Losing My Literalism: The Woman at the Well

The Pharisees and scribes aren’t the only people Jesus encountered who were stunted by a literalism that obstructed their understanding of the kingdom of God. The Samaritans were also encumbered by such interpretations. I won’t get too deep into the Samaritan/Jewish divide here, and I will be trimming the text a bit for brevity. I encourage you to read all of the text for yourself. I’ll be focusing on the words that I am seeking to highlight.

John 4:7-12
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

Jesus was in a place where He wasn’t expected. The Samaritans were disliked among the Jews, for each group held to animosity against the other. Yet, Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He was breaking down barriers throughout His ministry, speaking with an enemy of the people, and a woman at that! She gave the expected response and He told her that He has much more than water to offer. Had she only realized who He was, she would have begged for His living water.

Naturally, she didn’t pick up on His statement. You may remember John 3, when Jesus said that one must be born of both water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Living water refers to the Spirit of God and that is what Jesus was offering to this enemy woman who was rejected within her own community, hence her reason for drawing her daily water at a time hours after all of the other women had done so. And all she could think of was to ask him where his rope and bucket might be. How would he get to his living water from this well without the proper tools?

John 4:13-15
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus did not scold her because she didn’t follow this conversation. He had a different level of expectation from a Samaritan woman than He had from a ruler of Israel. He explained to her that the water He could offer would sustain her beyond her mortal thirst. For a woman on the outside of society looking in, the chance to not have to frequent that well any longer was attractive! She asked for this water and Jesus asked to meet her husband. She was not ready to discuss her personal life or her marital woes, likely the reason the other women didn’t want her drawing water in the morning with the rest of them. Jesus was ready to give this woman all her spirit ever needed, but there were factors in her life that He would address in the process.

Fast forward. The entire account is fascinating, but outside my point of people being hyper-literal, and that focus leading toward their own error.

John 4:31-38
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

The Pharisees were literalists. The Samaritans were literalists. The disciples began as literalists and Jesus knew that this would need to be corrected. They had returned with some food and they offered it to Jesus. His response is that He had already eaten. (Deuteronomy 8:3) The disciples hadn’t connected the matter to the scriptures, preferring the literal approach. Jesus spoke openly to them, explaining that His food was to do the will of God, and that the work they would engage in had already started. Of course, he did this with further metaphorical language.

It’s almost like Jesus wanted the men who would spread His gospel to be familiar with the scriptures as they were intended. And early in the book of Acts, just following the giving of the Holy Spirit, they preached from texts in ways that set the holy city aflame with a zeal for God that hadn’t been matched for hundreds of years prior. Ways that the Pharisees just weren’t able to match, for they lacked the Holy Spirit and missed the point of much of the text with their hyper-literalism that so many Christians today take great pride in.

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Published by CoffeeSwirls