The Woman at the Well – Chris Hancock on John 4: 5-42

This Gospel is all about food and drink – the necessities of life

While the disciples are in the city buying food, Jesus stops at Jacob’s well to get a drink

Apparently we can survive 30-40 days without food; we last just 2-3 days without water – and less in a hot place like Palestine

Water is essential for life, as was made clear to Moses in the reading from Exodus which we have just heard

In fact the Bible is full of references to water – we might say that The Bible is a book about life and it is brim full of water

How many references can we think of?

  • Genesis 1 (creation)  
  • Noah’s flood
  • Rebecca at the well (Genesis)
  • Moses water from the Rock
  • Moses parting of the red sea
  • Many references in the Psalms (Ps 42 Like as the hart; Ps 23 He leadeth me beside still waters)
  • Baptism of Jesus
  • Jesus walks on Water
  • Water into wine at Cana
  • Jesus washes the disciples feet
  • Blood and water flows from the side of the crucified Christ

Well here in our Gospel we have a story about water, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman

What’s going on in this story? As so often is the case there is a strong link to the OT

There is an explicit reference here to Jacob – the action takes place at Jacob’s well – which puts us in mind of Genesis and another meeting at a well where Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac and returns with Rebecca

You remember the story – it’s rather romantic – an arranged marriage but a loving one

A servant comes on behalf of his master Abraham – looking for a bride for his master’s son

He sees Rebecca, he asks for water and she draws water for him– he gives her presents, meets the relatives and they allow her to go off with him to meet Isaac.

So what is the point of the parallel? Is Jesus looking for a bride here? It is certainly an intimate conversation and Jesus makes it very clear that the woman has plenty of experience in marital matters having had 5 husbands already and living with another man now!

But this is not Jesus’s mission. Jesus is not looking for a wife to extend a dynasty – rather tragically he will not have children and will not see grandchildren in old age.

Abraham sent a servant – God sent Jesus

Abraham’s servant comes to look for a suitable woman, to test her – Jesus does not test the woman, rather she tests him and it turns out that he knows and understands her whereas she has no idea about him.

Moreover she is a Samaritan – unclean in orthodox Jewish eyes – Jesus should not even drink from the same jar as her because she does not keep the Law – worshipping separately on their mountain and not in Jerusalem – she is perpetually unclean

Abraham’s servant brought gifts on behalf of his master – gold amulets and a nose ring for Rebecca.

Jesus offers something a little different – the living water (‘υδωρ ζων)

Not simply the water of life, but water which is alive

Not water to keep you alive for an extra day, but water which makes today come alive

Not normal water where you have to drink more, but water which changes us so that we don’t worry about everyday tasks – like collecting water!

Not that we don’t do them but that they are secondary to our new life where we understand that we are loved – a life where, in the words of Paul to the Romans, we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand … and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

God helps us to be happy in our lives when we appreciate that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

And this love, this living water, is given to all: Jew/Samaritan, slave/freeman, black/white, man/woman, saint/sinner


Let us pray:

Almighty god we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit – the living water which sustains our lives.

Help us to drink deeply from the well of your love that we may come to know you as you know us, to love as you love us and to share in the peace of your eternal kingdom.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and our redeemer who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, Amen.


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One Response to The Woman at the Well – Chris Hancock on John 4: 5-42

  1. Glenys Sahay says:

    Why do we feel so shocked, even repulsed, by the idea that Christ might have had a wife?
    Considering the customs of the times, how did He reach the age of thirty and still escape acquiring one?
    Is it in any way possible He might has been married?
    What are anyone’s thoughts on “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail?

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