The account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well is one that teaches us much about the grace of God. There are several aspects of this account that I want to look at each one in their own way showing something of the grace of God.
Firstly Grace breaks through cultural barriers. We see Jesus heading back to Galilee by a surprising route he goes through Samaria, historically there had been much tension between the Samaritans and the Jews as John makes clear, he says,
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) .John 4:1-9.
The woman expects nothing except hostility from a Jew, and the Samaritans were hostile to the Jews, this is a conversation that should not be taking place according to the social norms of the day. To make it worse Jewish men were not expected to address women they did not know. The fact that Jesus spoke to her shows his gracious attitude to her, he broke cultural convention to speak to her.
Secondly, he used his physical need to show her, her spiritual need. As we see him engage this woman in conversation, he asks her to help him by giving him a drink. The result of this conversation is that Jesus highlights the woman’s deep need, he gently opens her soul to the truth, one step at a time. Look at how John records this,
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.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 , 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.”
15 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 says to her that he has water that he can give to her, this sparks the woman’s curiosity and she asks Jesus how he can get water without tools. the reply that Jesus gives is to promise a well of water in the spirit of those who come to him, a well that springs up to give eternal life. the woman immediately responds and yet she misunderstands Jesus, she has not absorbed the fact that he is talking about spiritual things. So Jesus graciously but firmly challenges her in the next part of the conversation,
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.(Jn 4:16–19).
Jesus using his prophetic knowledge says, “go call your husband” Jesus here graciously and yet with firmness exposes the real need of this woman and she realises that she is in the presence of a prophet, this causes her to ask Jesus about the true nature of worship. She needs her questions answered about what is the truth, she knew what she had been taught but here was a Jewish prophet exposing her sinful lifestyle. As she realises her own sinfulness she realises that she needs to understand how to worship God.
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he (Jn 4:20–26).
She is genuinely confused and needs to know the answer because if she is to put things right she needs to how and where God wants to be worshipped. Her questions is not a smoke screen but rather a genuine question about how to relate to God. In his answer Jesus upholds the Jewish revelation but shows her that the Father is more concerned about the Spirit of worship than the place of worship. God wants to see worship in spirit and in truth not just following the customs of man. Jesus is showing this lady that God’s grace transcends racial and cultural barriers. The woman realises that when the messiah comes, he will explain all things, much to her surprise she found that she was talking to the messiah. This resulted in her going to the town and telling every one that a prophet was in town.
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
She declares that this man has told her everything that she ever did, she wants her neighbours to meet the messiah and they come out of curiosity to hear this man for themselves. As a result many of them when they had heard Jesus speaking were convinced for themselves that Jesus is the saviour of the world.
This passage teaches much about the grace of god and should remind us that relationships are more important than techniques. We have a fondness for techniques in evangelical circles today, but we must realise that allthough a technique may remind us of elements of God’s truth, it ultimately fails because it tends to deal with all people in the same way rather than developing a relational attitude which listens to what the person has to say. If we would let Jesus and the apostles be our model for evangelism, we would realise that there are diverse ways to bring sinners to repentance and faith. Let us glory in the grace and love of God and extend that same grace to others.