To any good Jew in Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were a people who had, to borrow the words of the late, great John Facenda, little character but many characters. They were people with whom Jews were not to consort. They were people to whom Jews were not to speak. They were to be ignored, shunned, cast aside. They were the half-breeds, the compromisers, the unwanted step-children: some Hebrew blood, perhaps, but hopelessly watered down through generations of intermarriage with the surrounding peoples. They could not worship in the temple, so they could not claim to be a part of God’s chosen.
So, it should seem more than a little odd that Jesus would so much as even acknowledge the presence of the woman at the well (John 4:5-42), much less ask her for a drink of water.
Jesus was all about defying social conventions. We know that, but we have the advantage of 2,000 years of hindsight. The Samaritan woman did not have that advantage. She did not come to the well expecting to meet any man, much less a Jewish man, and much less than that, the Word made flesh. She expected this trip to the well to be no different than the dozens of other such trips she had taken there.
As we know, however, this trip turned out to be quite different. What we do not know, or perhaps do not understand, is precisely why this trip to the well turned out to be so different.
It is an interesting story, just on the surface: Jesus probing further and further into the woman’s soul, the woman constantly trying to change the subject, and Jesus finally just saying flat out, “Hey woman, who do you think you’re talking to?”
There is much humor in the exchange. Underneath the surface, however, there is much more that is easy to miss—and by missing it, we miss the whole point of the story.
The place was Jacob’s well.
The dispute, as far as the woman was concerned, was over water rights.
The issue that finally came to the surface was true worship.
Who are the true “Jews,” that is the true “worshipers of God?”
That question is resolved not by where you worship or when you worship. It comes down, instead, to who you worship.
Who you worship defines who you are. Who you worship shapes and forms your life, your identity, and your character.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here,” Jesus says, “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”