She had no friends. She was a social outcast. Despised by other women in the town. A shameful, sinful past. A lousy life. And no hope for things to perk up in her future.
She had to go to the well alone every day in the scorching, midday sun. The women in the town went together in the morning when it was cool. It was their social time, enjoying one another’s company, chatting, laughing, swapping stories.
But this day, when she arrived at the well a stranger, whom she recognized as a Jew, greeted her. “Will you give me a drink?” The Savior of the World asked her.
The tension begins.
Men did not usually associate with women in social settings. And Jews did not associate with Samaritans. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry. Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews.
So here was a man speaking with a woman in public. A Samaritan associating with a Jew. No respectable Jewish man would associate with a woman, especially a Samaritan woman under any circumstances. But Jesus did. His question spooked her. It caught her off guard. Made her nervous. She would face more shame and ridicule in the town if anyone saw her here with this Jewish man.
Tension builds. The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan¹ woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Ahhhh, Grace. Living water. Available to this social outcast. This Samaritan, this half-breed. She didn’t know who this man was. Jesus didn’t care. He showed her grace by His offer of living water. But would she take it? Would she accept it?
“Who is this guy?” she must have thought. “Gift of God? What is he talking about? Living water? What is that?” She’s just been offered living water, eternal life. But she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know who this stranger is.
Jesus speaks about Himself in the third person at this point because He is not ready to reveal His identity. She feels the tension course through her body. Tiny beads of nervous sweat break out on her forehead. “How can this man get any water, let alone living water?” she wonders.
She avoids this living water business, the grace Jesus is offering, and tries to steer their tension-filled exchange back to the natural, the well and her purpose for coming. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself?”
Jesus answers with His grace. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He is the Messiah. He is the Savior of the World. The living water He is offering is His grace.
Now she believes this Stranger is special. She has already seen Him as a prophet. Now He is offering her eternal life. “Maybe there’s hope for me after all,” she tells herself. “Maybe I can have a better life,” she thinks to herself. “Maybe things will start looking up for me.” This living water sounds like something special. Maybe the women of the town will like me if I have living water. I want some.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Grace and Truth crash head on. Time to put all your cards on the table, Ma’am. Truth or consequences (No living water for you. No eternal life for you.)
Talk about tension. That’s messy.
She comes clean. “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
If you read through John’s gospel at the relationships Jesus has with others grace and truth collide in almost every one. Nicodemus, the crippled man at the lake of Bethesda, the rich young ruler, to name a few.
In Part II we’ll look closer at grace and truth and how they collide in this messy, tense relationship between Jesus and this social outcast to whom Jesus offers eternal life. That collision between grace and truth is common today among believers as well.
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¹Scripture references for this blog come from the Bible Gateway website and from John, chapter 4 (NIV). A message series from Andy Stanley at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta was the inspiration for this post.