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John 4:5-42

Lesson Focus

Jesus offers living water to a Samaritan woman, highlighting the inclusiveness of God's salvation and challenging our preconceptions about who can receive it.


Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand the significance of Jesus offering living water to the Samaritan woman.

  2. Recognize the inclusiveness of Jesus' message and salvation.

  3. Reflect on their own preconceptions about who can receive God's salvation.


Catching up on the Story

Jesus and his followers have been in Jerusalem during the Passover festival. During this time, Jesus entered the Temple and cleaned things out. It was also during this time that Jesus was approached at night by Nicodemus, who was a teacher of the Law. Remember that in John’s Gospel, the nighttime is often associated with disbelief and evil events. Nicodemus begins his exchange with Jesus with a question that comes from a place of presumed knowledge yet is curious. He declares, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’’ (John 3:2). In response, Jesus agrees with Nicodemus but introduces some terminology that Nicodemus finds hard to understand. If we were to study this exchange in-depth, we would find that Nicodemus moves from a place of presumed knowledge to one of ignorance. The longer the conversation lasts, the more it is apparent that Nicodemus does not comprehend who Jesus is. The truth is lost to Nicodemus and those like him because they “loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19). In our text for this week, we will encounter another character. Only this time, the character’s movement goes from ignorance to a saving knowledge of Jesus as Messiah.


The Text

From the beginning, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is odd. Jesus and his disciples have been in Jerusalem, which is in the south, during the Passover festival. Sensing some resistance from the religious leaders because of the baptizing that Jesus’ disciples had been doing, Jesus decided it was time to move on from Jerusalem. His intended destination is the region of Galilee in the north. Between the region of Judea, where Jerusalem is, and Galilee, is Samaria. Now, there has been bad blood between Jews and Samaritans dating back to the time of the Exile and Judah’s return from Exile. Most Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans, so much so that, when traveling, they would find an alternate route around Samaria. Jesus, however, chooses not to go around Samaria but to travel straight through it on his way to Galilee.


As the journey moves on, Jesus and his disciples come to the village of Sychar, which contains a well that had once belonged to Jacob and his son Joseph. In Samaria, Jacob was a much-revered figure. Tired from the morning’s journey, Jesus sits down by the well. Soon enough, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water for the day. Normally, a man and a woman who were not married would not have contact. The fact that Jesus strikes up a conversation with this woman is remarkable. He is breaking social custom. Not only is it remarkable that Jesus is talking to a woman, it is even more remarkable that she is a Samaritan woman. Jesus calls to the woman and asks her to draw a drink from the well for him. The woman is shocked by Jesus’ request and answers Jesus’ question with one of her own, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). It is not just Jesus’ talking to the woman that was taboo, but using a drinking vessel that a Samaritan had used would have been unthinkable.


Jesus’ response guides the direction of the conversation to issues of belief and faith. If only the woman knew whom she was talking to, she would ask him for water, not just water, but living water! It’s important to note that water in John’s Gospel is often synonymous with cleansing, life, and salvation. The woman is sharp and keeps the conversation going. She is beginning to realize that there is more to Jesus than meets the eye. The woman wonders how Jesus will give her water when he has no bucket. Does Jesus think he is greater than Jacob, who discovered and drank from this well?


The enigmatic conversation continues as Jesus responds that anyone who drinks from the well they are gathered around will become thirsty again. But, the water that Jesus will give is a bubbling spring that gives eternal life. This bubbling will bring forth eternal life not just for the woman but also for the woman. As the woman accepts the gift that Jesus offers, she becomes a conduit for the life-giving gift of God’s grace and salvation (see vv. 29 and 39-42). The words of Jesus call to the woman as she longs for water that gives life, even if she doesn’t fully understand it. She begs Jesus to give her this water that brings forth eternal life. She does not fully grasp the significance of what she asks because she longs not to draw physical wa