The Urban Dictionary defines a “thirsty woman,” as a certain type of female who relentlessly pursues men through inappropriate dress, language, and aggressive behaviors for the misguided purpose of hoped for intimate encounters of a sexual kind. This may be a contemporary description for our present time; however, we will discover in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4: 4-30; 39-41, the “thirsty woman” paradigm is nothing new.
This ancient woman who encounters Jesus at the well of Jacob in the country of Samaria is “outted” by Jesus as a thirsty, desperate woman who has had five husbands; but, is now living with a sixth man to whom she is not married. This “certain” Samaritan woman, who is unnamed in her own story, is confronted by Jesus for behavior and lifestyle choices which have alienated her from her community and, more importantly, from God. Considered immoral by some, we will discover that Jesus’ radical love and compassion for this marginalized and disinherited woman has no limitations or boundaries, despite the set conventions of culture and society. Her story demonstrates to us – There is NO substitute for intimate relationship with Jesus, the Lover of our Soul!
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4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
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.)[b] 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 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.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
27 Just then his disciples came. 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?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?” 30
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The Samaritans had a long and difficult relationship with their distant relatives, the Jews. At one time in their combined history, the Jews and the Samaritans were one people sharing a history and a religious tradition. Immediately after the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel) in 722 B.C.E., the Assyrians deported the Israelites from their land into exile. In the exilic period, many of these Jews intermarried and assimilated their religious traditions with other captive people from foreign lands. They appropriated and adopted many foreign cultic and religious traditions and beliefs. Due to this assimilation, the Samaritans were no longer consider “pure” by the Jews of the southern kingdom (Judah). While they held on to some of their Jewish traditions (i.e. the Pentateuch – the first five books of Hebrew scripture), and other practices associated with the Pentateuch, they did not consider Jerusalem as the center of worship. Instead, the Samaritans built their own “holy” temple at Mount Gerizim, near the well of Jacob; which they contended was given to them by the patriarch, Jacob. By the time of Jesus, a strong rivalry and hatred prevailed between the two peoples.
A devout Jew concerned for the purity laws of Israel (see the book of Leviticus) would never expose themselves to the land of Samaria because this territory was considered as unclean and impure. Yet, we see that Jesus travels through Samaria to get to Galilee, breaking with this religious belief and convention by engaging this woman at the well of Jacob. Here Jesus, the Rabbi, engages an unclean woman in conversation, drinks from a Samaritan well, takes water from a cup held by a Samaritan woman, and discusses religious and theological considerations with her.
Obviously, from the beginning of their encounter, this woman is confused by the presence of Jesus at the well: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” She is well aware of the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans, yet she is bold enough to engage Jesus in a lengthy discourse. Jesus shows us once again, as with some many encounters in the gospel narratives, He rises above the expectations and conventions of his culture, to treat women with the respect and attention we deserve. Jesus sees the personhood of this woman; not her culture, not her gender, and not her circumstance. He meets this woman at the point of her need, with just the right spiritual bravado to deconstruct the mask which she has erected to avoid “being seen.”
Jesus is well aware , as is the woman, of the physical need of water, which is why she has come to the well. This is Jesus’ first step in the divine encounter which will change the Samaritan woman’s life. Unaware of whom she is talking with, the woman asks for this “living water,” to relieve herself of the taxing requirement to come back and forth to the well – a task which was labor extensive and undesirable.
It will not be an easy assignment to peel back the layers of the false self this woman presents to Jesus. Despite her circumstance (a woman alone at the well at noon), she is brazen and confrontational when engaged. Jesus knows her status – she is unmarried, living with a sixth man, not her husband. She is alone at the well at noon, signifying she is not a part of the community of women who go to the well together to draw water. She is unchaperoned, perhaps because she has no one who really cares for her. Yet, despite all of these deficits, she brazenly challenges Jesus on religious tradition: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[c] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus ignores this statement and continues to press her for the very thing He knows she needs, by revealing her current lifestyle choice: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
True to form, the woman attempts avoidance to skirt the issue (Isn’t this just what we do!). And then it happens. This brassy, confused, thirsty woman is witness to divine revelation in the person of Jesus. The Samaritans who were also waiting for the promise of a messiah, are given a gift which is as unexpected as it is unprecedented: A Jewish rabbi who is Messiah, standing at the well of Jacob in front of an immoral, impure woman: “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”
All convention is dropped, and so is her water pot! The guilt, shame, humiliation, and worldly thirst is left at the feet of Jesus, as we watch her leave the well transformed by the divine encounter, now an evangelist to the community that once shunned her. Look at Jesus! This woman returns to her village, still bold and brazen; but with a new identity and assignment – she is the first witness to a disenfranchised, disinherited people. She becomes the “precious link” between the Savior and the lost. Because of her testimony, “Many Samaritans believed.” The Samaritans come to Jesus to hear the message of salvation and to encounter the divine manifestation of their Messiah. The enmity is destroyed. Salvation is won! We see the evidence: There is no substitute for The Living Water, Jesus! This woman is thirsty no more!
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the most taught and preached of the narratives of women in the New Testament. There are many interpretations of what this story means. Many scholars assert the Samaritan woman was caught in the web of levirate marriage tradition. This is ancient religious tradition where a woman, after her husband dies, is betrothed to his brother. The brother, based upon religious obligation, must marry and take care of his brother’s wife. While this is a minority opinion in biblical scholarship, it does not account for the way in which Jesus confronts the woman about her lifestyle choice. Ultimately, as students of the Bible, we must study the narrative and make the choice for ourselves.
The double entendre of the water pot is one of the most powerful presentations of the narrative. As women, we all carry our own water pots. Although each is filled with something different, our water pot is the burden we carry through life, until we meet with Jesus, for ourselves. Alone, at His feet, Jesus encourages us to put down our emotional burdens, to drink of the water which gives us life, at last. No longer looking for a substitute for relationship with Him, we are transformed and empowered to go out and witness the goodness of Jesus to a waiting world.
QUESTIONS FOR OUR STUDY AND CONSIDERATION
What emotional baggage do you think the Samaritan woman carried in her water pot to the well to meet Jesus? Think about your own emotional burdens. As women, what are some of the emotional burdens we carry in our water pots?
Why do you think this woman was so brazen, and different from the women of this culture (i.e., goes to the well alone, unafraid to engage Jesus in conversation, etc.)?
Image this woman’s encounter with her community when she goes back to witness. What types of attitudes do you think she may have encountered? Why do you think God used her as the witness to the Samaritans?
Look carefully at the picture of the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Why do you think the woman has two faces? What does this tell us about our encounters with Jesus and the result of these encounters?
How do you view this woman, before the encounter, and after? Does this woman inspire you to make any changes in your life, and why?
Finally, how does this story help us to look at “thirsty women,” as defined by our culture. How do you feel about this description of women?
“A woman’s heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man should have to seek Him first to find her.” (Maya Angelou)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” (Marianne Williamson)
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
“Well behaved women seldom make history.” (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)
Written by Evangelist Angie Garrett for Tabitha’s Daughters Women’s Empowerment Bible Series