Women at the Well

February: John 2-4

John related an occasion when Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee and chose the route through Samaria, a hated territory and people for the Israelites.[i] The territory of Samaria was located between Galilee in the north and Judea to the south. Mount Gerizim was the center of the Samaritan’s worship, as it had been during the time of Joshua, and the Samaritans believed it still should be the center place for worship. After the Assyrians conquered Samaria, the conquerors resettled the land with foreigners who intermarried with the Israelites who still lived there. Because of this intermarriage, the Jews considered the Samaritans impure and not part of the covenant people.

Jesus was wearied by his journey through Samaria and decided to sit at a well while his disciples went into the city of Sychar to find food.[ii] The well was located near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to Joseph, so the well was called Jacob’s well and was considered a holy spot.[iii] It was at the sixth hour of the day.[iv] Using the Jewish accounting of time which starts with the first hour being at sunrise (or about 7 AM), the time would be about noon or as the heat of the day began.[v] A woman came to draw water during a time of day when other women would not have drawn water, showing that she was avoiding people or that she was ostracized by others because of her past and present liaisons with men.[vi] When the Savior met her, he perceived her past but did not censure her for it. This Samaritan woman had had five husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband.[vii]

When Jesus asked her to give him a drink, the woman was surprised and initially answered with some antagonism: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”[viii] The conversation proceeded between them. She soon perceived that he was a prophet, even more than a prophet – the Messiah.[ix] Jesus purposefully shared his message of the gospel first to this woman, rather than the male leaders of the city.[x] She was so excited by the news that she left her waterpot and went to the men of the city inviting them to come and listen to Jesus.[xi]

Before the woman left, the disciples returned with food. Even though none of them asked the question, they marveled that Jesus was talking to her. They thought: “what seekest thou? Or why talkest thou with her?” [xii] Jesus’ disciples were still in the traditional mindset of their day. They did not understand the importance of loving and understanding women, especially a Samaritan woman.[xiii] The harvest of Jesus’ ministry was not solely centered on men, but on women also, even adulteress women.[xiv] The Samaritans came to Jesus at the well to hear his message “and many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman which testified [of Him]…”[xv]

The Savior loved the Samaritans, a people whom other Jews would not even talk to, yet the Savior stopped and taught them. He gave them living water, the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Savior returned to teach his disciples after His resurrection, he told them to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all Judea and in Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

The Savior also loved a woman who felt ostracized by others. She was living with a man and she was not married to him. The Savior loved her and cared for her.

The woman at the well teaches us how we should treat mankind. The Savior’s example was clear. He loved the woman at the well for her faith. Jesus gave her hope. He called powerful men an adulterous generation and condemned their adulterous ways, yet he did not condemn the women at the well.[xvi] Even the disciples were limited in their understanding, being partially blinded by generations of unrighteous traditions against Samaritans and women.[xvii] Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Bathsheba, the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears were all heroic women who stood up in faith against mistreatment, shaming, and unrighteous judgment.[xviii] We can learn not to judge a person’s faith. We cannot understand their life, their trials, and their sufferings and so we cannot judge them.

Another lesson to learn is not to judge ourselves. We are all women at the well who the Savior is offering His water for us to drink. Women have a special place at the well. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “Women hold a special place in our Father’s plan for the eternal happiness and well-being of His children…. The lives of women in the Church are a powerful witness that spiritual gifts, promises, and blessings of the Lord are given to all those who qualify, ‘that all may be benefited.”[xix]

Sister Porter also told a personal lesson she learned from the woman at the well:

Five years ago my husband, Bruce, became seriously ill when we were serving with the consecrated Saints in the Europe East Area. We returned home, and he passed away only a few weeks later. My life changed overnight. I was grieving and felt weak and vulnerable. I pled with the Lord to direct my path: “What would Thou have me do?”

A few weeks later, I was going through my mail when a small picture in a catalog caught my eye. As I looked closer, I realized it was an artist’s rendition of the Samaritan woman with Jesus at the well. At that moment the Spirit spoke clearly to me: That is what you are supposed to do.”[xx]

Each of us can come to His well of living water and drink, just as the woman at the well did. Our lives do not need to be perfect to receive the Living Water. Instead, the Lord’s invitation is for all of us to come unto Him and become spiritually renewed and refreshed.

[i] Why didn’t the Jews and Samaritans get along, U.S. Catholic (May 14, 2020) https://uscatholic.org/articles/202005/why-didnt-the-jews-and-samaritans-get-along/.

[ii] John 4:6

[iii] John 4:20

[iv] John 4:6

[v] What Time is the “sixth hour” in John 4?, Christianity, https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/25243/what-time-is-the-sixth-hour-in-john-4.

[vi] Kirsten A. Foot, The Stranger at the Well: Inspired by John 4:3-42, Priscilla Papers, (April 30, 1998) https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/stranger-well-inspired-john-43-42.

[vii] John 4:17-18 “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that sadist thou truly.”

[viii] John 4:9

[ix] John 4:25

[x] John 4:17-18

[xi] John 4:28-30

[xii] John 4:27 – I am impressed with this admission of John. It is a telling comment that the disciples thought this, but John obviously was now more understanding.

[xiii] John 17:14-17

[xiv] John 15:1-2

[xv] John 4:39

[xvi] Matthew 16:4

[xvii] John 4:27

[xviii] Jennifer Stasak, Unlikely Heroes: The Women of Matthew 1, Wyckliffe Bible Translators (December 1, 2020) https://www.wycliffe.org/blog/posts/unlikely-heroes-the-women-of-matthew-1. See Table 2.

[xix] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Influence of Righteous Women, Ensign, Sept. 2009, 4-9.

[xx] Porter, “Lessons at the Well,” GC April 2022.

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