The story in John 4 about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well tells us a lot about ourselves and the wonderful truth of Jesus; that he gives us hope in our depraved condition. The reason the Bible tells us horrible things about ourselves is so we can see salvation for just how wonderful it is. This story isn't about us, it's about him!
In the beginning of Chapter 4, Jesus leaves Judea heading for Galilee, going through Samaria. Look at the way John says that in verses 1-4:
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.John says the reason Jesus left Judea is because he knew that the Pharisees knew that more people were following him than John the Baptist. You might think Jesus thought the Pharisees would see his rising popularity and try to crush it, so he ran away. But, John said in John 3:35: "The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands." and in John 10: "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18, NIV)
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. (John 4:1-4, NIV)
He isn't leaving because he is afraid. He is leaving because he wants too. He knew when he was going to die, how he would die and the Pharisees weren't in charge of that -- Jesus was in charge of his own destiny, and it wasn't time yet.
But why through Samaria?
What do the words "had to" mean in verse 4?
Did it mean that was the only way to get to Galilee, or that he had to go through Samaria because God planned it that way?
Jews just didn't go through Samaria -- the Samaritans were ceremonially unclean. We know that Jesus wasn't being controlled but was himself controlling the situation. He knew what he was doing.
The main relationship in this story is between Jesus and the Woman at the well. Later on in verse 18, we find out that Jesus already knew everything about the woman; that she had five husbands and was an adulteress. There is nothing accidental about this meeting. Jesus knows everything about this woman, yet he is still seeking her salvation. He says to her in verse 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." The Father is seeking her worship through Jesus. This is so very similar to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Just like Jesus is eating with sinners and tax collectors at the beginning of Luke 15, he is willing to share a drink with a Samaritan woman here.
In Luke 15 the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Jesus tells them three stories: The parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son. In this story, the Pharisees are like the older brother and the Woman at the well is like the prodigal son. She is an adulteress, a sinner, yet the Father is still seeking her salvation.
He didn't have to go through Samaria, he didn't have to ask for water, he didn't even have to talk to her, but he did!
Is this text teaching us that we should evangelize?
Should we be like Jesus and talk to sinners and try to win their salvation?
No! We are the woman! We are the sinners. Jesus is seeking our fellowship; we are the prodigal son!
In verse 9: 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.) Why is that? Why didn't Jews associate with Samaritans? Here is what D. A. Carson has to say about that:
After the Assyrians captured Samaria [the capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel] in 722–21 BC, they deported all the Israelites of substance and settled the land with foreigners, who intermarried with the surviving Israelites and adhered to some form of their ancient religion (2 Kings 17–18). After the exile [of the Southern kingdom in Babylon], Jews, returning to their homeland . . . viewed the Samaritans not only as the children of political rebels but as racial half-breeds whose religion was tainted by various unacceptable elements. . . . About 400 BC the Samarians erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 216)
So, there were various racial and religious issues that made the Jews avoid the Samaritans. They were unclean, impure. What Jesus did here would have been like a white man crossing racial lines in the segregated south; perhaps like a white man drinking from a water fountain meant for African Americans. That would have (in that time) been socially unacceptable, but here Jesus pursued that unacceptable situation -- he pursued this woman knowing everything about her, and all of her sins.
In verse 10 Jesus isn't talking about social boundaries between Jews and Samaritans: "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.” And then in verse 11 the woman said "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?"
She doesn't get it yet...she is like Nicodemus here, when Jesus told him he had new birth (living water) for him, Nicodemus asked how he could crawl back into his Mother's womb to be born a second time. Here, he is offering the woman living water (new birth) and she asked "where's the bucket?".
This is just like us.We are blind -- unable to to see the Glory.
She then asked him if she was greater than Jacob.
Jesus said to her "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 saying, "Yes! I am in fact greater than Jacob, and my gift is greater too -- My superiority is your salvation! I have the water of life, and if you will just drink, you will live forever!"
She still doesn't get it.
In verse 15 she said "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." to which Jesus replied "Go, call your husband and come back."
She said "I have no husband!", and in verse 17 Jesus said "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."
After this, she calls him a prophet, and then later in verse 25 she says "I know that Messiah is coming, when he comes, he will explain everything to us." To which Jesus answers: "I, the one speaking to you-I am he."
Now she starts to get it.