16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
(John 4:16-26 NIV)
As the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman continues, Jesus has told her that He can provide a spring of living water that will never run dry. The woman lets her defenses down and asks Jesus to give her that living water, thinking that the conversation is still about water.
Jesus seemingly ignores her request and asks her to leave and bring back her husband. Asking the woman to retrieve her husband was an appropriate request from Jesus, in both the Samaritan and Jewish cultures. The woman, with her defenses down, quietly admits that she does not have a husband. Jesus replies that He knows; in fact, he tells her that she has had five husbands and is living with a sixth man now.
The bitter reality of her personal life is now out in the open. Her marital status is why she is at Jacob’s well in the heat of the day – to retrieve her daily supply of water when no one else was there and avoid all the looks and stares and mean-spirited comments from the other women in the community. The heat of their looks and comments are far more painful than the scorching sun overhead.
If there were a “three strikes, you’re out” social stigma in their conversation, the woman’s marital status would be the final strike. Being a Samaritan, being a woman, and now her sordid marital history would be grounds for Jesus to walk away, or somehow shame her and abruptly end the conversation.
Notice that Jesus does not call her out for her failure to keep a husband, or the fact that she is currently living in sin with a man that does not respect her enough to marry her. Jesus told her about her past, not with loud anger or judgment in His voice, but with softness, quietness, compassion, deep breath and a sigh as if to say, “I know.”
The woman, likely shocked and a bit scared and yet still intrigued, puts up her guard again but still stays engaged in the conversation. Her intuition tells her that this is a holy man of some sort, a prophet that has been given insight into others’ lives, even her own. She goes back and revisits the religious differences conversation they had begun earlier. She brings up the geographic location of their worship of God as a defense. While the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim as God had commanded them in Deuteronomy 11:29. After all, this is where God told the Israelites to go to receive their blessing!
Once more, Jesus does not engage in the debate. He changes the paradigm completely and says worship of God is not a geographic location, but rather a state of the heart where people worship in spirit and in truth.
The woman, not wanting to concede the argument, but knowing she is debating with a holy man, looks for her exit ramp to end the conversation. She essentially says to Jesus, “We will have to agree to disagree for now. When Messiah comes, He will sort this out and tell us the truth.” With that comment, she has restored what is left of her pride; her snark factor is back.
Jesus then puts an end to the debate by revealing Himself as Messiah. “I, the one speaking to you – I am He.”
What conditions or constraints do we put on our worship? Is worship limited to a physical location like a church? Is praising God restricted to a particular form such as music?
May we let our defenses down, lay aside our pride, and worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, for His glory and not our own. As we confess our brokenness, may we experience God’s forgiveness and restored relationship as we commune with Messiah, and He reveals Himself to us.
And may we treat others likewise as we cross paths today.