Most depictions of the scene with Jesus and the woman by the well have Jesus sitting the whole time, and the woman standing the whole time.
I find that hard to believe, though. The conversation itself takes only a few minutes to read through. But real conversations like this, the kind that go really deep and require all our spiritual and emotional energy, all our intellectual faculties to perceive, comprehend, discern, process, and absorb, let alone respond to, in the heavy heat of the desert at midday . . .
I think Jesus at some point invited the woman to sit on the edge of the well with him, and then, as he entered into his long speech on truth, I picture him rising from his seat. He walks toward Mt. Gerizim and points with passion, then raises his other hand to point in the direction of Jerusalem. He sweeps his arms out and around, to take in the scope of all Samaria when talking about their worship. He emphatically draws his arms in to tap his chest once or twice with extended fingers, to say, “Judeans.”
He thrusts his arms up, and his head back with eyes closed to indicate the Father, Who is now in Heaven, and perhaps turns to her to look deep into her soul as he says “Spirit” and “Truth.”
There had to have been pauses, time to think, to weigh words, to communicate through glance and expression.
I see Jesus looking up as the disciples are almost upon them, just yards away, really, then turning to her, saying,
God is Spirit, and those who worship him, in Spirit and Truth must worship.Jesus, to the Samaritan woman in John 4:24
She also knows the disciples are nearing, and her time alone with the Prophet is coming to a close. Her heart is pounding, every sense has come alive, she can smell the tartness of her own skin and the sweetness of the water below. The Prophet’s voice makes music of the Aramean they both can speak together. Her skin shivers as the cool of the deep well meets the heavy heat above. Her scalp stings from the sun’s rays, and she sees a mirage of heat waving behind the Prophet. Yet she also sees the air sparkle, the light is almost blinding.
I perceive—I know—that Messiah comes, who is being called Christ: ‘When that One comes he will declare to us absolutely all things.’Samaritan woman, to Jesus in John 4:25
She cannot unsay it. Her skin feels taut, and she is holding her breath without realizing it. Time has gradually come to a stop, the sparkling motes of dust catch the sun’s light in slow motion. Only the man before her is in focus.
Slowly, Jesus’ face transforms into a smile so beautiful she finds her heart both breaking and becoming whole. He sits beside her, and leans in, saying,
the one who is speaking to you.Jesus, to the Samaritan woman in John 4:26
The Samaritans called the Messiah “Tahav,” the Revealer. Someday the Messiah would come, and he would bring about this radical change in worship, but Jesus certainly could not mean that time had come now . . . could he?
The words that John recorded Jesus as having said at this point are as I translated them here. Jesus spoke out loud the holiest of names, the “I AM” of God, YHWH. It is the boldest claim yet in John’s gospel, and it was made to one of the lowliest people of his day.
You would have thought Jesus would have saved this incredible revelation for someone who could really appreciate it, like Nicodemus, or at least his disciples, or at the very least a Jewish man of some ilk. The rabbis of that day had a saying, “It is better that the words of the law be burned than to be delivered to a woman.” Not that everyone saw it that way, but nevertheless, in that patriarchal society, women were definitely second-tier. And Samaritans did not even have a “tier,” in the Jewish mind. They were decidedly outside of the “in-group.”
What John showed in these two stories, Nicodemus, the Sanhedrin ruler who was Pharisee and Bible scholar, and the Samaritan woman who was married five times and living with her current man unmarried, was the full array of God’s love. God’s love encompasses everyone. Every. Person.
Those who are willing to come to God through Jesus, to commune with God in Spirit, to be united with God in Truth, will find Living Water welling up from within and flowing out in exuberant joy, life eternal.
God desires people to worship Him in spirit and in truth
I keep thinking about Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the dark of night and this woman of Samaria who came to Jesus in the brightness and heat of the noonday sun. Nicodemus, who should have had more light than anyone else, as one of Jewish faith, a scholar of the scriptures, adherent of the most conservative sect of his people, in fact one of the religious ruling elite. Yet, his light was symbolized in the moon’s soft glow.
Jesus gave Nicodemus deep revelation—the need to be born anew from above in order to enter God’s kingdom. The truth of God’s love for the whole world as experienced in the sending of his Son. Nicodemus was given much, but then he had much to begin with.
By contrast, the Samaritan woman had, by rights, not much light at all. The traditions of her people accepted only the first five books of the scriptures. Her religion included other deities with God. She herself was just a step away from destitution. Yet her light is symbolized in the full strength of the sun.
It was to her Jesus gave the deep revelation of the gift of his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, of eternal life welling up as cleansing restoring water that overflowed into the lives of everyone around.
To her was given the greatest revelation of all: Jesus is the incarnation of YHWH, God the Son.
It seems to me, in order to worship in Spirit and in truth, we need in some way to—as the woman at the well did—understand our need for Jesus, to experience that need for Jesus’ love, cleansing, and restoration, and to experience that longing for His Spirit’s infilling.
When we approach Jesus with this truth, we are already in the Light. And we are ready to receive even more light, more truth, and to experience more of His Spirit.
[Jesus and the Woman at the Well | James Tissot / Public domain]