The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:15-18, ESV)
She says, almost sarcastically, “give me this water.” And then Jesus does something strange by telling her to go get her husband. To us it looks like he is changing the conversation or we think she may have turned a corner and is really interested at this point in what Jesus is saying. But Jesus is doing heart surgery here. He is helping her to see who He is, by asking her to be honest with herself.
It is not as though divorce in Jesus day was unheard of, or that people didn’t get remarried, they did. So it was socially acceptable to have been in one or more marriages. However, if the marriage ended in divorce, it was the woman who was generally though to be at fault. And even if all her husband’s had died, the rule of the day was 3 marriages, beyond that and you were damaged goods. So for a woman to have had 5 husbands and shacked up with another guy there is no hiding the fact that she is a sinner and now this strange Jewish man knows it.
Jesus knows the weight that she carries around on her shoulders and he presses the conversation in a way that must hurt her. I can imagine that her whole life is spent trying to ignore how many bad decisions that she has made; trying to avoid the stares of the town people.
Some people assert that at this point the pain is unbearable and that she is trying to focus the spot light off of herself and so she brings up a theological question; one to steer the conversation away from her painful personal life. But that’s not it at all. Her question actually centers on the proper place for a sinful person to offer sacrifices for their sins. Her question is about worship.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:19-26, ESV)
This woman’s question is about the right place for worship. When we say worship, we may think of songs and preaching, but when she said worship she was talking about making restitution for her sins. In our day the question might look like this, “The Catholic’s say go to a priest and confess my sins, my Baptist friends come forward at an invitation and rededicate their lives. Which way is right?”
Jesus answer is designed to help her see past the physical reality. She is looking for a place, she doesn’t know that worship isn’t about the right place, it’s about the heart. Jesus tells her that the place is about to be made irrelevant. His sacrifice will be the last sacrifice ever needed. What is needed is a humble and contrite spirit; an attitude of the heart. She also needs to know the truth; worship the true God.
She knows that the messiah is coming and she looks forward to that day and there she makes a startling discovery and Jesus makes a bold claim. I am the messiah.
Jesus declares that he is the messiah just in time for his disciples to come up on the conversation. The next few verses will reveal their thoughts and we will look at them, but first see how this woman responds to his declaration. It is as though a veil has been lifted. All at once she see’s who Jesus is; she sees who she is; she sees what worship is really all about and now she sees her home town of Sychar different than she has ever seen it before.
Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:27-30, ESV)
She runs back into town, leaving her water jar (as if to say, “I don’t need it any more, I’m satisfied in Jesus). She runs to all those people who’s stares she has tried to avoid. She is no longer worried about how they see her, she see’s them for the very first time. They are thirsty just like she had been. They need to meet this man. Who cares what they think of her. The reality of her situation has just changed. Before her sign might have read, “looking for love in all the wrong places.” And now it reads “rescued from my sin and shame.” She is different and she sees the world as different.
Her neighbors take note. What has caused this shy sinner to now go running throughout town compelling everyone to go out to the well? Something has changed this woman!
In the meantime Jesus is about to help his disciples see the spiritual reality around them. They have just come from doing business in town to buy lunches for everyone and where they saw filthy Samaritans, this woman was now seeing people who needed to meet Jesus.