He was talking to a woman. On his own. Worse still, she was a Samaritan woman! He even drank from a jug that she had filled. He discussed the deepest aspects of theology with her as they sat together. What on earth was Jesus thinking!
It was midday and they had met at the well in Samaria traditionally dug by Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. At that time of day no one else went out to draw water – which was why she was there. He asked for a drink. She offered him water; he offered her Living Water – salvation and the life of the Holy Spirit (see also John 7:38-39). He had no empty vessel to let down to the well’s water level (about 40 metres); she was an empty vessel who was soon to be filled with the Spirit. He drew the subject on to the life that came only from himself – a drink that satisfied the drinker for evermore! A drink that created a well of this living water within the drinker.
The woman wasn’t really following the metaphor – she was taking everything far too literally – and so Jesus changed the conversation abruptly so that he could introduce the power of God: “Go, call your husband…The fact is that you have had FIVE husbands and your current man is not even one of them”. Where the metaphor had failed (since it was probably much more intended for us), the word of knowledge he delivered so lovingly succeeded. “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet!” Quickly, they were on to the subject of Jesus’ identity, his Messiahship, which is the key to our salvation.
Jesus pointed out that the Father seeks worshipers – that includes you and me – but not those who are into dead ritual or are tied to fixed locations. He wants those who worship by the Spirit’s enabling, and in transparent harmony with the revealed truth of God – focused on the One who is the Truth! Oh yes, the Messiah was right there, standing in front of her!
His disciples, on returning from the local market with lunch, were aghast, yet, I suspect, not totally surprised by now. He rejected the bread that they had bought and spoke about a greater harvest, seen in the fields of the entire world. Jesus’ own spiritual hunger was completely satisfied by obeying the work of his Heavenly Father. And for such a harvest, the limitation was not time but workers, since this was a harvest that was already ripe and ready. It was time for ‘…the ploughman overtaking the reaper’ (Amos 9:13) so that the spread of the gospel was occurring at the same pace as those coming into the Kingdom. What we now call ‘revival’ was what Jesus calls ‘the everyday Christian life’.
The woman, herself a part of the harvest, soon became a harvester: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed because of the woman’s testimony” (v39). She led them to Jesus, and they learned much more from him, face to face. In these few verses, the mission of the church is defined in microcosm: meet Jesus for yourself and spend time with him; then tell others about that encounter (or those ongoing encounters) and encourage them to have an encounter themselves. But a word of caution: if we have a rather distant relationship with Jesus – on a day-to-day basis – then we will not have a vibrant testimony with which to persuade or encourage others to come. You can only genuinely motivate by what motivates you.
The other way in which groups of people came to believe in Jesus was when he healed someone close to them. Miracles ‘in our streets’ (as opposed to within our closed meetings) have an attractional power of their own. In the case of the royal official, his son was miraculously healed and saved from dying – and at the exact hour that Jesus declared he would be – and so the official’s entire household believed in Jesus.