaginary barrier they had built around Jesus to keep people from bringing their children to him for blessing. Why would they have had trouble in this instance? Simply this: this person was hardly a person at all. She was a Samaritan Woman! They would not have approved! In fact, it is clear when they do return that they have serious questions! Why would he be talking to that Samaritan Woman? John says that when they returned, “they were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” But they wanted to ask! It was so inappropriate to cross that barrier!
Jesus could be such an embarrassment to his disciples. He embarrassed them all the time. They were continually having to explain his unconventional behavior. But to have anything to do with this particular woman was really going too far.
These cultures of antiquity persist in certain places today. This past couple of decades we have been more aware than ever of the barriers oppressing women in certain cultures shaped by hyperfundamentalist religion. Think of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Think of the status of Saudi women.
That kind of segregation of men and women, that kind of drawing of hard, dark barriers between people was part of the culture that worked against Jesus’ desire to tear down walls of brokenness. No wonder that when the woman in our lesson for the day met Jesus, she was shocked that he would talk to her. That was the way things were in that part of the world in that day and time.
There are a couple of clues in the biblical passage that show us that she was a broken woman: she was alone at the well at noon, which indicates that she was avoiding the other women who would be there to draw water at cooler times of the day; and she had had five husbands and was now living with a man not her husband. We can only imagine that she knew brokenness in her life.
After Jesus asked her for a drink from the well, she responded, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Just to make sure John’s gentile audience understood, John gives us a little parenthetical statement of explanation: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” Then Jesus tells her that if she only knew who she was talking to, she would have asked him, and he would have given her living water. There is some confusion, because “living water” was the common phrase to describe spring water. Living water is always better because of its purity and because you don’t have to dig a well and draw it up; it gushes forth. She’s looking around for a spring that she’s pretty sure isn’t there. After all, if there were a spring nearby, Jacob wouldn’t have dug this well! She’s a little indignant. You can imagine her thinking, “Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he know that the people around her would have been using a spring if there was one, instead of drawing this water up one bucketful at a time?” Jesus then spoke these words to her: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Just like Nicodemus to whom Jesus said, “You must be born from above,” she took him literally. This is not unusual—especially in the gospel of John. When Jesus speaks of birth, he means something beyond literal birth. When Jesus speaks of bread, he means something beyond literal bread. When Jesus speaks of a shepherd or of a door, he means something more than literal, physical shepherds and doors. Here he speaks of water, but he means something far greater than literal water. Here he uses the image of living water—or running water—as in a spring or an artesian well—a great symbol of God’s grace. One does not have to dig for living water. One does not have to draw it up. It gushes forth—like God’s amazing love and mercy and forgiveness and strength.
Jesus offers her what Jesus’ own disciples would never have offered her. He offers her the gift of God’s grace that gushes forth in abundance. That was amazing good news for her. It is amazing good news for us, too.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster