The story of the nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of John, is a revealing one, full of many truths and powerful lessons for us today. The woman at the well follows on the heels of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and prominent member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (John 3:1-21). In John 4:4-42 we read about Jesus’ conversation with a lone Samaritan woman who had come to get water from a well (known as Jacob’s well) located about a half mile from the city of Sychar in Samaria.
This was an extraordinary woman not so much because she was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, but because she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This is evidenced by the fact that she came alone to draw water from the community well when during biblical times drawing water and chatting at the well was the social highpoint of a woman’s day. However, this woman was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the fifth in a series of men.
In spite of the similarities in the two meetings between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, there are differences in the way Jesus unveiled grace to them. While Nicodemus needed to see himself as a sinner in order to understand grace, the Samaritan woman, who knew she was a sinner, needed to see herself as a person of worth and value. And this provides us with one of the most powerful lessons in all of Scripture.
This story teaches us that God finds us worthy of His love in spite of our bankrupt lives. God values us enough to actively seek us, to welcome us to intimacy, and to rejoice in our worship. As a result of Jesus’ conversation, only a person like the Samaritan woman, an outcast from her own people, could understand what this means. To be wanted, to be cared for when no one, not even herself, could see anything of value in her—this is grace indeed.
But there are many other valuable truths we glean from this story. We learn that:
1) Only through Jesus can we obtain and receive eternal life: “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14; cf. John 14:6).
2) Jesus’ ministering to those outcasts of the Jewish society (the Samaritans), reveals that all people are valuable to God and that Jesus desires that we demonstrate love to everyone . . . including even our enemies (John 4:7-9; Matthew 5:44).
5) Our testimony about Jesus is the most powerful tool we have to lead others to believe in Jesus: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. 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”’ (John 4:39-42).
Additionally, we learn that Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well presents us with three absolute truths about salvation:
1) Salvation comes only to those who recognize their desperate need for the spiritual life they do not have. Living water can be obtained only by those who recognize that they are spiritually thirsty.
2) Salvation comes only to those who confess and repent of their sin and desire forgiveness. Before this immoral woman could embrace the Savior, she had to concede the full burden of her sins.