The introduction to an upcoming book
In John 4, Jesus has an encounter with an unnamed woman simply known as a Samaritan woman. In church-ese, we commonly call her “The Woman at the Well.” If you’ve not heard or read this story, you can read it below, in John 4:7–30 (NASB)
A woman of Samaria *came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink. For His disciples had gone away to the city to buy food So the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, though You are a Jew, are asking me for a drink, though I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus replied to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do You get this living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well and drank of it himself, and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw water.” 16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said to Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this which you have said is true.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and yet you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.” Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that 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, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am He, the One speaking to you.”
And at this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What are You seeking?” or, “Why are You speaking with her?” So the woman left her waterpot and went into the city, and *said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is He?” They left the city and were coming to Him.
I’ve heard a lot of sermons and Sunday School lessons about this passage. I’ve heard sermons about racism, as the woman was Samaritan and the Jews of that time despised Samaritans. Preachers and teachers have highlighted love transcending social conventions when Jesus asked a woman for a drink and talked to her alone. I’ve heard about the pain and loneliness of gossip and judgment,m since she likely went to draw water in the heat of the day to avoid the other women and their stares.
And then there’s the main theme of this encounter — salvation, and redemption — a fallen sinner’s life-changing meeting with the Living Water. Water that will forever quench that inner thirst. That, and of course, evangelism. She left her water jar and ran to the city to tell others. That last, part, in verses 28–30, has always in intrigued me, and I wish the story didn’t end there. I want to know more.
I’ve always wondered…what happened after the well? What happened after the dramatic run back into town, when her declaration made people curious about this Jesus who was hanging around the water source. It says, “They left the city and were coming to Him,” but what happens next?
I wonder if, after that day, the woman began drawing water at the beginning and end of the day as the other women did. Did the townspeople ask her more questions? Did the ladies continue to gossip, or did they see the change in her life? Was she as confident in sharing her transformation a week later, a year later? How did the townspeople, especially the more “pious” ones, perceive and respond to her? After all, they knew what she had done. They knew how many husbands she’d had. They knew her.
They didn’t know her as well as Jesus did. But I wonder if she had trouble remembering that in the day-to-day of life. After all, her own heart had changed instantly, but her surrounding, her history, and her reputation didn’t.
That is why I am writing this. I know that woman because I am that woman. I have been her. No, I have not been married five times. But I have fallen and chosen sin and more than a few of those choices were in full technicolor. I have avoided going to the well at the usual times so I wouldn’t have to face the gossip or myself.
And I haven’t just been the woman at that well. I’ve been Sarah, who took matters into her own hands when God wasn’t moving fast enough. I’ve been David, wanting and taking what was not mine and then making things infinitely worse by trying to hide it. I identify with Jacob, using deception to get what I needed. In short, I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) in ways that were worse than the typical Sunday School confessions of coveting a neighbor’s nice heels.
Like each of these people, I came face to face with the truth and had to come face to face with the truth and had to choose repentance and brokenness. And like He does, Jesus forgave and cleansed me through the utterly sufficient power of His redemptive work on the cross. He cleansed me from all unrighteousness. He separated my sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He blotted out my transgressions and remembers them no more (Isiah 43:25)
The facts of the past didn’t change. The pain caused to others didn’t disappear. There was no Men in Black magical memory wipe. I still had to live in a community where everyone knew me. And honestly? It left me daunted, and every time I felt prompted to serve God in some way, to have Him use the gifts He has given me, questions plagued me:
Can I? After all my failings? I mean, I know He forgives and cleanses, but is there a point at which — even forgiven — someone has just been too bad to be useful to God? Was part of my “penance” for such egregious sins being relegated to the backroom, the shelf where we place tools that we don’t want to toss but that are just too damaged to be useful? What was I supposed to do after the well?
I kept thinking about that woman. She didn’t hesitate, she didn’t overthink, she didn’t flinch. She ran — RAN — back to the town that held all her failures and rejections, all the gossip and judgment. She ran toward that city and told everyone she encountered what had happened during her encounter with Jesus.
As I wrestled with the questions that caused me to hesitate where she didn’t, I realized she wasn’t alone in God’s Word. When Rahab hid the spies, she was bold enough to ask for protection for her household, and she didn’t shrink back from the Israelites after the walls fell. She ended up marrying an Israelite and being one of only two women listed in Jesus’ lineage.
Even after the terrible plan with Hagar and her husband that still has repercussions today, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and she became the matriarch of many nations. Her son became the father of Jacob, who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel.
Mary Magdaline followed Jesus and wasn’t afraid or ashamed to wash His feet and dry them with her hair. Jonah ran away to avoid obedience, and God still used him to redeem Ninevah. Peter denied Jesus three times while the officials were deciding to crucify. And yet on the Day of Pentecost, God used him to bring millions to faith. Paul sought the early Christians and stood by while they were killed. But after the road to Damascus, he went to those same early Christians to join them in the gospel.
The answer to what comes after the well is clear, even though the path might seem overwhelming, and we may feel especially unworthy. When He redeems, even if it’s for the 100th time, He frees us to serve, and He expects us to go.
But Laurie, you don’t know what I have done? I’ve been terrible, and everybody knows! And I have been a Christian for years! How could I fall so badly? Who would want to hear from me now?
You’re right. I don’t know the specifics, and you don’t know the specifics of my life. But I know Jesus. I know the Father. I know that He died on the cross, that His grace is sufficient, and I know His promises. I don’t say “God wants to use you after the well: because it is detailed over and over and over in His Word. From Eve to David, to the disciples.
The purpose of this book is to dive deep into God’s Word to remind us to run to the city and to show us not just how to get there, but how to stay there.
Now, put down your water jar, and let’s run together.