Beacons of Hope: Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 4:1-26

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 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.) 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.” 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 his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said 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.” 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.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Pardon the irreverence, but this passage screams “GASLIGHTING” to me. Jesus opens this conversation not asking for a drink, but commanding this unknown, unnamed woman to give him one. When she reasonably stands up for herself, he suggests she should have asked him for a drink, seeming to ignore the cultural discrepancies between Jews and Samaritans she just described. I can’t tell if she is sarcastic when she asks if Jesus is “greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well.” But next, Jesus denigrates that water, the very water he was asking for in the first place, since it’s not permanently thirst-quenching. He tells her to call her husband, and when she says she doesn’t have one, it becomes clear Jesus knew that all along, despite pretending not to. The conversation then accelerates into a debate about worship– quite an exchange.

Similar to last week’s passage, Jesus is on another long journey. He moves from Judea, the region south of Jerusalem, through Samaria, the area just north of Jerusalem, to Galilee, directly north of Samaria. The text says he had to go through Samaria– at least if he wasn’t to cross the Jordan river or boat up the Mediterranean.

It’s not surprising that he would be thirsty. But of course, it’s not literal water he seems most concerned with. It’s not clear whether the Samaritan woman received this living water from Jesus, though she does seem nourished by the conversation. And John later says that “many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v39). Her testimony was that “he told me everything I have ever done.”

But it is clear that Jesus didn’t receive the water he asked for. The woman “left her water jar and went back to the city” (v28). Maybe that was enough to allow Jesus to get his water. For a story about water at a well, during Jesus’ long journey, it’s surprising there’s no mention of consumption of literal water.

Or food, for that matter. It turns out Jesus hasn’t been eating. Perhaps he was fasting, like many of us in Lent. Maybe the disciples assumed that the Samaritan woman gave him a drink, but I wonder if they were thirsty, too.
Jesus may not have been drinking water here, but it is clear that water is sacred. Jacob’s well was a gathering place. Jacob met his spouse at this well, and wells became regular places one might meet their spouse– an ancient Tinder. Uniting Jews and Samaritans was no small feat, either. I wonder if the disciples stayed in Samaria with Jesus, too– where else would they have gone? These could have been a powerful two days of reconciliation: not only Samaritans coming to believe in Jesus but also challenging ethnic divisions. 

Water brings us together because it’s one of the few things we all need (even Jesus, eventually). It’s quite difficult to manipulate, too. We can grow our food on the land of our choosing (though some land is better than others, and some land is infertile), but we can’t produce our own water and have limited control over where freshwater flows. 

In this season of Lent, in which many of us temporarily forego something we love, we have the opportunity to grow in empathy for those who struggle to attain basic goods that ought to be readily available. Like water.

CMEP is proud to be connected with EcoPeace, an organization of Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian environmentalists advocating for the protection of these country’s shared environmental heritage. Community development, conflict resolution, and opposition to global warming are all essential means to this goal. So is cultivating trust between Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians, the fate of whose water is one.

The demise of the river is connected to poverty and unemployment among communities along the river, especially in Jordan. Palestinians in particular struggle to access enough freshwater with reliability. Consider learning more about the water crisis through CMEP’s “issues” page. Advocating for justice is one way to share the living water Jesus shares with us and receive it from others.

God of abundance, we are forever grateful for the gift of your living water. May we remember the gift of your abundance and provision whenever we drink water, especially those of us who need not worry about the sanitation of our water or where the next glass will come from. Bless all of the waters running through the world, but especially those in the water sparse Middle East. Help us bring an end to international conflict and global warming so that we might become proper stewards of your creation and that our children and grandchildren would be nourished by the same waters that nourish us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.