- PART 3.

Jesus keeps this conversation at the well focussed on thirst. He begins with physical thirst, but quickly moves to the inner thirst of the soul. He is spiritually alert to the inner thirst that is beginning to stir within this Samaritan woman. I am intrigued that Jesus was aware of something about this woman that had nothing to do with her race, social standing or moral track record. The thing that weighed in the scales above everything else for Jesus was spiritual thirst and readiness to respond to God. We place value on so many other things that have to do with human pride, but the Lord places his value on this, “How blessed are those who know their need of God”. The telling thing is that in Jesus’ context, and in our own, this hunger and thirst is frequently most in evidence among those at the ragged edge of society, the marginalized, the poor, and the morally broken.

So Jesus alerts this woman to her thirst, above all the other social factors inhibiting her from engaging with him. “If you knew the gift on offer, you would have asked for it”, in other words, nothing would have held you back from entering into this interaction. I wonder how many gifts of God I have failed to receive because I have allowed external factors, and my own preconceptions, to prevent me from pressing in and asking.

There is a gift of God to be had here, the gift of his grace – amazing grace! In this account we see how the gift of grace frees this woman from the guilt of her choices and all that caused her to feel shame and inferiority. Even beyond that, we see the power of grace to bridge the Jew/Samaritan divide and welcome her into the fulfilment of the promises of God. Yet the grace on offer is not cheap grace. There is a doorway through which she must walk and that involves facing and acknowledging the mess of sin that is blocking up the well of her heart.

Sin is a complex thing and it is formed from a mixture of what has been done to us and what we have done. It has its roots in our moral choices, our economic preoccupations, our cultural influences, our pride and our shame. Somehow we have to let God bring it all to the surface and lay before him all these forces that block up our hearts.

Repentance is hard, and it is complex. There are all sorts of reasons, from shame to self-righteousness, that make us resist owning our poverty before God and calling on his grace. It wasn’t easy for this woman, she tried all sorts of ploys to head the conversation in other directions. It took the prophetic directness of Jesus to open her brokenness and sin and bring it into the light. All of us stand in need of Jesus’ action in revealing our sin to us. All of us have sins we try to hide and others that we are blind to.

I find it interesting that, just as the expert in the law tried to use his skill in biblical interpretation to hide from the lack of compassion in his heart, so this woman, though she is no expert theologian, also seeks to use questions of belief and styles of worship as a means of holding Jesus at arm’s length. It is both instructive and disturbing to see how we use these elements of religion and faith as screens to hide behind and as ways of avoiding the need to honestly face our need of cleansing and grace. It challenges me to ask where I use my systems of biblical interpretation and my assumptions about the practice of my faith to actually protect sin in my heart and to keep Jesus at a safe distance.

This woman is seeking to assert the historical divergence between Samaritans and Jews to legitimise and perpetuate the ongoing barrier between the two groups, and its application, specifically, to this uncomfortable conversation. How often has theology been trotted out to legitimise various expressions of human apartheid? How much do you and I still function according to these assumptions in terms of who I relate to and how I do so?

It is not that Jesus is naive or simplistic about these differences, nor does he minimise questions of right belief, he acknowledges that salvation is from the Jews as God’s covenant people, but his perspective is that right understanding and knowledge isn’t the defining or limiting factor when it comes to how far the gospel’s invitation stretches. We as church folk can so easily put our theological convictions in the way of simply engaging with people. We make too much of the outward customs of other religious or cultural groups and become blind to the gospel possibilities that exist there. Just as when Jesus swept aside the kosher laws and took away a major impediment to the inclusion of Gentiles within the table fellowship of the Church, so here he sweeps aside all entrenched questions of modes of worship and keeps his focus on the essential thirst of the heart and the call for each person to engage personally and directly “in spirit”.

This whole account is about the richness of heaven reaching through layers of social, conceptual and personal sin to quench the soul thirst of this woman and then her village. It is a dramatic conversion story, as unlikely, in its way, as that of Saul of Tarsus. He too needed the Spirit of Christ to cut through his social, conceptual and personal misconceptions and sin to dramatically transform him. He too, in his way, was immediately compelled to rush back and “tell his village”. As the change in him was dramatic, so it seems to have been with this woman. People knew her and her lifestyle, and now she appears before them radiant, excited, confident and free of shame.

When she went out to the well that day, she did not know how thirsty she was! But having had the living water that only Jesus can give pour into her soul, it irresistibly flows out of her. Do I really know how thirsty I am? Do I truly come to the One who offers me the water of life? Does its transforming power flow out from me and bear powerful witness to all I encounter that I have been in the presence of the Lord of life? Jesus kept this woman focussed on the primacy of spiritual thirst, that needs to be our first focus as well.

Rob Taylor, 27/08/2020


Christ Church Kenilworth  |  Cnr Summerley & Richmond Road  |  Tel: +27 (021) 797 6332  | E-mail:
Service Times: Sunday Worship  8.30am, 10.30am & 6.00pm   | Thursday Quiet Service: 6.30pm (fortnightly)

Taryn Galloway, 06/05/2015