All the passages we are looking at this term are long, and because of the way John writes they are often dense and tricky. Keep in mind that the aim should not be to cover every verse, chew on every morsel and solve every puzzle; the purpose is simply that as a group you feed together on God’s Word. I suspect for nearly all groups it would be enough to stop at verse 42, rather than going to the end of the chapter, and even that is a lot of ground to cover and the key will be to see the main thing John is trying to show us. Look for that and then think how that should impact us.
The characters: the contrast between this Samaritan woman and Nicodemus in the previous chapter is striking. He was male, religious, respectable and Jewish, everything she is not. Nicodemus came to enquire of Jesus, but here Jesus takes the initiative and, breaking the taboos of the day, engages her in conversation.
The place: the mention of the historical significance of the well perhaps is a reminder that though Samaria was treated with contempt by Jews, it was part of God’s story; his promise of blessing in the Old Testament was for all Israel, and through them for all nations.
The time: the fact that this woman has come to draw water at the hottest time of the day suggests that she was viewed even by her own people as shameful.
There are the two things in verse 10 that Jesus says she has not grasped, the nature of the gift and the identity of the giver, and he proceeds to explain both. In vv.10-14 the focus is on the gift he offers, which he describes as “living water”: water that can permanently satisfy our deepest thirst and bring eternal life. In Jeremiah (2:13 and 17:13) God himself is the “spring of living water”, and in a few chapters time this living water is identified clearly as the Spirit (see John 7:37-39). As those who have received the Spirit, when Jesus says we “will never thirst”, he can’t be suggesting we will never feel any dissatisfaction because that is clearly not the case, but our most profound and essential need – ie for relationship with God – has been perfectly met.
From verse 15 the focus is on bringing her to see who Jesus is that he can give such a gift. In telling her to call her husband in part his intention seems to be exposing the thirst within her which she has so failed to satisfy through intimate relationships, but he is also revealing his supernatural knowledge which prompts her to recognise that he is special – “I can see you are a prophet” – rather as Nathaniel had done (1:47-50). Verse 20 may not be simply a red herring to change the subject, but in recognising that that he speaks with real spiritual insight and authority she wants to know the answer to what for her would be a real question: who’s right, the Jews or the Samaritans, as to where one should approach God (and where she should go to find forgiveness)? Jesus says the place is no longer important. Worshipping God rightly is a matter of having the Spirit and having the truth. Where are such to be found? “The Messiah will tell us”, she says; to which Jesus replies “I am he.”
The woman rushes off to bear witness – “Here’s a man who truly knows me; might he not be the one who can help us know God?”. Bearing testimony was an important theme in chapter 1, and we should notice it again. Lots of useful lessons can be drawn from this chapter about our witness, both from Jesus’ approach to her and from her response and from Jesus’ teaching here.
As the woman was once interested in the wrong kind of water, the disciples now show themselves to be concerned about the wrong kind of food. For Jesus, the food he is concerned about is doing the Father’s will: namely gathering in the harvest, a work we as disciples are called to share in. The Samaritans who are brought to faith are part of this harvest, a harvest which they rightly perceive to include the world (v.42).
I doubt there is time to look at this. Though it begins by suggesting that there might be little harvest from among the Jews themselves, this official and his family show that there will be some who believe, and the official is an instructive example of faith – taking Jesus at his word.