God loves to use the unexpected: unlikely kings, unlikely prophets, unlikely disciples, and unlikely mothers. The Samaritan woman in John 4 is an unlikely convert and evangelist. She had everything working against her. She was a woman in a patriarchal society, where even speaking publicly with a man was taboo. She was a Samaritan talking with a Jew, though their cultures despised one another. She had a checkered relational and sexual past, pushing her to the fringes of society. Yet Jesus still sought her.
Their conversation at Jacob’s well is an odd one. It bounces from topic to topic so as to leave the reader quite confused—living water and multiple husbands and places of worship and so forth. But if we read carefully, we see Jesus masterfully, gently, and pointedly guiding her to an understanding of saving truth.
He asks for a drink of water to open the door to conversation then quickly offers her living water. She doesn’t understand and is understandably taken aback, but Jesus presses even harder with a direct offer of salvation: “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again” (John 4:14). Again, she fails to understand.
Jesus pivots again, this time in a seemingly bizarre manner, asking about her husband. Why? What is He getting at? It is not random at all. Jesus is showing her who He is, the Lord who searches hearts and gives to each according to their deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). He is declaring His power and kingship and showing that His offer of living water is infinitely more than she could imagine. By offering living water, Jesus is declaring Himself the Alpha and Omega and offering her access to the river of life that flows from the throne of God (Revelation 21:6). He is offering her healing and wholeness in the presence of God (Revelation 22:1–5).
She tries to deflect by changing the subject and throwing out a red-herring argument for debate about where the proper place to worship is for Jews and Samaritans. Jesus turns that around, too, ending with a declaration of Himself as the Messiah. Finally she is left with no argument and no response but to tell her fellow townspeople, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). And many did believe because of her testimony and because of Jesus’s words.
Jesus preached one of His most powerful sermons, made some of His clearest claims as Savior and Messiah, and promised eternal life to a promiscuous Samaritan woman, perhaps the least likely of recipients. He did so with kindness and gentleness, but He would not let her deflect or ignore or misunderstand. He wanted her to believe, and she did. And her response was to spread the good news, telling others to come, to meet Jesus. The water of life is for all who believe, no matter how unlikely, and it is to be shared by all who believe and trust in Jesus.
Written by Barnabas Piper