One Bible story I’ve read over and over has come to have a different emphasis than in years past. Those who are even somewhat familiar with the Bible can at least summarize the interaction Jesus has with the woman at the well (John 4:4-30). Typically, the take-away from this story is that Jesus loved and forgave the woman who had multiple husbands and was currently living with a man she wasn’t married to. The sermons I grew up hearing about the woman at the well painted her as a promiscuous woman, with the emphasis on her great sin and Jesus’ forgiveness of her sin. I’m not countering that altogether, however, I now read that story differently.
Even the story’s beginning intrigues me. John 4:4 says, “Now He (Jesus) had to go through Samaria” (emphasis mine). There is no reason given that He had to go through Samaria instead of the typical route Jews took to purposely avoid Samaria. When I say I “have to go” somewhere, it usually means it’s a non-negotiable appointment and connotes importance or obligation. Perhaps as the details of John 4 are revealed, we can easily forget that word “had.” But it’s become a favorite line for my eyes and heart to land on each time I revisit this story. He didn’t have a meeting at a temple or crowds waiting…. He had a crowd of one. One person (one woman!) He had to see.
After traveling to Samaria, Jesus stops at a well to receive refreshment. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water and Jesus engages her in conversation – both cultural faux pas. Jews did not talk to Samaritans and men did not talk to unaccompanied women – but Jesus had to. And Jesus always put people above cultural norms.
What unfolds next is what most people remember about the story. He asks her for a drink, but then tells her He offers living water. She is intrigued, but then He asks her to bring her husband back to the well. It is then revealed that she has no husband but has had five husbands and is currently living with another man. And we usually get stuck on this first-century woman with a wake of men behind her. But before we simply write her off as promiscuous, we have to consider that perhaps this wasn’t her choice. Perhaps she was barren? Perhaps several of her husbands died? Perhaps she’s living with a man because she needs to eat and cannot as a woman in first-century Samaria provide for herself? We don’t know, but what we do know is that her life has been traumatic, one hurt after another.
And Jesus had to see her.
The woman moves the conversation to worship, and Jesus is all too happy to discuss this topic with her. But it is what she says next that has pivoted this story for me. She says to the man she only knows is a Jewish traveler, and may be a prophet, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.” If we read her words in a dry, monotone cadence, we lose what I believe really happened. Perhaps she spoke those words, eyes welling, with the last bit of hope she had on the heels of a heart-scarred life. There was very little in her life she could control, but she knew the Messiah IS COMING.
And I think that’s why Jesus wanted to see her.
His next words were, “I who speak to you am He.” And again, if we read His words with a dry, monotone cadence, we lose everything. I believe even His eyes welled up and the corners of his mouth were curled upward in a knowing smile. He couldn’t wait to show Himself to this world-torn woman. Jesus walked this earth not only proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, but also preoccupied with our joy (John 15:11; John 16:20-22; John 17:13; Hebrews 12:2). He not only wanted to bring her joy, but to revel in the joy of revealing Himself to a woman who was clinging to the truth of His coming.
The next thing she did was leave her precious water jar at the well and go tell EVERYONE the Great News. I bet Jesus was still chuckling and choked up as He watched her run into town. This was fun for Him. Her faith became sight, and He loved every minute of it.
I bring this up because I think about Jesus returning… a lot. There is simply nothing I want more than His return. As I read the words, “I know the Messiah is coming,” I believe Jesus wants us to have that same excitement, assuredness, and resolution that HE IS COMING BACK.
Just as Old Testament Jews (and evidently Samaritans to some degree) knew scripture backwards and forwards and were on the lookout for Jesus, we have been promised over and over in the New Testament that He’s returning (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30; Luke 12:40; Luke 21:25-28; John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Hebrews 9:28; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 22:12, etc). We rightly focus on Jesus’ birth, His crucifixion, and resurrection, but we trail off to a whisper at His imminent coming again. Why are we not on the edge of our seats?
So, what do we do to prepare for Jesus coming again?
Be like the woman at the well, having an “I know the Messiah is coming” assurance in every thought and conversation until He does. We need not be preoccupied with the day or the hour of His return – it’s futile to even try (Matthew 24:36). Instead, we wait expectantly like the woman at the well – even (and especially) in our grief, sorrow, and trauma. Read the Bible, pray. And until then, tell everyone we know about Him.
Jesus was, and is, and is to come. Revelation 1:4
Dear Lord, Thank You for saving Your children. We are excited to see You face-to-face. Let us be like the woman at the well — who is in Your presence as we pray – expectant of Your arrival BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WOULD. Let us not treat Your coming again like an after-thought, but instead as the pure joy it will be. You are the foundation of all my joy. Maranatha! Amen.