Humanity has been battling social status and hierarchy since sin first ever entered the world. Humanity tends to do everything it can to climb to the top to be seen as great and to push others down. Unfortunately, this resulted in billions of people being put in a place of oppression, neglect, poverty, abuse, and all other kinds of horrors. This was also the case for the woman we read about in John 4. She was a woman, which unfortunately meant that she was a second class person in biblical times. On top of that, she was a Samaritan, which was a people who the Jews hated. As if that wasn’t enough, she wasn’t even allowed to associate with the other women due to her poor reputation. She was just about the lowest one could be in their culture.
Despite this, Jesus has a conversation with her at a well. Here is Jesus, who is culturally considered to be at the highest end of social status: male, Jew, teacher of God’s law, prophet, and even a miracle worker. Culturally, people would wonder why on earth would Jesus be around a Samaritan woman, let alone talk with her? As if that wasn’t strange enough, he even asks for a drink of water from her! He wanted to be around her, talk with her, and even ask a favor from her. This was unheard of in their day. She certainly felt this way when she asked, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus’ response was profound, powerful, and broke every single cultural understanding she ever had, “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.” Jesus was willing to “ruin his reputation” by talking with her, and he was even suggesting that he would give her the most precious gift of all. Jesus had no care and regard for social status, he knew it was a byproduct of a prideful, arrogant, and sinful world. He was much more interested in saving people to become God’s children.
I love the conditional phrase Jesus gives in his response, “If you knew.” If she truly understood she was talking to her Lord and Savior, she would have known it was completely okay and expected of her to humbly receive the undeserved gift of grace.
I think we would all do well to remember this story’s valuable lesson. Jesus’ love is not determined by your level of “goodness” you have achieved in the church. Jesus’ grace is not dependent on your social status in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ value for you will never change. Therefore, we ought to accept that we can’t climb up the social ladder to earn Jesus’ good graces. Instead, we need to humbly ask him for a drink of the “living water.”
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Do you know the gift of God? If so, how would you describe it to others – and specifically to whom will you share it? If not, who can you ask about it?
- How does Jesus’ example challenge us to break social, ethnic and religious norms, prejudices and barriers? How can you follow his example?
- Re-read the passage looking specifically at the Samaritan woman: what she does (and doesn’t do), the questions she asks and her replies. What do you think she is feeling as the story progresses? How is she an example for us?
- What does Jesus reveal to her? How does this information change her? Has this information changed you? Should it?
- What did Jesus mean when he told the disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (vs. 34)? How important is doing the will of God to you?