"A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, 'Would you give me a drink of water?' "
Jesus was on his way back to Galilee, and rather than going the long way around avoiding Samaritan lands, he decided to travel through them. He’s been walking all morning, and stopped at Jacob's well, just outside the Samaritan village of Sychar. He sent his co-travellers on ahead to find food, while he sat at the well alone.
Jacob's well isn’t just any old well.
In Genesis 33, Jacob reconciled years of hostility with his brother Esau. It was rather miraculous. As he set up camp, he decided to buy the land he was standing on. It was right outside the town of Shechem. He built an altar in that very spot and named it El-Elohe-Israel, which means: “the Mighty God of Israel.”
It’s here that many Archeologist’s, historians, scholars and the like, believe that Jacob later built a well. It was hewn out of rock, more than 40m deep, and has provided water for people near and far from then until now. So much happened at the site of this well:
* God told Abraham to count the stars, for his descendants would be as numerous as they are.
* Jacob settled here after reuniting with his family.
* Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.
* Joshua rebuilt the altar after years of idol worship.
* Years laters, the site became a hub of idolatry and pain during the years of the Assyrian conquest.
It was a place of joy and pain; divinity and idolatry; a mix of holiness and humanity.
Jacob’s well is central to Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions alike.
A lot went down at this well.
Because of its rich history, and the Middle Eastern use of imagery and poetry in storytelling, the well became more than a well. It was a symbol of everything that it had witnessed - a melting pot of stories and conflicts and water. When John wrote his book, and in it relayed the story of Jesus waiting at the well, he was careful to name the site to conjure up the emotion and context around it. It’s an important part of the story. If you’re reading the Bible literally, you’ll only see the well as a well, and miss half the story.
As Jesus was sitting, a Samaritan woman arrived, and he asked her if she would draw him some water.
“Surprised, she said, “Why would a Jewish man ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water? Jews won’t even drink from a cup that a Samaritan has used!”
Jesus replied, “If you only knew who I am and the gift that God is wanting to give you—you’d be asking me for a drink, and I would give to you living water.”
The woman replied, “But sir, you don’t even have a bucket and this well is very deep. So where do you find this ‘living water’ Do you really think that you are greater than our ancestor Jacob who dug this well and drank from it himself, along with his children and livestock?””
(It’s was as if she was asking, “Are you better than all that has transpired at this well? Can you supersede it? Are you stronger than it? Are you able to heal and reconcile and overcome and love and partake of all that has happened here? And more so?”)
Jesus answered, “If you drink from Jacob’s well you’ll be thirsty again and again, but if anyone drinks the living water I give them, they will never thirst again and will be forever satisfied! For when you drink the water I give you, it becomes a gushing fountain of the Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life!” (John 4:9-14).