AFTER THE Passover, Jesus went teaching through the villages in Judea, the province or part of the land around Jerusalem. As Judea was the largest of the five provinces, it gave its name also to the whole land, which was called both “Judea” and “the land of Israel.” John the Baptist was still preaching and baptizing, although the crowds which now came to hear him were not so great as before. While John was near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus stayed in Judea, so that none might think that he was trying to draw the people away from John.
But after a time Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put, in prison by Herod Antipas, the wicked ruler of Galilee and Perea. Herod had stolen from his brother Philip his wife, named Herodias, and was living with her. John said to him:
“It is against the law of Moses and of God for you to take away your brother’s wife.”
This made Herod angry with John, and Herodias even more angry. She wished to have John put to death for his bold words, but Herod, though he was not a good man, was unwilling to have John slain, and partly to keep him safe from the hate of his wife, he ordered that he should be put into prison. To a man like John, used to the free life of the wilderness, and not even willing to live in town or village, it must have been hard to be shut up in a prison cell, within four walls, and to be able only to see the outside world through grated windows.
As soon as Jesus learned that John the Baptist was shut up in prison, he ended his work in Judea, and with his disciples started for Galilee, his old home in the north. On this journey he did not go the way of the river Jordan, but took the most direct road, which would lead him through the land of Samaria. He knew that the Samaritan people who lived in that land hated the Jews and often robbed them when they traveled through their country. Still, Jesus made up his mind to go through Samaria.
Leading the little company of his followers, he walked northward from Jerusalem, past Bethel, where long before Jacob lying on his pillow of stone had his wonderful dream of the ladder reaching up to heaven; past Shiloh, where once the holy Ark of God had been kept in the Tabernacle in the days of Samuel; and over mountains where battles had been fought and victories won.
Early one morning, after walking in the night, Jesus and his disciples came to an old well, about two miles from the city of Shechem. Nearby was a little village, named Sychar, which could be seen from the well, and although it was a Samaritan village the followers of Jesus went to it to buy some food. This well was very old. It had been dug by Jacob, the early father of all the Israelite people, more than eighteen hundred years before Jesus came to that place. And it is still there, a well dug out of the solid rock nearly one hundred feet deep, and even now having water in it ten months of the year, but apt to be dry in the summer. That well is now nearly four thousand years old, yet every traveler who visits it may look down into its depths, may see a bucket of water drawn and may have a drink from it.
In that time a well did not have with it a pump for bringing up the water, nor was there even a rope to let down into it; but each one who came to draw waterand it was generally a womanbrought a rope and a water-jar. As Jesus sat beside the well, very tired and hungry and thirsty, he had nothing with which to draw water. As the Son of God upon the earth, he could have made the water come to him, but he would not, for you remember that in the desert Jesus would do no wonderful work, no miracle, merely for his own need.
Suddenly Jesus heard the sound of someone coming. He looked up and saw a woman, ‘with her water-jar and rope, standing by the well. From her dress he knew that she was not a Jewish but a Samaritan woman, and being the Son of God, he saw more. He knew at once all her life, which had not been a good life. But he looked into her heart and saw that she had a longing after God and after good. He said to her:
“Will you give me a drink of water from this well?”
The woman glanced at Jesus, and knowing from his dress and his manner of speaking that he was a Jew, said to him :
“How is it that you, who are a Jew, ask drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
The Jews looked down upon the Samaritans, never asked any favors of them, and would not drink from a cup or pitcher that a Samaritan had handled. The woman knew this, and was greatly surprised that this strange young man of the Jewish race should speak to her. Jesus answered her:
“If you knew what God’s free gift is, and who he is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him instead, and he would have given you living water.”
As Jesus said these words, very thoughtfully, the woman looking and listening felt that this was no common man. She thought that he might be a prophet, a man whom God had sent to do mighty works and speak the words of God. She said, very respectfully:
“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is very deep. Where can you get your living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob, who dug this well and gave it to us, and drank of its water him-self, with his sons and his sheep and oxen?”
Jesus answered her :
“Anyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but anyone who drinks the water that I will give him will never thirst any more. The water that I will give him will turn into a well of water springing up to everlasting life.”
“Oh, sir,” said the woman, “give me some of your living water, so that I need not be thirsty nor come all this road to draw water.”
Jesus looked earnestly at the woman’s face, and then said to her:
“Go home; call your husband, and come here again.”
The woman’s face clouded, her eyes dropped, and she looked as if she felt ashamed, while she answered in a low voice, “I have no husband.”
Jesus looked at her steadily, and said:
“You have spoken the truth. You have no husband. But you have had five husbands, and the man with whom you are living now is not your husband. You spoke the truth in those words.”
The woman was filled with wonder as she heard the stranger speak. She saw at once that here was a man who knew everything. She was sure that God had spoken to this man and given him this knowledge of her. “Sir,” said she, “I see that you are a prophet of God. Tell me, then, whether our people or the Jews are right. Our fathers have worshipped God on this mountain; but the Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where all should go to worship God.”
As she spoke, she pointed to the mountain that was standing near, Mount Gerizim, on the top of which was the temple of the Samaritans.
“Woman, believe me, answered Jesus, “there is coming a time when men shall worship God in other places besides this mountain and Jerusalem. The time is near, it has even now come, when the true worshippers everywhere shall pray to the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a Spirit, dwelling’ everywhere, and those who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said to Jesus:
“I know that Messiah is coming, the Christ sent from God to be our King. When he comes he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus said to her, “I who am now speaking to you am he, the Christ!”
Just at that moment the followers of Jesus, John and Peter, and the others, came back from the village with the food which they had bought. They were surprised to find their Master talking with a woman, but they said nothing.
The woman had come to the well to draw water, but in her interest in this wonderful stranger she forgot all about her errand. Leaving her water-jar she ran back to the village and said to everybody whom she met:
“Come with me and meet a man who told me every-thing I have done in all my life! Is not this man the Christ whom we are looking for?”
After the woman went away toward her home, the disciples urged Jesus to eat some of the food which they had brought. A little while before Jesus had been hungry, but now in talking with, the woman and leading her mind to the truth, he had forgotten his own needs.
“I have food to eat,” said he, “that you know nothing of.”
They looked at each other and said:
“Can it be that someone has brought him something to eat?”
But Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of my Father who sent me into the world, and to finish the work that he gave me to do. Do you say that there are four months before the harvest time will come? I tell you to look on the fields, and find them already white for the harvest. You shall reap and gain a rich harvest, gathering grain for everlasting life.”
Jesus meant that this woman, bad though she may have been before, was now eager to hear his words and to come to God. So his disciples would soon find the hearts of men everywhere, like a field of ripe grain, ready to be won and to be saved.
Soon the woman came back to the well with many of her people. They all asked Jesus to come to their village and teach them. He went to the town of Sychar and stayed there two days, talking to the people about the Kingdom of God and showing them how they might enter into it. Many of the people in that place and near it believed in Jesus as the Christ, the King sent from God, and they said:
“Now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is really the Saviour of the world.”