13. The Samaritan woman at the Well
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4: 16-26
We studied this passage last lesson in our discussion of Jesus’ living water. This poor unnamed woman is completely alone. The gathering of water was a social time for women but she has come to the well by herself in the heat of the day. She has been married five times and is most probably barren. We don’t get to know what has happened to her five husbands but now she is living in sin, most likely with a man who is also socially unacceptable.
In addition, her community and homeland are outcasts. These remnants of Jews living in Samaria were descended from the Jewish Patriarchs. Their history is important; they came from the two tribes of Joseph’s sons who were so blessed by their grandfather Jacob. Joseph’s progeny, living outside of Jerusalem, were not taken into exile to Babylon after the times of David and Solomon. But they became polluted in the Lord’s eyes and to the remaining pure tribes as they intermarried and adopted some of the pagan practices of the Canaanite people who had again moved onto their land. Please recognize that this conversation takes place not just at a well, but at Jacob’s well: “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself?”...When the remaining tribes were allowed to come home to Jerusalem, the Samaritans were declared impure and cast out of the chosen family of the Living God. Both the pure Israelites and the Lord rejected them.
But in a single conversation, in a short moment, this unnamed woman is redeemed and reinstated into the Lord’s blessing. And her community in Samaria is redeemed as well. The kingdom of the earth is reunited with the kingdom of the heavens at their Patriarchal home, Jacob’s Well. The fall of the Old Testament is beautifully pulled upwards by the promise and mysterious gift of the Word:
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him... Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4: 28-42
How delightful this must have been for Jesus who had been rejected by the leaders of the lost sheep of Israel. How lovely to welcome in one who has been cast out.
At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1: 14-21
The story of Ruth is also very poignant. Ruth was a Moabite, a descendent from Lot. Her great great great uncle from many generations past was Abraham. The Lord called Abraham to gather his family and leave the land of Ur to go to the promised land. Remember, Sarah was barren. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was like a son to the childless couple.
When I talk about the story of Abraham with my high school students, I have an allegory that I use. I tell them to pretend that my husband and I were not able to have a child. So we went to an orphanage and found over 100 children who did not have parents. These children had not been held and loved. Our hearts were broken. We desperately wanted to take every child home. But what we knew is that if we did that we would simply be an orphanage again. We knew that we could choose only one. And so we looked for the one child who reached out and smiled back at us. We thought, “This child will be our child and we will raise him out of darkness and loss and we will give him a home.”
This is Abraham, the chosen orphan. The Trinity, the holy family of God, chose him out of all the people living on the earth at that time to rescue from that place of despair. They reasoned that if they brought one child “home,” they could save the rest of the creation in the future. In the fullness of time, this orphan would grow into a beautiful young woman who would birth the Son of Man. Again I stand on top of the coffee table in the center of the room and look around at all the kids sitting below me. I zero in on one and only one and in a loud God-like voice start pretending that I am God speaking to Abraham.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; ...He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot,…
Genesis 12: 1-5
The Lord made a covenant with his chosen orphan, Abraham, and Lot was part of this promise, this plan, and yet he was led astray. Please read Lot’s story in Genesis 18-19. Lot settled in the city of Sodom, sister city of Gomorrah. The Lord confined to Abraham: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Genesis 18: 20-21
Let me pause a moment here to ask you from whom do you think the Lord has heard this outcry? What part of the holy Trinity is hovering over the earth? Once again, the Holy Spirit is distraught by the creation’s sinfulness. Because of this outcry, Lot and his family are visited by the two angels who have come to destroy the two cities with God’s holy wrath.
Lot, his wife, and their two daughters flee the city with the instruction, “do not look back”. But his wife does look back at the home where she has raised her family, and is turned into a pillar of salt. Like Moses, who couldn’t have survived after seeing the Lord’s glory, neither could she after witnessing the Lord’s wrath. The next “scene” is truly horrific. Lot’s daughters, who both have just lost their fiancés and their future families, scheme to get their father drunk, have sex with him and have children of incest. What a brutal story.
Ruth is a Moabite, from one of Lot and his daughter’s progeny. When the Moabites and their cousins, the Ammonites, grew in number and worshipped other gods, they were cast out of the Holy Family’s adopted family. They are despised by the nation of Israel. These two cousin nations also refused to allow the newly rescued slaves of Egypt to cross their lands during the Exodus. There is mutual hatred between these people.
Ruth, rejected from the Lord’s favor, follows Naomi to the land of the Lord’s chosen people. Ruth’s marriage brings her into the community of Israel. Her husband’s family had left God’s land of “milk and honey” because of a famine. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law suffered a huge spiritual crisis as all three of the men in their family die. After the death of all three men in Naomi’s Family, she decides to go home to her people. And Ruth follows.
Through Naomi, Ruth sets out to find a new husband, Boaz, who is her “guardian-redeemer.” Hebrew law instituted that a relative of a deceased man was obligated to marry his kinsman’s widow, thereby guaranteeing both safety to the widow and a continuation of the deceased man’s descending line. The wealthy Boaz sees the stranger, Ruth, gleaning in his fields:
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. Ruth 2: 8-14
Can you believe this foreshadowing of Christ? The feeding of the 5000, the 4000? The last supper?
When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” Ruth 3: 7-9
Ruth comes “home”; she finds her new home with the chosen family of Israel and becomes the great-grandmother of God’s chosen king, David, the shepherd boy, who will unite the twelve tribes. Naomi is also redeemed, filled and blessed when she returns home. Perhaps Ruth redeems the family of Lot as well. Later, in Israel’s timeline, Isaiah will prophesy of the coming Messiah as the Redeemer of Israel:
And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—
He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel... Isaiah 49: 5
Two lovely lost women, the Samaritan at the well and Ruth, redeemed from Abraham’s lineage. Two lovely gentile women, the Syrian woman who seeks healing for her demon possessed daughter and Hagar who seeks shelter for her unborn son:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The 29:11 Story
If you are looking for the Samaritan woman at the well, this “yellow” bead is difficult to find because it isn’t primarily yellow. In fact, it may not have any yellow in it at all. This bead is turquoise and looks like water because it is the same bead as the Living Water.
Ruth, a Moabite, returns home to her ancestors in the promised land of Abraham and Lot. Her yellow bead follows the brown bead of Joshua who led the chosen people into the land of “milk and honey.” The book of Ruth begins the story of King David as his great grandmother, the grandmother of Jessie.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14
By age 17, William’s cancer had spread to his spine and surrounded his heart. But please understand, those last months were full of strange joy. Every evening we had a feast around our dinner table. There was always wonderful food that I found in our outside refrigerator from people who wanted to help us. The table was always full of cousins and William’s Posse friends. After each dinner, as John and I cleaned the kitchen, William, his little sister and brother, and all those other young people would be gathered in the den talking and laughing. Those moments were little slices of heaven to me. The presence of the Holy Spirit was fierce.
About a month before he died, one of his Posse friend’s brother brought over his best friend who was headed to Iraq. This would be a foreign and unknown land for this young man. He wanted to say goodbye to William. That was poignant.
The next morning, William and I talked. “That young man is going to a place far away, into a battle he doesn’t understand, and his parents are afraid he won’t come home. You have fought your battle here and you are preparing to go home. Our home here isn’t your real home.”